Tuesday Morning Federal Newscast – September 7th

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.

  • The new Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles designed to shield soldiers from roadside bomb blasts in Afghanistan are doing just that. USA Today reports, that the new trucks have reduced deaths and injuries by 30 percent in the last eighteen months. From January 20-09 to July 20-10, the fatality rate for attacks on Humvees was nearly 80 percent, while only 15 percent of occupants died in attacks on the new MRAPs.
  • GSA is suspending new companies from selling office supplies under Schedule 75. The suspension will last for two years starting on October 1st. GSA says they’re making the move after awarding more than a dozen blanket purchase agreements in June for office supplies. The agency estimates the government can save $192 million over four years with those agreements.
  • Federal transportation safety officials are reviving the debate over whether infants and toddlers should be allowed to travel on the laps of adults in airplanes. The National Transportation Safety Board is asking the Federal Aviation Administration to require children under 2 to be in separate seats and restraints. The request comes after a 10-seater plane crashed in Butte, Montana last year, killing 14, including 7 children. The FAA says it will consider the recommendation. In the past, it has said the cost of buying an extra airline ticket could force some families with small children to take to the highways instead of the skies, which would result in even more child injuries and deaths.
  • Genetically modified Atlantic salmon might be coming to a dinner plate new you. The Food and Drug Administration appears ready to approve the first such animal for human consumption. The Washington Post reports, the highly anticipated decision could touch off a fresh debate about the safety of genetically modified food. Last week, FDA scientists said the salmon is safe to eat and poses no threat to the environment, a step toward approval. The fish was developed in the 1990s by a Boston company AquAdvantage. It contains genes from other fish, causing it to grow much faster than unmodified salmon. A top FDA panel will hear the science report September 19th.
  • The administration’s open government effort gets a passing grade, but not an A-plus, from Open the Government.org. The anti-secrecy group reports that between 2008 and 2009, the backlog of FOIA requests dropped 40 percent, although it stands at 77,000. And, there’s been a modest drop in the rate of documents being marked classified. Overall, Open The Government said, the record of the Obama administration so far is mixed, but trending in the right direction.
  • The General Services Administration’s green buildings office is slated to have its budget cut in half in 2011. Federal Times reports the Senate Appropriations Committee included two million dollars for the Office of Federal High-Performance Green Buildings. This year’s budget is four million. But with only a few weeks left in the fiscal year, the office still had more than a million dollars left. The office coordinates energy-efficiency construction projects with the Energy Department. It also sets standards and technical assistance for low-energy-consumption buildings.
  • Broadband in the United States ain’t what it is cracked up to be. The Federal Communications Commission finds that only half of U.S. broadband subscribers receive speeds that meet targets in the FCC’s national broadband plan. NextGov reports the March plan set a target of four megabits per second downloads, and one megabit per second upload. But only less than half of the nation’s fixed-location subscribers experience those speeds. And, the commission reports, mobile broadband subscriptions are growing much faster than fixed locations.
  • Veterans Affairs has fully automated a system for processing education benefits for vets, just in time for the 2010 fall semester. VA Chief Information Officer Roger Baker says the new system uses software that allows VA examiners to process 10,000 claims per day, that’s up from just 2,000 under the old system. The new setup addresses requirements under the Post 9/11 GI bill, which pays vets for college tuition and housing expenses. Last year, VA racked up a backlog of claims and had to spend emergency money so that veterans could their bills.
  • The Obama administration will try a new tack to prevent foreclosures. A new program gets underway today called short refinance. It is aimed at people who are making their payments but who owe more than their house is worth. Banks that write down mortgages to less than the value of the property can turn the loans over to the federal government, to be backed by the Federal Housing Administration. The Wall Street Journal reports, the government has set aside 14 billion dollars from the Troubled Asset Relief Program to cover short refinancing losses. A related program, the Home Affordable Modification Program, has met only a third of its goal of helping three million homeowners.
  • The blowout preventer, the machine that did not prevent an oil well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, is on its way to a NASA facility. There, investigators will try to find the reason the 300 ton, five-story machine failed to pinch off the oil flow after the Deepwater Horizon platform burned, collapsed and sunk last April. It took engineers close to 30 hours to lift the blowout preventer from the sea floor, a mile down. FBI agents accompanied the machine on its boat trip to NASA, according to the Associated Press.
  • If you have a giving spirit, OPM is making it easier for you to help those in need. OPM and the Chief Human Capital Officers Council have extended the deadline for the Feds Feed Families campaign. You have until September 14th. That’s an extra two weeks. So far, feds have collected about 700,000 pounds of food. The goal is 1.2 million pounds.

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