Tuesday Morning Federal Newscast – August 17

The Morning Federal Newscast is a daily compilation of the stories you hear USA Today reports lithium-ion batteries are a growing concern for airlines. Those are rechargable batteries for cellphones, laptops and other electronic devices. If the battery overheats, it can catch fire. The FAA has data that show batteries and battery-powered devices were involved in 113 incidents of smoke, fire, extreme heat or explosion on flights between 1991 and 2010. While the Transportation Department has proposed stricter rules for companies that ship lithium batteries, airlines are considering stricter rules for passenger cabins. Right now, there’s no limit to how many small lithium-ion batteries a passenger can carry aboard a flight. The Transportation Security Administration says it has studied the issue and is not convinced that such batteries are a security threat.

  • Defense Secretary Robert Gates will call it quits sometime next year. Gates tells Foreign Policy magazine that he wants to step down before the 2012 presidential election year. During his time as defense secretary, he’s overseen the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and has led efforts to cut Pentagon spending. Gates joined the Defense Department under former President George W. Bush.
  • The White House recognizes winners in Open Government. Eight federal agencies have received “The Leading Practices Awards” for their work in transparency. According to a post on the White House Open Government Blog, the winners were chosen by peers. Among them, NASA, the Transportation Department and EPA.
  • The Postal Service has landed its first deal with a national retailer. USPS now offers Express and Priority Mail at more than a thousand Office Depot stores nationwide. The Postal Service is looking to expand its reach through retail partnerships, while targeting post office locations for closure and possibly stopping Saturday mail delivery. USPS officials say the deal with Office Depot is an example of how they’re changing their business model while looking to meet customers’ needs.
  • Flir Systems is looking to acquire ICx Technologies. But the deal has raised some eyebrows. Flir makes camera systems for surveillance and reconnaissance. It has agreed to pay $274 million for ICx. But the Washington Business Journal reports that the ICx shareholders’ attorneys say the price is too low. They’re challenging the merger and questioning whether ICx board members have had conflicts of interest. Five law firms in DC, Pennsylvania, Texas, New York and California are investigating the deal.
  • The CIA has tapes of 9/11 suspect interrogations after all. A source tells the Associated Press three were found under a desk in 2007. The tapes are said to depict the secret, overseas interrogation of key 9/11 plotter, Ramzi Binalshibh. The two videotapes and one audiotape are believed to be the only remaining recordings made within the clandestine prison system. In 2005, the CIA destroyed 92 videos of two other al-Qaida operatives being waterboarded. A Justice Department prosecutor is investigating whether destroying the tapes was illegal. He’s now probing the non-disclosure of the remaining three tapes, which the CIA told a federal judge did not exist. AP correspondent Matt Apuzzo will join the Federal Drive at 8:50 with more information
  • The Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management is rethinking its policy of permits for off-road racing, following a California crash that killed eight spectators. A BLM spokesman tells the Wall Street Journal, the agency has launched a safety review of whether it should allow federal lands to be used for the races. The bureau is also looking at improving safety rules if it does decide to let the races continue. The wilderness races often attract thousands of spectators. Before Saturday’s crash, visitors were standing within a few feet of vehicles traveling 50 miles per hour. Then a driver lost control of his truck and plowed into a crowd.
  • Will it be Cafe Cubana Havana? The Obama administration plans to make it easier for Americans to travel to Cuba, according to the New York Times. The politically sensitive change is a return to the people-to-people interaction policy adopted by the Clinton Administration. The Bush administration tightened restrictions on cultural, academic and religious exchanges with the Communist island nation. Sources tell the Times there are no plans to lift the trade embargo with Cuba. It is unclear whether the White House will announce the changes before or after the mid-term elections.
  • A timepiece known as the Ohio Clock, for 193 years standing watch over the Senate, is headed to Boston. But it’s only temporary. The ancient clock is going to get a thorough overhaul, from its wood case to the smallest gears in its works. The 11-foot-tall clock was built in Philadelphia around 1817, according to Senate Curator Diane Skvlarla, and no one knows how it got the moniker ‘Ohio Clock.’ Early senators are rumored to have stored whisky inside its case. The clock has held its current location outside the Senate chamber’s south door since 1959.

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