President Barack Obama

EPA allows experts to comment on oil spill; this looks like progress

We believe in giving credit where credit is due. And so after our recent outrage about the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's news conferences where reporters were forbidden to identify government officials who briefed journalists, we today were pleasantly surprised by an EPA news conference that's back in the real world.

Specifically, when EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson did a phone-in presser on the use of dispersants at BP's Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the notice specifically listed the names and titles of lower-ranking EPA staffers who would appear and provide information to the public: Paul Anasta, assistant administrator of EPA's Office of Research and Development; and Dana Tulis, acting director of EPA's Office of Emergency Management. Jane Lubchenco, the Department of Commerce undersecretary in charge of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, also was on the call, along with Dave Westerholm, director of NOAA's Office of Response and Restoration.

Thank you, EPA! This is as it should be: Public officials appear at a news conference tell the journalists what they know (and who they are). Then, that information gets transmitted to the public.

Public officials who make statements to the public need to be held accountable for what they say, which can't happen when they journalists don't even know their names, as happened at the press conference last week on EPA's new rules for handling toxic coal ash. This was highlighted in an excellent story about the whole flap by Curtis Brainerd of the Columbia Journalism Review.

Let's hope today's news conference is the start of a trend.

-- Robert McClure

Rita Hibbard's picture

Indian country and health care reform: Unrealistically high expectations for tribal consulation

Op-Ed By Mark Trahant

More than twenty years ago the BBC captured the essence of bureaucracy in a sitcom called, “Yes, Minister.” The basic plot was that the Minister for Administrative Affairs, Jim Hacker, would come up with an idea – sometimes wonderful, sometimes odd – only to have its implementation sidetracked by civil servants.

Hacker’s nemesis, Sir Humphrey Appleby, once described his task as “the traditional allocation of executive responsibilities has always been so determined as to liberate the ministerial incumbent from the administrative minutiae by devolving the managerial functions to those whose experience and qualifications have better formed them for the performance of such humble offices, thereby releasing their political overlords for the more onerous duties and profound deliberations which are the inevitable concomitant of their exalted position.”

Of course bureaucracy in the United States is different. Our civil servants have far less power than they do in the United Kingdom.

Daniel Lathrop's picture

The post-Speech spin

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Last night I was at the Capitol to cover President Obama's healthcare address to Congress and got a chance afterward to interview two political opposites from this part of the country: Reps. Jay Inslee, D-Silicon Sound, and Dave Reichert, R-Silicon Sound. Inslee talked up the speech, while Reichert gave it mixed reviews tending towards an overall pan. I'll be writing more about the speech and the reaction to it later today, so stay tuned.

Rita Hibbard's picture

Presidential town halls head West; expect vigorous engagement

Expect some vigorous rebuttal to the 'death panel' talk when President Obama arrives at a town hall meeting in the small Montana town of Belgrade, near Bozeman, today. Seven hundred people were lined up Friday morning to get tickets,  the Bozeman Daily Chronicle reports this morning.

In an indication that the White House is in full rebuttal mode, an email posted on the White House Web site Thursday quoted  David Axelrod, a senior adviser to Obama, saying that critics of the administration's health-care proposals were "spreading all sorts of lies and distortions" through "viral e-mails" that were flying around unchecked, according to a report in the Washington Post.  Axelrod called for "a chain e-mail of our own" to rebut "these wild misrepresentations that bear no resemblance to anything that's actually been proposed."

(The New York Times today does some detective work on on the death panel rumor, tracing it back to some familiar roots - conservative pundits and media outlets. Read more about that here.)

Back in Bozeman, emotions are running high.

"We are huge fans," said Aimee Kissel, a city clerk who waited all night in line to get a ticket. "I'm a single mom. I've struggled with bills forever. I have a great job and great insurance, and I still can't afford to go to the doctor, with the co-pays and prescription co-pay. I only go to the doctor if I really, really have to."

Of course, there are buses of anti-reformers descending.