Friday morning federal headlines – Dec. 23, 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 Government Accountability Office took a closer look at Customs and Border Protection’s training program. Auditors wanted to know just how well CBP officers are trained. GAO says the training course needs to be re-evaluated, and CBP needs a new policy for training responsibility, including oversight of training records. They also should conduct a training needs assessment. CBP agreed and is already taking steps to put the changes in place. (GAO)
  • Usually when you think of NASA radio, you think of the crackly conversations between astronauts and ground control during space missions. But these days, the national space agency is providing more cutting-edge music than tinny chats between space crews and their handlers on the ground. It’s called Third Rock Radio and it launched about a week ago. It features new rock, independent and alternative music, and also gives young people leads on jobs and other ways to deal with the high-tech world. (NASA)
  • The payroll tax debate is over, for now. After a tense week of gridlock, House Republican leaders accepted the Senate’s two-month extension to the payroll tax reduction. The Senate bill does not include a federal pay freeze or an increase in employee contributions to the federal retirement system. Congress will convene today for a House and Senate conference to approve the plan. It will renew expiring payroll tax cuts for every worker, extend unemployment benefits for millions of Americans and prevent doctors from absorbing cuts in Medicare payments. The temporary plan pays for the extensions with fees to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. (Federal News Radio)
  • Remember those climbers repelling down the Washington Monument to inspect it? Well their reports are in, and it looks like the damage from August earthquake has left the monument vulnerable to rainfall and other weather conditions. The monument has extensive cracking and chipped stones near its peak and inspectors say they found cracks and loose stones along the entire length of the 555-foot structure. The report does not estimate how long repairs would take or how much they would cost. The federal spending bill approved last week allocates $7.5 million to fix the monument, with the understanding that the National Park Service will raise an equal amount through private donations. The 127-year-old monument has been closed to visitors since a 5.8-magnitude earthquake shook the nation’s capital on Aug. 23. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Patent and Trademark Offices will terminate a program designed to speed up certain patent application approvals. The Backlog Reduction Stimulus Plan lets applicants cancel some of their submissions in exchange for fast-tracking others. But Terry Rea, PTO’s deputy director, says the agency only received 209 petitions for the plan. The PTO has had better luck with its Green Technology pilot program. It gives expedited handling of applications for so-called green technologies. PTO will extend through March 21, 2012. (Federal News Radio)
  • Pilots at a major cargo carrier are suing the FAA. United Parcel Service pilots want to force the agency to apply new fatigue rules to them. The rules, announced Monday, are mandatory only for passenger carriers. Members of the Independent Pilots Association don’t buy the FAA’s assessment that the cost of the rules would outweigh the benefits to cargo carriers. UPS pilots say the biggest contributors to fatigue, night flying and crossing time zones, are more common for them than for passenger carriers. DOT Secretary Ray LaHood plans to meet with cargo carriers to try and convince them to voluntarily follow the new rules. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Education Department has awarded seven states a total of $200 million in Race to the Top grants. Race to the Top is the department’s signature program to improve K through 12 education. Pennsylvania received the biggest prize, $41 million. The other winners were Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana and New Jersey. Winning states must show how they improved teacher evaluation and boosted science and math education. Last week, Education named nine states as winners of $500 million in grants under a competition focused on early learning programs. (Federal News Radio)
  • Alan Bersin says he’ll resign as commissioner of Customs and Border Protection. His last day will be Dec. 30. Bersin has held the job under a recess appointment since March 2010. He is one of 15 appointments made by President Obama that the Senate never acted on. Earlier, Bersin was assistant secretary for international afffairs, and special representative for border affairs at the Homeland Security Department. Bersin had the support of Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Lieberman complained of the broken nomination process. (Federal News Radio)