Thursday morning federal headlines – Dec. 22, 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 Homeland Security Department is in for a legal fight over a program to monitor social media after some damaging emails are leaked. NextGov reports those leaked messages appeared to show a government contractor planning to use the project to monitor and discredit the online activities of individuals like labor union leaders. Privacy advocates are now suing for all government communications with contractors related to the program. The emails were released by the loosely organized hacker group Anonymous. DHS says the program is meant to expand an ongoing initiative that tracks public online communications in the interests of public. (NextGov)
  • The Federal Acquisition Institute is getting a push from Congress to help it improve the civilian acquisition workforce. Those provisions are part of the 2012 Defense Authorization bill passed by Congress last week. That bill encompasses the FAI Improvement Act. It reaffirms the Institute’s role in training for non-DOD acquisition workers. The bill also includes the Federal Internship Improvement Act. Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) sponsored the Institute’s shot in the arm. President Obama has not yet signed he Defense Authorization bill. If he doesn’t sign it before the House recesses, it faces a pocket veto. (Federal News Radio)
  • Two more large federal buildings have gone green. And they carry the Green Building Council Gold Certificate to prove it. One is the third oldest building in the federal inventory, namely the Treasury building in Washington. The other is one of the newest — the Defense Department’s Mark Center in Alexandria. Treasury, completed in 1869, received its gold certificate yesterday after completing several renovations and improvements. It has better lighting and some sustainable landscaping. The Mark Center, famous for its traffic and parking problems, has efficient heating and lighting, plus 32 shower stalls for those who bike to work. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Office of Personnel Management has a new chief technology officer. David Bowen joins OPM from the FAA, where he was the chief information officer. Bowen’s first order of business will be to fix the system that calculates federal retirement annuities. Its backlog of 60,000 cases is growing by nearly 2,000 cases a month. Bowen will also help shore up the website. When relaunched in October, it crashed under the weight of traffic. (Federal News Radio)
  • The EPA has gone ahead with controversial new rules for coal-fired power plants. The rules require the plant operators to install smoke scrubbing equipment or shut down. They’re the most expensive EPA rules ever. The agency estimates they’ll cost industry nearly $10 billion a year. Critics say the rules threaten stability of the electrical grid and cost jobs. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) is the top Republican on the Senate’s environment committee. He vows to file a rare joint resolution to get the rule overturned. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Veterans Affairs Department wired an RFP to favor an incumbent information security contractor. The IG said requirements for a support services proposal gave weight to Booz Allen Hamilton’s prior knowledge of VA’s practices and procedures. But it failed to include that weighting in the requirements documents. NextGov reports, VA went on to award Booz Allen a $133 million follow-on contract for cyber services. Booz Allen’s bid was 16 percent more than the next highest bid. Glenn Haggstrom is executive director of VA’s Office of Acquisition, Logistics and Construction. He says the price premium was justified by Booz Allen’s rating of outstanding on its technical proposal. (NextGov)
  • Defense Secretary Leon Panetta all but said the United States would attack Iran if that nation succeeded in building a nuclear bomb. Panetta tells the CBS 60 Minutes television show, Iran having a nuke would be crossing a red line for the United States. He says the U.S. would take whatever steps are necessary to stop Iran’s nuclear bomb program, including military actions. U.N. Inspectors say Iran has not yet decided to go ahead with a bomb program. Panetta says that when they do decide, the Iranians could have a weapon within a year. (Defense Department)
  • The Federal Bureau of Prisons has a new director. Attorney General Eric Holder has appointed Charles Samuel Jr. for the top prison job. Samuel has served 23 years in the Justice Department. He is currently the assistant director of the Correctional Programs Division for the Bureau of Prisons. Samuel is charged with leading efforts to increase efficiency, further expand prisoner development and reentry programs, and allow for transparency and accountability at the Bureau. (Justice Department)
  • Arlington National Cemetery reports to Congress today on the accuracy of its gravestones and burial sites. Congress asked for the review after it was revealed that some vets had been buried in the wrong place or in unidentified graves. Those reports led to the ousting of the cemetery’s top two officials last year. An interim report from the cemetery last month found no further evidence of misplaced or misidentified graves. But it DID find tens of thousands of discrepancies between the information on headstones and that contained on internal cemetery paperwork. More than 300,000 veterans are buried at Arlington National Cemetary. (WTOP)
  • Veterans Affairs launches Facebook pages for all of its 152 medical centers. VA says this is a milestone in the effort to transform how the agency communicates with Veterans and provides health services. They hope the pages will help engage vets and their families and provide relevant information at the local level. (Veterans Affairs)