Wednesday morning federal headlines – Oct. 19

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 users more information about the stories you hear on the air.

  • The Pentagon will hand out $30 million in grants for new energy technologies. The grants are aimed at projects to help military bases become test beds for alternative energy sources. Dorothy Robyn, DoD’s deputy undersecretary for installations and environment, said DOD received 600 high-quality responses to a February notice announcing the grants. DoD already has 49 pilot projects underway, including smart micro grids, wind and solar generation, and landfill gas. (Federal News Radio)
  • The new is back up and running. The Office of Personnel Management says 94 percent of users can now access the site, while 6 percent may still get a message to try back later. The revamped site got off to a shaky start last week. Users logged on after the revamp to find a slow, clunky site with trouble loading. OPM says the new site was overwhelmed with three times the normal number of visitors. They say everything should be running smoothly now. (Federal News Radio)
  • Federal retirees will find out today how much Social Security will raise their annual cost-of-living adjustment. It’s the first COLA increase since 2009. Experts project the increase will be about 3.5 percent. It will affect 55 million beneficiaries nation-wide, including those in the Federal Employees Retirement System. There was no COLA in 2010 or 2011 because inflation was too low. (Federal News Radio)
  • A bill to prohibit agencies from withholding taxes from payments to contractors would increase the federal deficit. The Congressional Budget Office pegs the increase at $11 billion over the next ten years. The repeal bill has bipartisan support. Withholding is scheduled to start in 2013. But opponents say that by withholding 3 percent of contractor payments, the government is forcing vendors to float loans. The withholding was authorized back in 2005, but so far agencies have no mechanism for carrying it out. (Federal News Radio)
  • Federal technology chiefs have spent the last three years fretting over cloud computing security. Now some of them are saying those concerns are overblown. Gus Hunt is chief technology officer of the CIA. He says cloud computing may be even more secure than the typical set-ups. At a meeting hosted by Amazon, Hunt said that in the cloud, agency applications and data move around from machine to machine. That makes them harder for cyber criminals to get their hands on. Agencies are under a mandate from OMB to move their computing to third-party cloud facilities. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Justice Department plans to close four regional anti-trust offices in a cost-cutting measure. The offices are in Atlanta, Cleveland, Dallas and Philadelphia and will affect 94 people. They’ll be relocated to offices in New York, Chicago and San Francisco. The move is expected to save $8 million after relocation and lease closure costs. The moves are part of the department’s larger effort to trim spending by $130 million. The office consolidation was suggested by the attorney general’s Advisory Council for Savings and Efficiency. (Justice Department)
  • More buyouts and early outs are being offered at the the Agriculture Department — this time to nearly 2,000 employees in the Rural Development division, GovExec reports. A USDA memo cites tight 2012 budgets as the motivation behind the latest round of belt tightening. Employees who accept the buyouts can receive a up to 25,000 dollars. That can be combined with early retirements for all eligible employees, the memo says. Employees have until Oct. 31st to accept, and must retire no later than Dec. 3. USDA offered more then 500 buyouts back in May. (GovExec)
  • The Postal Service will have to deal in more than just mail. The Wall Street Journal reports USPS is going to have to change its business model if it is going to survive.For more than 200 years, the agency has been almost singularly focused on delivering mail to everyone, everywhere. But that won’t keep the Postal Service afloat. In other countries, post offices diversified as soon as they noticed a decline in first-class mail. Now they offer everything from banking to fingerprinting. You can buy jewelry, candy, and children’s books. The inspector general’s report suggests the Postal Service get into the logistics business by helping big commercial retailers navigate customs in cross-border business. (Wall Street Journal)
  • The Senate has thrown its support behind the potato. It votes to block an Obama administration proposal to limit potatoes in school lunches. The Agriculture Department proposed earlier this year to cut french fries to twice a week. That angered the potato industry, some school districts and members of Congress from spud-growing states. Potato boosters say USDA should focus on how the tubers are prepared, not how often they’re served. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) called the bipartisan voice vote a victory for common sense. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wants your family to prepare for a zombie pandemic. And if that happens to get you ready for floods, hurricanes and tornadoes, even better. USA Today reports that the CDC health preparedness and response team has produced an online graphic novel that tells the story of a couple struggling to survive a zombie pandemic. The whole idea is to help Americans think about how to prepare for emergencies. We won’t tell you how the novella ends…except to say that it includes a handy list of items for an emergency kit. (