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Bringing the Outside In

The President has made a point of looking for ways to puncture the presidential bubble that has so often resulted in America’s leaders losing touch with the majority of the America people, whether it’s been by fighting to keep his blackberry so he can always hear from a variety of voices outside the White House, or by traveling to town halls to get out of Washington altogether. This afternoon, when the President and the Vice President met with representatives from the National Conference of State Legislatures, he brought some lessons home with him from his town halls in California this week, namely the need for investments and the need for accountability in those investments:
Over the last two days I've been traveling in California, talking with Americans about the challenges they're facing as a result of this economic crisis.  And these are challenges that all of you know very well.  You're on the front lines of this recession.  It's your states that are struggling with shrinking revenues, your budgets are being cut, services that your families depend on in a moment of need are being placed under tremendous strain.  And as a former state legislator, I know how difficult your work can be, and how important it is to have a strong partner in Washington.  I want you to know I'm committed to being that kind of partner.
The President heard a lot about the need for those investments in California, but he also made clear today in the meeting that the accountability effort, which only began with, will have teeth:
That starts with a fundamental commitment.  Decisions about how Recovery Act dollars are spent will be based on the merits.  Let me repeat that:  Decisions about how Recovery money will be spent will be based on the merits.
They will not be made as a way of doing favors for lobbyists.  Any lobbyist who wants to talk with a member of my administration about a particular Recovery Act project will have to submit their thoughts in writing, and we will post it on the Internet for all to see.  (Applause.)  If any member of my administration does meet with a lobbyist about a Recovery Act project, every American will be able to go online and see what that meeting was about.  These are unprecedented restrictions that will help ensure that lobbyists don't stand in the way of our recovery.
And this plan cannot and will not be an excuse for waste and abuse.  Whenever a project comes up for review, we're going to ask a simple question:  Does it advance the core mission of the Recovery Act?  Does it jumpstart job creation?  Does it lay the foundation for lasting prosperity?
The initiatives that will get priority will be ones that have demonstrated how they meet this test; initiatives that maximize the number of jobs we are creating so we can get the most bang out of every taxpayer buck; initiatives that help make health care more affordable, and rebuild our crumbling roads and bridges, or provide other enduring benefits to the American people.
The President thanked the U.S. Conference of Mayors for their commitment to the effort as well, with Vice President Biden having sent a letter (pdf) to them today detailing the accountability standards that will be applied.  The President pledged that he would lead by example, forgoing much needed repairs in the Executive offices because they simply don’t fit the mission of the Recovery Act, but he held up Harry Truman, who crusaded against waste, fraud, and profiteering in the war effort as an even better example: "What Harry Truman understood was that spending tax dollars wisely isn’t just about keeping our books straight, it’s about fulfilling our obligation as keepers of the public trust." 
The President and Vice President speak to state legislators
(The President and Vice President speaks to state legislators about implementation of the Recovery Act in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.  White House Photo, Chuck Kennedy, 3/20/09)