Monday morning federal headlines – Sept. 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’s top hats have a good plan to get a clean financial audit. But the Government Accountability Office is skeptical about whether the armed services and DoD agencies can carry it out. DoD is under a mandate to produce a clean audit by 2017. In its latest review, GAO said the Pentagon’s comptroller has laid out a reasonable roadmap. But Asif Kahn, GAO’s top financial auditor, told lawmakers he’s doubtful the components can get their systems and procedures reworked in time. (Federal News Radio)
  • The president has signed into law a bill extending federal aviation and highway programs. His signature made sure the Federal Aviation Administration avoided another partial shutdown. The latest temporary extension is the 21st for the FAA, and the eighth for federal highway programs. The bill keeps the lights on until March 31. Numerous transportation interest groups are urging Congress to find a permanent agreement for transportation programs. (Federal News Radio)
  • Agencies have pushed 85 percent of stimulus dollars out the door. Now, the administration is urging them to spend the remaining 15 percent. Office of Management and Budget Director Jack Lew told agency heads to accelerate spending on recovery grants to states and cities, citing the need to raise employment levels. The 2009 economic stimulus bill gave agencies until 2013 to obligate and outlay more than a half-trillion dollars. The latest OMB directive also orders agencies to submit plans for recovering money received but not spent by grantees. Those dollars go back to the Treasury. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Patent and Trademark Office is planning to hire as many as 2,000 new examiners. PTO wants to knock down a backlog of patent applications that’s reached more than a million. It takes three years on average for an application to go through, while some 700,000 applications have yet to be opened and read. Director David Kappos said the new staff, if Congress approves it, will cut that to 600,000 within a year. President Obama signed into law a bill changing the way PTO awards patents, which favors the first to apply for a patent, instead of the first to invent. Last week the PTO awarded the nation’s eight millionth patent. (Federal News Radio)
  • Contracting officer’s technical representatives often act as the government’s front line against waste, fraud and abuse. Now their jobs are getting an overhaul. Starting Jan. 1, they’ll have a new title: Contract Officer’s Representative. And they’ll have new training and certification requirements. The Office of Federal Procurement Policy laid out three levels of certification Contract Officer’s Representatives can achieve, depending on the size and complexity of the procurements they monitor, and how many hours of formal training they receive. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement is about to be reorganized. The move comes only 15 months after the agency was formed in the first place. Starting Oct. 1st, the bureau will be split into two parts. One part will be called the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement. The second piece will be called the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, GovExec reports. Michael Bromwich, who has led the larger agency since it was formed in June 2010, will be the initial director of the enforcement bureau. Tammy Beaudreau will head up the management agency. The Interior Department reorganized offshore drilling regulation after the Gulf of Mexico oil well blowout in April of last year. (GovExec)
  • The Transportation Security Administration has spent billions of dollars on security initiatives. Now the Government Accountability Office is taking a closer look at how TSA is doing. GAO looked at the SPOT program, which stands for Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques, and airport perimeter and access security. The SPOT program is more effective than random screening, but can’t show if it weeds out terrorists or other security risks. As for airport perimeter security, GAO found that TSA hasn’t conducted a risk assessment or developed a national strategy. GAO recommends that TSA develop a comprehensive risk assessment and evaluate the need to conduct airport vulnerability assessments nationwide and come up with a national strategy to guide efforts to strengthen airport security. (GAO)
  • Future green investments might suffer thanks to a half-billion dollar loan default by solar company Solyndra, The Hill reports. The Obama administration continues to voice its support for renewable energy, saying that it will continue to move forward on more loans like the one to Solyndra — which went bankrupt last month. As many as 14 new loan guarantees from the Energy Department — nine of which are for solar projects — could be finalized by the end of the month, according to The Hill. Congressional Republicans are ready to fight, which will likely make the dismal outlook for federal investments in solar and wind power even worse. (The Hill)

    NASA is closely watching a six-ton satellite as it prepares to fall to Earth. Scientists believe the dead satellite will hit on Thursday or Friday of this week, give-or-take a day, and they believe it’ll break up into 26 pieces as it gets closer. The odds of one of those pieces — the heaviest will be about 350 lbs. — hitting a person are 1 in 3,200. Right now, all continents except Antarctica are likely to see some falling debris. (NASA)

    Agencies are showing measurable progress in their open government initiatives, according to a new White House progress report. It finds agency response to Freedom of Information Requests rose from 2009 to 2010 — to 56 percent. The administration asked agencies to make partial disclosures for certain requests. With partial disclosures included, agencies responded to 93 to 94 percent of FOIA requests. The administration said agencies’ open gov plans and the use of technology have helped drive openness. (Federal News Radio)

  • The TSA has fired 28 bag screeners at Honolulu’s airport after wrapping up a nearly year-long investigation. Investigators found the workers did not properly screen checked bags for explosives. In addition to the workers that were removed, 15 were suspended and three resigned or retired. The cases of two other employees are still being decided. The ruling amounts to the single largest personnel action for misconduct in that agency’s history. The National Treasury Employees Union, which represents TSA workers, said the employees faced pressure to make sure flights departed on time. The workers can appeal the decision. (Associated Press)