Tuesday morning federal headlines – Dec. 27, 2011

The Morning Federal Newscast is a daily compilation of the stories you hear Federal Drive host Tom Temin 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.

  • Federal pay and benefits are safe in the two-month payroll tax cut extension signed by the president just before Christmas. House Republicans passed the bill before the benefits expired at the end of December. The legislation buys time for talks early next year on how to finance a year-long extension. That fight promises to be contentious. For now the stop-gap bill renews the expiring payroll tax cuts for every worker, extends unemployment benefits for millions of Americans and prevents doctors from absorbing cuts in Medicare payments. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Agriculture Department is reversing a decision to stop publishing several periodic reports. The agency estimated it could save about $10 million by eliminating or reducing the frequency of 14 crop and livestock reports. Two months later, USDA says it will reinstate the reports for categories including catfish and trout, fruits and vegetables, and bees and honey. The move comes after farmers complained they were left guessing how much to produce and when to sell. USDA says efficiencies in other operations will let the department reinstate the reports. (Federal News Radio)
  • Veterans Affairs says it’s avoided $200 million in employee turnover costs this year. VA officials credit the department’s Learning University. John Sepulveda, VA’s assistant secretary for human resources, says investing in employee training boosted retention rates. Workloads at VA are set to rise as troops return home from Iraq and Afghanistan and apply for benefits. Employees are under their second year of a pay freeze. Sepulveda says training and education is one way to show appreciation for work by public servants. (Federal News Radio)
  • Kathleen Tighe will be the new chairman of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board. She will succeed Earl Devaney, who steps down on Dec. 31. Tighe is inspector general of the Education Department and is also a member of the Government Accountability and Transparency Board. She’s also been IG for the Agriculture Department and counselor at the General Services Administration. Earlier, Tighe was a trial attorney in the Commercial Litigation Branch of the Justice Department. The RAT Board started in 2009 to track grants and contracts under the $900 billion stimulus bill. (Federal News Radio)
  • The FBI’s long delayed case management system has been delayed again. Now it won’t launch before the middle of 2012. The latest setback was revealed in a Justice Department inspector general’s audit. The Sentinel modernization project was originally supposed to cough up a case management system back in 2009. Sentinel itself launched after an earlier, multi-year effort failed. The IG has learned, an October test of Sentinel showed deficiencies in its performance. The audit report expressed concern whether the FBI could stick with the original Sentinel budget of $451 million. (Federal News Radio)
  • North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, set new records in its annual Santa Claus tracking exercise. NORAD, headquartered at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., received more than 100,000 phone calls, up from 80,000 last year. Facebook likes rose to nearly a million. Twitter followers jumped to 89,000. NORAD’s Elf-Toss smart phone app logged 700,000 downloads. NORAD has been tracking Santa’s yearly trek since 1955. Meanwhile, a National Science Foundation interview with one economist shows U.S. consumer Christmas spending ranks only 20th among nations. (Federal News Radio/National Science Foundation)
  • The Federal Trade Commission is exploring ways to develop new facial recognition technology and it wants your input. The FTC explored the future commercial applications of facial recognition technologies at a recent workshop. It’s asking for public comment to answer questions that came out of that meeting. Those include: how consumers can benefit from the technologies?; what privacy and security might arise?; and what are best practices for providing consumers with notice and choice with these new technologies? The deadline for filing comments is Jan. 31, 2012. (FTC)