Last week, President Obama dropped by unannounced to welcome over a hundred county officials to the White House. The meeting was hosted by the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs as part of our ongoing efforts to serve as a bridge between the White House and local governments. The purpose of the gathering was to discuss opportunities for the Administration to continue partnering with county leaders on key issues and to make sure that the voices of county officials are heard by senior policymakers in the White House and across the federal government.
President Obama spoke of the importance of county government and highlighted his commitment to winning the future by out-educating, out-building, and out-innovating our competitors. Here’s a clip from the President’s visit:
Earlier that day, Vice President Joe Biden shared experiences from his days as a county official in Delaware and discussed his role in the ongoing budget and fiscal negotiations. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius discussed efforts to safeguard Medicaid and improve the quality, safety, and affordability of health care in America. And Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano commented on the primary role of counties in providing disaster relief and further protecting the safety of their residents.
In addition to these speakers, the meeting included three panels of senior officials followed by lively discussions with county leaders.
In the first session, HUD’s Deputy Secretary Ron Sims, and former King County, WA Executive, moderated a panel with representatives from Justice, Education, and Health and Human Services on breaking the cycle of poverty and jail recidivism. Deputy Secretary Sims spoke passionately about the urgent need to interrupt this harmful cycle, and the topic appeared to be of keen interest for many county officials in the room.
During the second panel, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan, and Administrator Lisa Jackson of the Environmental Protection Agency provided remarks and took questions on the Partnership for Sustainable Communities, an interagency effort to make targeted investments and remove regulatory and policy barriers to infrastructure and sustainable growth. You can read more about this initiative.
This groundbreaking initiative serves as an important example of the Obama Administration’s commitment to changing the way the federal government interacts with local governments.
The third panel was moderated by Cecilia Muñoz, Director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, and included Jeanne Lambrew of the Domestic Policy Council and Cindy Mann of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. This panel provided an update on health reform implementation and ongoing initiatives to promote prevention and wellness, simplify the health care system, and address workforce shortages.
Overall, we were very pleased with the meeting. We had an excellent cross-section of leaders at the White House for a detailed discussion of some of the most pressing issues facing America’s counties today. This dialogue is important, and we look forward to continuing the discussion as we move forward together.