Obama Seeks Oversight Of Financial Sector

The Obama administration moved Tuesday on two of the three legs of the grand plan to revive the economy: getting the stimulus money out the door fast, and regulating the financial industry.

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MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

You may have heard the old question, do you want that done fast or do you want it done right? The Obama administration is asking for both, as it moves to spend $787 billion in economic stimulus money. The White House needs to move that money out the door quickly. But it also needs to make sure that it's not wasted.

And NPR's Scott Horsley joins us now from the White House to talk about this. Scott, President Obama has assigned Vice President Joe Biden to oversee how the stimulus money will be spent. How will Vice President Biden do that?

SCOTT HORSLEY: You know, the president said last night in his address to congress that he chose the vice president because nobody messes with Joe. And Joe Biden met today with some of the cabinet secretaries and the budget director to talk about this. Some of this money is already flowing to states to pay for expanded unemployment benefits.

More will flow out in the next few weeks, as we reported. Taxpayers should begin seeing more money in their paychecks starting in April. And the vice president has said it's going to take more than sort of the usual level of Washington oversight to follow the money and make sure that it is spent wisely.

NORRIS: It sounds like the vice president is going to get some help. The president has appointed Earl Devaney to head a new stimulus accountability board. What can you tell us about him and what that board will do?

HORSLEY: Well, he's an ex-cop. He's an ex-secret service agent. He's most recently worked as inspector general for the Interior Department where he was - played an important role in helping to uncover the Abramoff scandal. He's very well-regarded in sort of watchdog circles. He cuts an imposing figure.

One watchdog I spoke with today said, you know, he's a big guy who's got a very big job on his hands right now. And one of his tasks is going to be takeover the Web site, recovery.com, where the government's planning to list all of the money and all the projects that are being funded with these stimulus dollars.

Vice President Biden said today, what he does not want to have happen is tell someone to call and say, look, it says on the Web site you're spending money to renovate this school in my town, I drive by there every day and I'm not seeing anything happen.

NORRIS: And we should just note that it's recovery.gov, in case somebody goes online and is actually looking for that. The stimulus funding is one part of the president's economic plan. He also met today with lawmakers to discuss new regulations for the financial system. Scott, what's the plan there?

HORSLEY: That's right. The president met with both Democrats and Republicans from the key House in the Senate committees that would be responsible for drafting this regulation. And he's asked them to get to work within the coming weeks and months on new rules of the road for the financial industry. He said that the United States can't have a 21st century financial industry with rules that were crafted in the last century.

He has blamed both outdated rules, as well as a lack of oversight, as among the contributing causes for the financial crunch that we find ourselves in now. And what he wants is new rules to provide for accountability, transparency and consumer protection.

BARACK OBAMA: If we once again guide the market's invisible hand with a higher principle, our markets will recover. Our economy will once again thrive, and America will once again lead the world in this new century as it did in the last.

HORSLEY: And I think that the president would like to have at least some work on this completed before the major economic powers gather in London in April.

NORRIS: Now, Scott, I can't let you go without getting to the other big news story at the White House today. People magazine has reported that there's a story coming out of the White House that has four legs.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HORSLEY: That's right. This has attracted more attention than, perhaps, anything else the White House has been up to. The first family is making progress in its search for a dog. They're leaning towards a Portuguese water dog. And Michelle Obama says the dog will probably arrive right after the first daughter's spring break trip in April.

NORRIS: Leaning toward, but not absolutely certain?

HORSLEY: I don't think they can seal the deal because they are hoping to get one from a shelter.

NORRIS: That's NPR's Scott Horsley. Scott, thanks so much.

HORSLEY: Good to be with you.

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