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Memphis soul comes to the White House tonight

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Mavis Staples will sing at the White House this evening. (photo by Jalylah Burrell from Wikipedia, under Creative Commons License)

The White House will host a who’s-who of legendary soul musicians and modern stars Tuesday night in its latest “In Performance” concert.

This will be the tenth “In Performance at the White House” show, and will focus on Memphis Soul. Several artists from the classic Stax-Volt record label will be featured, most notably Mavis Staples, who sang classics such as “I’ll Take You There.” Guitarist Steve Cropper (who played for Booker T and the MGs, Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, and pretty much everybody else on the Stax-Volt label), Sam Moore from Sam and Dave, “Knock on Wood” singer Eddie Floyd, and William Bell will also perform.

Justin Timberlake, the Alabama Shakes, harmonica virtuoso Charlie Musselwhite, Ben Harper, and Queen Latifah are also on the bill. The only performer that really makes me scratch my head, however, is Cyndi Lauper. (Yes, I know she released a star-studded blues album in 2010. I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that the woman who sang “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” is trying to remake herself as a blues shouter.)

Booker T. Jones of Booker T. and the MGs will be tonight’s bandleader. It will stream starting at 6:55 p.m. EST on the White House’s website, and will air on PBS stations nationwide April 16 at 8 p.m.

Past shows have paid tribute to Motown, blues, country, Latino music, Broadway showtunes, and music from the Civil Rights movement. During last year’s blues concert, President Obama even took a turn at the mic during the all-star jam on “Sweet Home Chicago.” But for me, the funniest moment from that show came during Gary Clark Jr.’s smoldering performance of “Catfish Blues,” when the camera caught Obama lost in the music, with his eyes closed, head bobbing, and mouthing the lyrics. That moment of presidential music geekery can be seen at the 1:30 point in the following video.

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White House to release cyber executive order Wednesday

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President Barack Obama will issue an executive order Wednesday aimed at tightening the nation’s cybersecurity.

Senior administration officials, including White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Michael Daniel and Army Gen. Keith Alexander, head of U.S. Cyber Command, will provide details on cyber policy Wednesday morning at the Commerce Department. Officials will provide an update on cybersecurity priorities for 2013, including information sharing and reducing cyber risks, Commerce announced Tuesday.

The executive order is said to include provisions that will establish voluntary cybersecurity standards for critical infrastructure sectors, such as transportation and energy, where federal regulators have authority to enforce those standards. However, the order could not provide liability protections for companies that follow those standards but are attacked.

The order is also expected to direct agencies to share cyber threat information with companies operating critical infrastructure.

Lawmakers failed last year to pass comprehensive cybersecurity legislation, but Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md., plan to reintroduce cyber legislation Wednesday.

The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), HR 624, would allow the government and industry to voluntarily share information about malicious attacks and viruses. Companies that share information under the bill’s provisions or protect their networks would be granted legal protections if they’re subject to a cyber attack. The bill passed the House in April.


Senator pushes for cybersecurity via executive order

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A top Democratic senator is calling on the president to use executive branch authorities to better secure critical systems against cyber attacks.

In a letter to President Obama on Monday, Sen. John Rockefellar, (D-W.Va.), urged the president to “explore and employ every lever of executive power that you possess to protect this country from the cyber threat.”

Rockefeller co-sponsored the Cybersecurity Act, S. 3414, which failed passage in the Senate this month.  The bill would have set voluntary standards for companies operating critical infrastructure, such as the electric grid, water treatment facilities and transportation systems.

Rockefeller said that many portions of the bill could be implemented via executive order, regulatory processes or under the authorities of the Homeland Security Act.

Obama’s assistant for homeland security and counterterrorism, John Brennan, told the Council on Foreign Relations last week that the administration is considering the use of executive branch authorities. White House officials are determining what cybersecurity guidelines or policies can be enforced through executive order to enhance cybersecurity of critical infrastructure, most of which are controlled by the private sector.

White House officials promote new digital strategy

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The best government would be one where citizens would “never have to visit a government website again,” according to Federal CIO Steven VanRoekel.

VanRoekel and Federal Chief Technology Officer Todd Park attended an industry event Wednesday where they reiterated a strategy for connecting the public to federal data.

“Part of our goal for inspiring this way of innovation is to bring government innovation and government technology to citizens where they are, where they play, where they act, anytime, anywhere on any device,” VanRoekel said.

“Data that is public should be made public, to drive the social side, the civic participation side and the application programming interface (API) side of taking government data and making it a platform,” VanRoekel said.

VanRoekel and Park are working with every agency to have a “developer” page to catalog specific data for each site’s users, which would mimic Data.gov’s initiative as a developer portal within the federal government, a one-step catalog of information and open data sites.

“However, you can’t just blindly liberate data and hope for the best,” Park said. “Data by itself is useless — data is only useful if it gets applied to create public benefit. We’re thinking about the deliverable, as an ecosystem of entrepreneurs that uses the data, continually improving the data to build services, generating improvement in people’s lives.”

About a month ago, the White House launched the Presidential Innovation Fellows program, for innovators and entrepreneurs to develop applicable data projects seeking to save taxpayers money, fuel job creation, and improve government communication with citizens across the country. Among the program’s components:

The Open Data Initiatives Program: to stimulate the creation of new apps and services and to generate greater communication between people and services such as health care providers, education systems, etc. This project uses data from governmental and non-governmental sources to create tools that can help Americans “better navigate their world.”

Blue Button for America: for Americans to securely download an electronic copy of their health information and records, and to gain knowledge on their healthcare services.

MyGov: for citizens to access federal information online, but to also personalize the information they wish to receive.

RFP-EZ: a project that will build a platform that makes it easier for small businesses to navigate the federal government.

The 20% Campaign: to use electronic payment mechanisms to support foreign policy, to reduce waste and administrative costs while stimulating a better outcome for all parties involved.

While applications for the fellowship have now closed, VanRoekel and Park encouraged many to sign up to ‘follow’ these projects on their website, to give feedback and any expert advice to help innovate and move digital government forward.

“The only way we will improve our data is if we get feedback from people who are actually trying to use it,” Park said.

For more information on these digital, government projects, visit http://www.whitehouse.gov/innovationfellows.

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Appearances notwithstanding, transparency board still at work

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Casual observers might be forgiven for thinking that things are a bit slow over at the Government Accountability and Transparency Board.  This is the 11-member panel, you may recall, created last summer by President Obama as “a critical next step” in White House efforts to cut costs, crack down on fraud and open up the government’s books to the public.

Almost five months after the board’s chairman, Earl Devaney, retired, Obama hasn’t named a replacement. During the same time, the panel, made up mostly of inspectors general and financial management folk, has met just once, in April. But work on recommendations offered by the board in a December report is proceeding “diligently and collaboratively” between agencies, the Office of Management and Budget and the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, OMB spokeswoman Moira Mack said in an email.

The April session offered a chance to discuss implementation, Mack said, adding that a progress report is in the works. The board has another meeting scheduled for June 19.

In those December recommendations, the board urged adoption of a comprehensive, government-wide framework to track and oversee spending.  The recommendations also incorporated a pet cause of Devaney:  A universal award identification system for government grants, contracts and loans to replace the existing agency-centric approach. This week, however, Devaney endorsed the rival DATA Act, a bill introduced last year that basically shares the same goals, but would also create an independent commission to oversee implementation.

That tipped it for Devaney, according to his column published in The Hill newspaper. Nothing spurs bureaucratic change faster than an act of Congress, he said. Without legislation, “the government’s response will be a never-ending round of unobtainable consensus building and an onslaught of new pilot projects, all designed to show some action, but really only masking their bureaucratic fears of losing control to a truly independent commission.”

In its current form, however, the DATA Act faces opposition from state officials who label its proposed reporting requirements an unfunded mandate. Here, for example, is what the National Conference of State Legislatures said after the bill won House approval last month:

“While NCSL agrees transparency and accountability should go hand-in-hand with federal spending, states should not be expected to provide the funds to make this possible. Another unfunded federal mandate as states slowly recover from the recession is the wrong way to go.”

The Senate has not yet taken up the DATA Act.

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Watchdog group: Four IG offices now leaderless for years

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Hard to believe, but the State Department’s Office of Inspector General has been without a permanent head for more than four years.

That fact, highlighted this week by the Project on Government Oversight, puts the office in an unlucky class of four IG agencies that have had vacancies at the top for at least 1,000 days.

The others are the Interior and Labor departments and the Corporation for National and Community Service. While the Obama administration last fall nominated attorney Deborah Jeffrey for the inspector general’s job at the national service corporation, the Senate has yet to confirm her.

But the White House has named no one for the top positions at the other three offices. Although there are undoubtedly plenty of competent career folks to carry on in the meantime, ‘”a permanent IG has the ability to set a long-term strategic plan, . . . including setting investigative and audit priorities,” POGO said on its web site, adding that the administration has “no good excuse” for failing to nominate someone for a post that has been vacant for years.

The White House press office did not respond to a request for comment today.

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White House names former HHS exec federal CTO

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President Obama last week appointed Health and Human Services Chief Technology Officer Todd Park to oversee technology innovation across the federal government.

Park will fill the position of federal CTO, left vacant by Aneesh Chopra in January. In his new role, Park will work with federal Deputy CTO for Telecommunications Tom Power to ensure the adoption of innovative technologies that support job creation, access to affordable healthcare, open government and other administration priorities.

“Todd Park has demonstrated a remarkable talent for enlisting innovative technologies to modernize government, reduce waste, and make government information more accessible to the public,” Obama said in a statement. “In his new position he will bring those skills to the entire federal enterprise, ensuring that government will serve all Americans fairly, effectively, and efficiently.”  

Over the past two years, Park’s work at HHS has included the creation of healthcare.gov, a consumer website that lists public and private health insurance plans by zip code and efforts to make HHS health data accessible to the public and app developers.

Park worked on health care strategy, technology and operations as a management consultant at Booz Allen & Hamilton before he co-founded the health IT company Athenahealth in 1997. He was hired as an entrepreneur-in-residence at HHS in August 2009.

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Obama, BB King sing ‘Sweet Home Chicago’ at White House blues night

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BB King performs at the White House, Feb. 21, 2012 (Win McNamee / Getty Images)

Barack Obama may be angling for a second career in rhythm and blues (if this whole “leader-of-the-free-world” thing doesn’t pan out). Last night, he took the mic at the White House’s all-star blues tribute night and sang a chorus of “Sweet Home Chicago” with BB King.

The AP said that during the finale, Mick Jagger held the mic out “almost by way of command,” and Obama evidently couldn’t resist. Blues guitarist Buddy Guy also pushed Obama by pointing out that he sang a line from “Let’s Stay Together” last month at an Apollo Theater fundraiser, and said, “You gotta keep it up.”

Besides King, Guy and Jagger, the White House hosted New Orleans musician Trombone Shorty, singers Shemekia Copeland and Susan Tedeschi, and guitarists Jeff Beck, Keb Mo, Gary Clark Jr., Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes. Booker T. Jones of Booker T. and the MGs was the bandleader.

Check out some clips — including Obama’s turn in the spotlight — below. The entire concert will be aired on PBS Feb. 27.

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White House launches BusinessUSA.gov

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The administration on Friday launched a new beta website called BusinessUSA.gov to simplify online interaction between businesses and the government.

BusinessUSA.gov matches “businesses with the services relevant to them, regardless of where the information is located or which agency’s website, call center, or office they go to for help,” federal Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel said in a blog post Friday.

The website is currently in a beta version but will evolve to incorporate user feedback.

Business owners can browse the site and customize their search results to receive information about topics of interest, such as federal contracting, grants, or opportunities that meet their specific needs. For example, if a veteran- or minority-owned business is interested in loans or exporting, the website provides information about those topics.

President Obama first announced plans to launch BusinessUSA.gov in January and also said he would ask Congress for authority to merge agencies that handle business and trade functions into a single department. Sens. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and Mark Warner, D-Va., plan to sponsor a bill that would give the president “fast track” authority to consolidate government agencies, pending Congress’ approval.

“We shouldn’t be an inhibitor through the complexity that we present people,” VanRoekel said.


Twitter talk: The FY13 Budget

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