Thursday morning federal headlines – Nov. 17, 2011

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 cash-strapped Postal Service says it will refill its FERS coffers, starting in December, Government Executive reported. Postal Chief Financial Officer Joe Corbett says his agency has enough cash on hand to soon resume payments to its Federal Employees Retirement System account. The agency suspended the payments this summer to save money because it already had a surplus in the FERS account. That and other moves didn’t completely stemmed the bleeding. The Postal Service posted a $5.1 billion loss for FY 20-10. It could also go insolvent if it can’t pay a $5.5 billion bill to prefund retiree health benefits due tomorrow. But, a continuing resolution in Congress includes a provision to extend the deadline on that payment. The CR is on pace to pass. (Government Executive)
  • The Obama administration’s top procurement official is warning against cuts to acquisition workforce. Office of Federal Procurement Policy Administrator Dan Gordon tells Congress that gains have been made in recruiting and training skilled acquisition professionals, but big budget cuts could threaten years of progress. Gordon says the loss of contractors could lead to more bad deals, ultimately costing the government more money. (Federal News Radio)
  • Every suspension and debarment program is unique. The Government Accountability Office reported that the four with the most suspension and debarment cases between 2006 and 2010 are the Defense Logistics Agency, Navy, The General Services Administration, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. GAO says they all have something in common: a dedicated suspension and debarment program with full-time staff, detailed policies and procedures. They say that can’t happen without the support of senior management. GAO says that because each agency has unique needs, they’ll have to figure out for themselves how to incorporate those best practices. (GAO)
  • A GOP plan to reduce the deficit would limit tax deductions for mortgage interest, charitable donations and state and local taxes. Some workers could also see their employer-provided health benefits taxed for the first time. The provisions are part of a plan by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), who serves on the debt supercommittee working to reduce government borrowing. The plan would limit tax breaks claimed by people who itemize their deductions and use the additional revenue to lower overall tax rates and to reduce the budget deficit. Republicans say the plan would raise $290 billion over the next decade. Democrats say it would cut taxes for the wealthy, increase taxes for the middle class and generate less revenue than advertised. (Federal News Radio)
  • Energy Secretary Steven Chu is likely to face sharp questions as the House Energy and Commerce Committee continues investigating a half-billion-dollar federal loan received by solar panel maker Solyndra, the Associated Press reported. The company later declared bankruptcy and laid off 11-hundred workers. Besides the initial loan, Chu also may be asked to explain why he approved a restructuring of Solyndra’s debt that allowed two private investors to move ahead of taxpayers for repayment in case of default. While disappointed in Solyndra’s bankruptcy, Chu says the U.S. should continue to support clean energy. (Federal News Radio)
  • A hardware crash has knocked the Defense Information Systems Agency’s website off line. The site took down more than public access. It also affected training systems, file sharing and time-and-attendance applications used inside DOD. A spokeswoman says the crash occurred at one of DISA’s 13 data centers. She says technicians are restoring those applications incrementally. (Federal News Radio)
  • The rankings are out! And the FDIC tops the Partnership for Public Service’s annual list of the Best Places to Work in government. FDIC earned an 86 percent satisfaction rating from employees. It’s followed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Government Accountability Office. The best small agencies to work at is the Surface Transportation Board with 91-percent satisfaction. FDIC make a complete 180 in it’s ranking. Just six years ago it came in at dead last in employee satisfaction. FDIC Martin Gruenberg attributes the jump to programs focusing on open communication, solid leadership and a great group of workers dedicated to the mission.