Thursday Morning Federal Newscast – October 21st

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.

  • Fed up with failed attempts to automate retirement benefits processing, the Office of Personnel Management will tackle a growing backlog the old fashioned way. OPM Director John Berry wants to bring on an additional 40 people to process claims. He’ll use a combination of overtime and detailees until he can convince Congress to let him hire more people. Berry said retirement claims processing is now taking 100 days. OPM in 2008 cancelled a contract with Hewitt Associates to build an automated retirement benefits system — after repeated delays, cost overruns and functional problems. While processing is done manually, William Zielinski, the new associate director of the Retirements and Benefits Office, will look at ways to re-start the automation project.
  • Subsidized transportation passes for federal workers, including the military, are about to be reduced. They’ll go from $230 per month down to $120 at the end of the year. The subsidies were bumped up in 2009 as part of the Recovery Act but are expiring.
  • Federal pay has risen 428 percent since 1969. That number comes from the Congressional Research Service, which also says pay for all workers has increased by more than 600 percent. Salaries for members of Congress have jumped by a little more than 300 percent.
  • The FBI’s computerized case file system, you know it as Sentinel, has taken another hit. The system, which is two years behind schedule and $100 million over budget, is only about halfway completed. The FBI has introduced a new plan to get the project done in less time, with fewer people, and at a reduced cost. But the Justice Department’s Inspector General’s office says the Sentinel system was supposed to be fully completed by now. Inspector General Glenn Fine says the software and hardware could be obsolete by the time Sentinel is up and running. The FBI is critical of the IG’s assessment, saying that it doesn’t reflect the FBI’s management of the Sentinel project, doesn’t credit the FBI with taking corrective action to keep it on budget, and uses outdated cost estimates.
  • The Obama administration gets low marks for transparency, according to a new survey. The White House received a score of 46 on a scale of 100 in the study done jointly by NextGov and Foresee Results. Federal agencies did worse, with a score of 40. Congress was at the bottom of the heap for government transparency, with a score of 37. Private sector energy, healthcare and banking organizations scored even lower than the government. The survey polled 5,107 people in late summer. It used Foresee’s American Customer Satisfaction Index statistical engine to produce the results.
  • The Securities and Exchange Commission is getting a new CIO who will tackle projects tied to the new financial reform law. Thomas Bayer comes to the agency from Maris Technology Advisors in Virginia. There he advised banking and financial services clients on technology strategy, software development and program management. The SEC is working on a number infrastructure and software projects to support regulatory requirements under financial reform.
  • A long-running lawsuit against the Agriculture Department has been settled. USDA will pay Native American farmers $760 million to compensate for discrimination against them in federal loan programs. The class action suit was leveled back in 1999. The settlement must be approved by a U.S. District Court Judge. GovExec reports, the settlement will paid out of a judgment fund and therefore not require congressional approval.
  • Criminal investigations and prosecutions of Blackwater Worldwide employees are falling apart. The New York Times reports, several obstacles are preventing convictions for murder charges. These include obtaining evidence from war zones, gaining jurisdiction for American civilian courts, and overcoming immunity deals granted on the scene. The prosecutions involve Blackwater guards charged with killing civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan. Just Monday, the Justice Department dropped murder charges against one former Blackwater Guard. Earlier cases were either dismissed or resulted in hung juries. The company, now called Xe Services, guards State Department personnel.
  • Space Shuttle Discovery is scheduled to launch November first, but there’s fuel leaking from the orbital engine system. USA Today reports that the leak stopped overnight, but NASA is replacing the seals anyway to make sure it doesn’t happen again. The work should be done by Monday, but that leaves very little wiggle room for a November first launch. No word on what caused the leak.
  • More than a dozen Washington-area companies have made Newsweek magazine’s list of the 500 greenest companies in the U.S. Several of them are federal contractors. The Washington Business Journal went through the entire list, and found Lockheed Martin at number 85, Northrop Grumman at number 173, SAIC at number 192, and General Dynamics at number 394. The rankings are based on environmental footprints, policies and reputations. Newsweek’s top five green companies are Dell, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Johnson & Johnson and Intel.
  • First Lady Michelle Obama showed off pumpkins, turnips, and huge sweet potatoes — all from the fall harvest of the White House garden. She was joined by local school children as well as famous chefs to mark the occasion. The kids got to pick the veggies and load them into wheel barrows. One sweet potato weighed in at four pounds. So far this year, the White House garden has produced 1,600 pounds of food.
  • Every year, tickets for the National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony are some of the toughest wishes of the season to fulfill. Falling on the floor, kicking and screaming and crying doesn’t help get them. Not even if your kids do it. This year, tickets for the general public will be awarded through an online lottery. The lottery at will start accepting applications at 12:01 a.m. Eastern Time (ET) on Friday, November 5th and will close November 10th. There’s also a phone number (877-444-6777 or for TDD 877-833-6777) for those who don’t have online access. Tickets are free. There are only 3,000 ticketed seats and 10,000 standing room tickets being offered.

More news links

Judge tells Interior to clarify polar bear status



Coming up today on The DorobekInsider:

** GTSI — they were suspended by SBA. But they’ve reached an agreement and GTSI is back in business. What does it all mean? And what’s ahead? We’ll talk to GTSI CEO Scott Friedlander.

** And Homeland Security’s Secure Border Initiative — how is that massive project going? GAO has just completed their assessment. We’ll talk to them

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