Monday, September 22nd, 2014

The Obameter

Require Cabinet officials to host Internet town hall meetings


Will "require his Cabinet officials to have periodic national broadband townhall meetings to discuss issues before their agencies."


Updates

Cabinet officials frequently talk to citizens online

Since we last updated this promise in late 2009, more Cabinet officials have gotten in on the Internet town hall act. The federal departments of Agriculture, Defense, Education, Health and Human Services, and State were early participants. Now add to those Interior, Energy, Commerce, Homeland Security, Labor, and Housing and Urban Development.

The White House provided us an extensive list of online events hosted by cabinet secretaries in the past two years, plus one from the end of 2009. There are, frankly, too many to list. Here's a sampling:

• Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis Answers Questions on New Regulatory Agenda, Dec. 7, 2009

Aviation Safety with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, March 9, 2010

Entrepreneurship and Innovation with Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, Nov. 19, 2010

America's Great Outdoors with Secs. Salazar and Vilsack, March 17, 2011

Question and Answer with Energy Secretary Ken Salazar, April 6, 2011

• Education Secretary Arne Duncan Twitter Town Hall, Oct. 1, 2011

In addition, departments have held numerous online forums hosted by lower-level officials, taking questions from citizens. The White House archives many of these events in the Open for Questions and Video sections of its website, and it promotes them ahead of time on its blog.

We find that most of the Cabinet secretaries, plus others below them, have been highly engaged in holding regular online meetings with citizens, as pledged by the president. This one's a Promise Kept.

Sources:

WhiteHouse.gov

Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis Answers Questions on New Regulatory Agenda, Dec. 7, 2009, accessed on Jan. 11, 2012

Aviation Safety with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, March 9, 2010, accessed on Jan. 11, 2012

Entrepreneurship and Innovation with Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, Nov. 19, 2010, accessed on Jan. 11, 2012

America's Great Outdoors with Secs. Salazar and Vilsack, March 17, 2011, accessed on Jan. 11, 2012

Question and Answer with Energy Secretary Ken Salazar, April 6, 2011, accessed on Jan. 11, 2012

Education Secretary Arne Duncan Twitter Town Hall, Oct. 1, 2011, accessed on Jan. 11, 2012

Cabinet secretaries, White House officials roll out Internet town halls

In his ethics platform, President Barack Obama promised to require that his Cabinet officials "have periodic national broadband town hall meetings to discuss issues before their agencies." Not every department has carried out this task yet, but several have.

According to the White House, at least five departments — Agriculture, Defense, Education, Health and Human Services, and State — have held such public events on the Internet. Here is a rundown of completed or planned events.

On July 7, 2009, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack answered questions on Facebook and the White House Web site about key findings of the Food Safety Working Group.

On Sept. 15, 2009, Education Secretary Arne Duncan hosted a virtual "listening and learning” event before a live audience of 60 parents and educators at the WETA-TV studio in Arlington, Va. In addition to hearing from the audience, Duncan responded to phone calls, e-mails and video submissions from across the nation.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon is planning a virtual town hall for deployed troops, featuring Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Questions are being accepted by e-mail, text or video through Sept. 25. And on Aug. 18, 2009, Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen respectively launched "Ask the Secretary” and "Ask the Chairman,” in which service members and ordinary Americans can submit questions and see them answered. Mullen has promised to respond by podcast.

Health and Human Services Secretary Sebelius has participated in at least three Internet events. On July 24, 2009, she hosted a live chat on health care reform and took questions via Facebook and WhiteHouse.gov. On Aug. 7, 2009, she took part in an interactive Webcast on health care reform; questions could be e-mailed to HHS or submitted via Twitter. And on Sept. 21, 2009, Sebelius participated in a "tele-town hall" hosted by Rep. Bill Foster, D-Ill.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton headlined an online town hall meeting for State Department personnel on Feb. 4, 2009, and later, on July 10, 2009, she hosted an online town hall to announce the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review.

On March 26, 2009, Obama conducted an online town hall on the economy and answered questions from the public. The event was streamed on WhiteHouse.gov. On July 1, 2009, the president held a national discussion on health care through an online town hall held in Annandale, Va. In addition to a live audience, participants could send in questions via Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. And on July 28, 2009, Obama held an Internet event at AARP headquarters in Washington, D.C., to answer questions from seniors about health care reform.

On July 13, 2009, Christina Romer, who chairs the White House Council of Economic Advisers, answered questions from Facebook and the White House Web site about the future of the labor market. And on July 29, 2009, Romer hosted a live chat to discuss how health insurance reform could affect small businesses. She took questions via WhiteHouse.gov and Facebook, as well as from small business people who had previously submitted their queries on LinkedIn.

And Nancy-Ann DeParle, director of the White House Office of Health Reform, held two Internet question-and-answer sessions: one on June 29, 2009, and the other on Sept. 10, 2009 — the day after the president's health care address to Congress.

The White House acknowledges that more agencies need to get involved in the coming months, but what's been held so far seems to us to be enough to earn this a rating of In the Works.

Sources:

Kathleen Sebelius and Tom Vilsack, Internet town hall , July 7, 2009

Department of Defense, " Gates, Mullen Use New Media to Hear from Troops, Public ," Aug. 19, 2009

Department of Defense, "Social Media @ DOD" home page , accessed Oct. 1, 2009

Arne Duncan, national "listening and learning” event , Sept. 15, 2009

Kathleen Sebelius, webcast on health care reform, July 24, 2009

Kathleen Sebelius, webcast on health care reform, Aug. 7, 2009

The Chronicle , " Sebelius joins in on Foster's second tele-town hall phone conference ," Sept. 21, 2009

Hillary Clinton, online town hall meeting for State Department personnel, Feb. 4, 2009

Hillary Clinton, online town hall to announce the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, July 10, 2009

Barack Obama, online town hall on health care from Annandale, Va., July 1, 2009

Barack Obama, online town hall at AARP headquarters, July 28, 2009

Barack Obama, online town hall on the economy, March 26, 2009

Christina Romer, question and answer session on the future of the labor market, July 13, 2009

Christina Romer, live chat on health care reform and small business, July 29, 2009

Nancy-Ann DeParle, online question-and-answer session , June 29, 2009

Nancy-Ann DeParle, live chat on health care reform, Sept. 10, 2009