Monday Morning Federal Newscast – September 20th

The Morning Federal Newscast is a daily compilation of the stories you hear Federal Drive hosts Tom Temin and Amy Morris discuss throughout the show each day. The Newscast is designed to give FederalNewsRadio.com users more information about the stories you hear on the air.

  • Senate Republicans are lining up behind a measure to cut 2011 spending plans by $13 billion under the level currently authorized. Discretionary spending levels are capped at by the Senate at more than $1.12 trillion, and slightly less in the House. Congress Daily reports Democrats will need at least one Republican to overcome a filibuster of what is expected to be a large omnibus spending package. GOP senators were united in voting against the 2011 Defense appropriations bill. It passed a committee vote last week 18-12.
  • Colorado Republican Congressman Mike Coffman introduces a bill that would require two weeks of furlough for civilian feds in 2011. The measure would make two weeks of unpaid, non-consecutive furlough days mandatory. It would also reduce appropriations for salaries and expenses in legislative branch offices. And members of Congress would take a 10-percent pay cut, too. The bill does contain exceptions for reasons related to national security or public health and safety. Coffman says his bill would save $5.5 billion. It’s not a first, though. Other lawmakers have introduced furlough bills in years past, and Congress has said no.
  • Waiting for those Smart Trip card prices to drop? Keep waiting. Metro’s finance committee is considering lowering the price from $5 to $2.50. They just can’t figure out how to move forward with that proposal. The Washington Examiner reports transit officials originally planned to reduce the price at the end of August. But they were concerned that the entry and exit rules for Metro would leave them with a loss of a million dollars every month in revenue.
  • Jacob Lew, the president’s nominee for director of the Office of Management and Budget, promises help for the Postal Service if he’s confirmed. Federal Times reports, Lew will push the Office of Personnel Management to deal with Postal’s overpayment of its pension obligations. Postal has blamed a large portion of its fiscal woes on the fact that it has overfunded its pension system by $75 billion. But OPM keeps saying it requires an act of Congress to lower the annual payments. Lew would end the logjam, he tells Senators in a written statement.
  • First the FEHBP, now CHAMP would like to follow. The children of some disabled veterans could get more time to hang onto their health coverage under the Department of Veterans Affairs. Hawaii Senator Daniel Akaka has introduced a measure that would expand eligibility requirements for VA’s Civilian Health and Medical Program. The bill would let those dependents stay in the program until age 26. Right now, coverage expires when they turn 18, or 23 if they are full-time students. The CHAMP-VA program is available to spouses and children of permanently and totally disabled veterans who have service-connected disabilities. It’s also open to the survivors of vets who die from those disabilities. Akaka says his bill is designed to bring the CHAMP-VA program into lockstep with benefits required in other plans under healthcare reform. That includes raising the age for eligibility.
  • Pentagon cost-cutting may hit U.S. Marines right in the lunchbox. In 2001 Sodexo, a French owned food-service conglomerate, was awarded $881 million to provide food at 55 Marine Corps chow halls in the United States. Two years later, Marines began rotating overseas to Iraq and Afghanistan, so there were tens of thousands fewer mouths to feed in the United States than the contract had anticipated, according to the Service Employees International Union. Despite that, the contract has gone as much as $500 million over budget. Now the contracts are up for renewal.
  • New regulations are being unveiled today, designed to crack down on Medicare and Medicaid fraud. USA Today reports the new rules would give federal health officials the powers they need to identify and stop fraud early, possibly reducing the $55 billion in improper payments made each year in the Medicare and Medicaid programs. The proposed rules are part of health care reform, which would expand coverage to millions of Americans, in part, by saving money on waste and fraud in public and private health care systems. The proposed rules will be published Thursday. You have 60 days for comments. The final rules are expected to be in place by the end of this year.
  • The Department of Veterans Affairs has discovered 10 missing laptops. CIO Roger Baker says the machines were reported missing in August. NextGov reports most of them had not been loaded with applications or data. And none had sensitive information. VA has come under fire in recent years for mishandling equipment and personal information. In one case, VA lost a laptop with information for more than 26 million veterans.
  • Two Russian aircraft, an airplane and a helicopter, buzzed a U.S. Navy warship in the Barents Sea last week, the Pentagon reports. The Arctic event, with its cold-war overtones, raised eyebrows. DOD spokesman colonel Dave Lapan said a Russian patrol plane came within 50 yards of the frigate, followed the next day by a helicopter, although neither action appeared to be hostile. He said the U.S. and Russia are both trying to determine if protocol was broken. Navy Times reports, the Frigate Taylor had recently visited the Russian port of Murmansk as part of commemorations marking the end of World War II.
  • Two former Los Alamos National Laboratory workers were arrested in an FBI sting, charged with conspiring to help Venezuela develop nuclear weapons. Scientist Pedro Maschreroni and his wife Marjory appeared in federal court in Albuquerque, New Mexico. They had allegedly promised U.S. secrets to FBI agents posing as buyers from Venezuela. The U.S. is not alleging that anyone from Venezuela sought U.S. nuclear information.
  • More details on the $2.8 billion, four-contractor deal from Social Security: Next Gov reports, each of the winning vendors will focus on a specific area of expertise, although Social Security will compete task orders. Lockheed focus on software development; Accenture on electronic health records; CSC on systems administration and operating systems; and Northrop Grumman on enterprise architecture and business planning. The contracts will also provide Social Security with technologies such as voice recognition and data mining.
  • Keep an eye on the sky for Jupiter. It won’t be this big or bright again until 2022. Jupiter will pass 368 million miles from Earth late tonight. That’s its closest approach since 1963. You can see it low in the east around dusk. Around midnight, it will be directly overhead. That’s because Earth will be passing between Jupiter and the sun, into the wee hours of Tuesday. The only thing brighter in the night sky right now is our moon. NASA astronomers say you can see Jupiter with the naked eye, but binoculars and telescopes will dramatically improve the view as it rises in the east as the sun sets. You’ll also see a little green disk nearby. That’s Uranus. It’ll be harder to see but astronomers say having both planets so close at the same time is a once-in-a-lifetime event.
  • A custom-designed motorcycle signed by President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will be auctioned in Las Vegas to help military families. The Army Chopper also bears the signature of national security advisor James Jones, whose son donated the bike. Proceeds will benefit the Fisher House foundation, which builds and donates houses to the families of wounded troops. The auctioneer will waive its fee. The bike? It was built by Hardcore Choppers of Sterling. No wimpy scooter, the vintage-looking racer sports 150 horsepower and six forward speeds.

More news links

VA reports 10 missing laptops, likely no personal data lost (NextGov)

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** Open data everywhere, right? It’s not just in the United States. The United Nations is opening up data, and we’ll talk to them about why the UN is focusing on open data.

** And the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board? They run the TSP. The board meets today. We’ll get an update on today’s meeting.

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