Friday Morning Federal Newscast – Nov. 5th

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 Department of Homeland Security will continue to work on consolidating its headquarters at St. Elizabeths Campus. But now, the General Services Administration is looking to spread the offices out a bit. GSA is re-advertising a solicitation for more than a million square feet for DHS. It calls for space in a limited number of nearby submarkets. New or existing projects in Southern Prince George’s County; Crystal or Pentagon City; and parts of DC are eligible. DHS says it need more space for the Science and Technology division, the Under Secretary for Management and Citizenship and Immigration Services. The Washington Business Journal reports that this will open up the competition for new projects, and extend the delivery date to the end of 2015.
  • It appears that BRAC deadlines trump a lease protest over Medical Command Headquarters. Last month, a federal judge denied the protest from the team that lost out to GBA Associates. The protesting company, EREH argued that the General Services Administration didn’t inspect the site well enough because it is in a flood plain as defined by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The Washington Business Journal reports that the judge’s decision says that, yes, the winning site IS in a flood plain, and that GSA did not properly study it. But, because the lease is part of the Base Realignment and Closure Act, which makes it time-sensitive, it would be too much of a financial and logistical hassle to take the lease away from GBA.
  • An OPM plan to build a database with sensitive information on millions of Americans is sparking concerns about privacy. ComputerWorld reports the Center for Democracy and Technology along with 15 other groups have asked OPM to scrub plans to launch the system on November 15th. OPM says the Health Claims Data Warehouse will help it manage three programs: The Federal Employees Health Benefit Program, the National Pre-Exisiting Condition Insurance Program and the Multi-State Option Plan.
  • The Army has started another criminal investigation into misconduct at Arlington National Cemetery. The Army confirmed the investigation to the Washington Post, and says the new probe started after some new information came to light about “questionable practices.” In June an inspector general’s report found widespread problems at the cemetery, including unmarked and mislabeled graves, and urns that were thrown on landfill piles.
  • The Air Force will not replace its aging fleet of bombers anytime soon. A senior leader for the service says the Air Force hasn’t come up with a timetable for proposing a new fleet to Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Lt. Gen. Philip Breedlove, cited in GovExec, says that for the time being his military branch will upgrade existing planes, including its B-1s, B-52s and stealth bombers. The Air Force had planned to launch a new long-range bomber by 2018. But the defense secretary scrubbed those plans last year, when he asked Air Force leaders to review needs for future long-range strike requirements.
  • The Army is changing career advancement for civilian employees. All soldiers know what their individual career paths are, but the civilian workforce, according to assistant deputy chief of staff Joseph McDade, are “basically told they are on their own.” The Army News Service reports McDade blames that lack of career advancement planning for a big part of why one out of every three new hires leaves the Army within the first five years. Under Secretary Joseph Westphal has said he wants the civilian workforce to have access to professional development and leadership education on par with the military.
  • A ruling from the Merit Systems Protection Board is putting the future of the Federal Career Intern Program in question. MSPB says the government has broken the rules by placing intern program positions in the excepted service. That lets agencies get around requirements to advertise competitive service openings. The board also says the intern program violates veterans preference laws because the government doesn’t have to justify its reason for placing positions in the excepted service. Federal Times reports that MSPB has ordered OPM to bring the program into compliance with veterans preference laws within 120 days.
  • GSA is moving forward with its social network for feds. The agency has launched a pilot program for FedSpace. The network is designed as a secure place for feds and contractors to collaborate. It should be open to all feds by early 2011.
  • Two agencies are teaming with Cornell University to help educate farmers about new food safety rules. The Produce Safety Alliance is backed by a $1.1 million dollar from the Food and Drug Administration and the Agriculture Department. The alliance will be housed at Cornell’s Good Agricultural Practices program. GAPs has a history of developing and disseminating information on growing food safely. Multilingual web sites and publications will be aimed at helping growers deal with new rules on production, harvesting and packing of food. The FDA plans to issue the rules next year.
  • Clean-running buses and greener stations get a boost from the Federal Transit Administration. The FTA has awarded 165 million dollars in new grants to transit operators. The money comes from a pair of programs, Clean Fuels Grants and TIGGER. TIGGER stands for Transit Investment in Greenhouse Gas and Energy Reduction. Transit providers will use the money for a variety of purposes. Some will replace diesel buses with advanced propulsion models. Others will overhaul transit stations to make them more energy efficient. The FTA reviewed 274 grant applications, and made awards to 63.
  • Polar bears will be getting fresh hugs from the Interior Department. A federal judge has recommended the department reconsider whether the polar bear should be placed on the endangered species list. In 2008, the Bush administration designated the bear as threatened. Environmental groups have argued the bear should be on the more protective endangered list. But industry groups worry an endangered listing would restrict oil and gas exploration. Interior has until December to respond to the ruling from U.S. District of Columbia District Judge Emmet Sullivan.
  • Federal scientists say they have found damage to deep sea corals and other marine life in the Gulf of Mexico. The troubling news is, the damage is miles away from where BP’s oil well spewed millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf. Researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration along with Penn State University and others examined the coral. They used remotely operated vehicles down to 4,600 feet, and roughly seven miles from the BP well. They found dead and dying corals. Some appeared to be coated with a “brown substance,” which they have to test to see if it is oil, and if that oil came from BP’s well. NOAA officials say the government is committed to ongoing research in the region to determine the extent of damage.

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