Tuesday morning federal headlines – Nov. 15, 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 FederalNewsRadio.com users more information about the stories you hear on the air.

  • House and Senate negotiators have agreed on a spending plan to keep at least some of the government open until Dec. 16. The current continuing resolution expires Friday. The package is worth $182 billion. It would cover Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and NASA. Lawmakers must vote on the compromise by midnight Friday. The legislation reflects last summer’s budget deal with the White House. It capped agency spending at slightly over $1 trillion, 1 percent less than last year. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Office of Personnel Management is called on the carpet today for how it handled takeover of the country’s main federal jobs website. Lawmakers will ask whether OPM should have pulled USAJobs.gov away from a private contractor in the first place. Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.) called the relaunch a disaster. Monster Government Services, the contractor which operated USAJobs previously, will testify. Director John Berry says the government is saving money running the site itself. OPM spent $6 million to design the new version. It had to import more than 17 million user accounts and 22 million documents. (Federal News Radio)
  • Agriculture will spend $410 million on grants for rural telephone companies to offer broadband, according to a USDA release. Grants will go to 15 states under USDA’s Rural Utilities Service. In one grant, a Minnesota cooperative will extend fiber optic links to nearly 46 thousand homes. A North Dakota utility will spread fiber to 18 telephone exchange areas. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the grants at a rural utilities conference in Saint Louis. (USDA)
  • Score one for the salt industry. It is one of the groups — along with potato growers and frozen pizza businesses — that fought the Agriculture Department’s push for healthier school lunches, the Associated Press reported. USDA wanted limits on french fries, pizza and sodium, while boosting whole grains. The spending bill released late Monday forces the agency to drop the fight and also allows tomato paste on pizza to count as a vegetable. (Federal News Radio)
  • Another FAA shutdown could be coming, warns one lawmaker. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, says his colleagues still haven’t resolved a labor issue holding up passage of a long-term funding bill for the Federal Aviation Administration. That could lead to another partial shutdown like the one that put thousands out of work this summer. Republicans want to overturn a National Mediation Board rule that allows airline and railroad employees to form a union by a simple majority of those voting. Under the old rule, workers who didn’t vote were treated as “no” votes. The current funding expires on Jan. 31. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Energy Department flips on the fastest network in the world, according to Energy.gov. Funded by stimulus dollars, the network connects thousands of scientific researchers using three supercomputers. Energy officials will unveil the new network later today at a conference in Seattle. The $62 million project is called the Advanced Networking Initiative. It gives reseachers bandwidth of 100 gigabits per second. That’s 10 times the speeds commercially available. The ANI also upgrades of Energy’s existing research network. (Energy.gov)
  • The Office of Personnel Management plans to hire more staff to help it speed the processing of pension requests. Forty more people will be brought on board to help get the work done. That’s in addition to the 35 people already hired earlier this year. OPM Director John Berry will testify before Congress this morning about his agency’s plans. He says he’s deeply troubled by the amount of time it currently take to process retirement claims. The new hires are part of his plan to cut processing time down. (Federal News Radio)
  • As mail volume decreases, the Postal Service is considering another option: email volume. A white paper by the Postal Service Inspector General’s office presents a case for offering an e-mail service called the eMailbox. It would also offer a highly secure data storage area service called the eLockbox. The idea is to extend the postal service’s role into the digital world by linking every American household and business in one secure communications network. The report says that out of 23 major industrialized countries, the USPS is one of a handful that doesn’t offer digital services. (USPS)