Wednesday Morning Federal Newscast – December 8th

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.

  • Most federal agencies will see a budget freeze, if the President signs a proposed catch all spending bill from House Democrats. The measure combines annual operating budgets for every federal department and agency. The freeze would include most defense programs. It would also prevent increases in personnel accounts — a move that some see as a de facto endorsement of the president’s proposed pay freeze. House lawmakers say the bill could pass as early as this week. Senate Democrats are working on a different approach.
  • A few postal workers threw mail in the trash to lighten their workload. One rifled through packages, looking for painkiller pills. Another stole $100,000 worth of Treasury checks. In all, 435 Postal workers were arrested between March and September of this year. They paid $672 million in fines and restitution. Those figures, and the anecdotes behind them, are included in the Postal Inspector General’s semi-annual report to Congress. A Postal spokesman says only a tiny percentage of the nation’s 195,000 letter carriers do anything but complete their rounds honestly and reliably.
  • Veterans Affairs is investigating its main advocate for veteran-owned small businesses. He is Timothy Foreman, who leads the department’s Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization. VA spokeswoman Katie Roberts says Foreman has been put on administrative leave. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports the probe apparently stems from a letter Foreman posted on the VA Web site. In it, he asks VA’s general counsel whether it was okay for contracting officers to bypass veteran-owned firms, giving preference to companies on contract with GSA.
  • The chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee is asking for TSA officials to allow their transportation security officers to unionize. In a letter to Transportation Security Administration head John Pistole, Mississippi Democrat Bennie Thompson urged the administration to develop a policy that would “expand the ability of TSO’s to engage in meaningful representational activities and assures collective bargaining rights.” Both the American Federation of Government Employees and the National Treasury Employees Union are vying to represent the workers as they work together to have the current policy reversed.
  • Agencies are posting more federal spending data at the web site, Jacob “Jack” Lew , the director of the Office of Management and Budget, says in his blog that recipients of sub-grants are now on the the site. Last month, subcontractor data was added. Until now, only prime contractor and grantee information was posted. GovExec reports, so far 930 sub-grant awards worth a total of $750 million have been added to the site. The posting requirement for agencies is being phased in, starting with the biggest sub-contracts and sub-grants.
  • The GSA may be about to get very busy upgrading your wireless connection at work. Under the newly introduced Federal Wi-Net Act, all publicly accessible federal buildings would have wireless technology by the end of 2013. The bill would give federal employees access to Wi-Fi thru what it calls low-cost repeater stations instead of reaching for their cell phones and laptops that suck up bandwidth on mobile networks.
  • Private security contractors in Afghanistan will be allowed work in the country until their contracts expire. That country’s government had issued a ban for the private firms, but concern from Washington prompted Afghan leaders to rethink the policy. The U.S. leads or supports billions of dollars in Afghanistan reconstruction projects. Those projects are often guarded by the security firms. Reuters reports the ban does not apply to companies protecting military installations and diplomats.
  • Improper contractor actions, and lack of federal oversight, led to a fatal helicopter crash in 2008. The helicopter was transporting firefighters who were dealing with forest fires in California. The National Transportation Safety Board says the Sikorsky helicopter didn’t have crash resistant fuel tanks, cabin seats, or proper seat belts. NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman says the contractor, Carson Helicopters, altered weight documents and performance charts. But she also says that the Federal Aviation Administration and the Forest Service didn’t pay any attention to what the contractor was up to. NTSB has 11 recommendations for the FAA and the Forest Service, including the creation of a contractor oversight program.
  • The Transportation Security Administration is facing Congressional demands to release inspection reports on its X-ray screening machines. Federal Times reports TSA has not responded to requests for the reports from a newspaper, prompting members of Congress to join in. At issue is whether the machines are adjusted and maintained so that people and baggage don’t receive excessive doses of radiation. TSA officials say radiation doses are safe. Massachusetts Democrat Ed Markey has asked the Homeland Security inspector general to investigate the effectiveness of full-body scanners, which use X-rays.
  • Officials with the Bureau of Engraving and Printing are having to go through a billion – that’s Billion with a “B” – hundred dollar bills. Production problems left creases in many of the notes. Now they have to figure out how much of currency has to be destroyed. The newly designed $100-dollar bill was unveiled by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke last April. They had originally been scheduled to go into circulation on February tenth. Now they’ll have to go through all the bills before they set a new release date.
  • The U.S. Mint has postponed the sale of its 2010, five-ounce silver coins. The agency is worried that its network of authorized purchasers is going to gouge customers with high premiums. The Wall Street Journal reports, one dealer was planning to charge its collectors a $130 surcharge for a set of five coins. But David Ganz, former president of a coin collectors association, said the Mint should have anticipated the high prices because it issued too few sets of the *America The Beautiful” silver pieces.

More news links

A list of designated GOP chairmen


Report says drilling agency needs more inspectors

Chu urges Congress to look to nuclear power

US sends top officials to China over NKorea

Ex-spy’s son who turned on dad dodges prison

Prosecutors argue military medals law is valid


Coming up today on The DorobekInsider:

** Today is the one year anniversary of the Obama administration’s transparency and open government initiative. We’ll have an assessment of one year of open government — what’s worked — and what hasn’t.

** And we continue looking at the big stories of 2010 — and how they will impact your 2011… Today, Patricia Neihaus of the Federal Managers Association

Join Chris from 3 to 7 pm on 1500 AM or on your computer.