Wednesday morning federal headlines – Dec. 21, 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.

  • Talks between the Transportation Security Administration and the American Federation of Government Employees appear to have soured. AFGE President John Gage tells Gov Exec that his meeting with TSA Administrator John Pistole was very discouraging. He says the key sticking point involves allowing an independent third party to adjudicate employee disputes. Gage calls it a fundamental collective bargaining right and that employees at Homeland Security — including TSA managers — have. Pistole says TSA will have a fair and neutral dispute resolution process through managers. (GovExec)
  • NASA is testing out a new robot. This one floats and will act as a servant on the International Space Station. It is a floating robot servant powered by a smartphone. The Daily Mail reports that the robots can fly, navigate and record information all by themselves. NASA says that the inspiration came from the lightsaber training remote in Star Wars. These new robots are called Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient Experimental Satellites, or Spheres. They have a little brain like a smart phone, with the phone chip removed, and with double-A batteries for power. The spheres move around by releasing carbon dioxide as propulsion. The robots will be able to inspect areas of the station, and might one day be able to take flight outside the station. (The Daily Mail)
  • Federal Human Capitol Officers tell Federal News Radio they are worried about retaining a committed workforce. Federal News Radio received anonymous surveys from 10 agency CHCOs. Budget concerns pervade the survey results. Forty percent said pay freezes and reductions in employee benefits present bigger challenges for them than cuts to program budgets. Twenty percent said cumbersome technology was their chief concern. Another 20 percent say they worry about delaying supervisor training and technology improvements as they try to stretch their resources. (Federal News Radio)
  • A holiday showdown over payroll taxes continues. Lawmakers and the White House appear locked in a stalemate that could drag all the way into the last week of the year. House Republicans killed a Senate passed two-month extension of expiring social security tax cuts late yesterday. They are demanding the Senate return from its holiday recess to negotiate a year long measure that would paying for the tax cuts with an extended federal pay freeze among other cuts. If legislation isn’t passed by January first, payroll taxes will go up by almost $20 a week for the average worker. Almost 2 million people could lose unemployment benefits and doctors would bear big cuts in Medicare payments. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Federal Aviation Administration is releasing new rules today, aimed at preventing airline pilots from flying while dangerously fatigued. This comes nearly three years after the NTSB found two pilots in a deadly crash in Buffalo, N.Y., were likely exhausted. Proposed rules include: Making work hours shorter for pilots who fly at night, while some pilots who fly during the day could wind up spending more time in the cockpit. Pilots would be required to have a minimum of nine hours off to rest between work shifts, one hour more than under present rules. Researchers say fatigue can impair a pilot’s performance by slowing reflexes and eroding judgment, much like alcohol. (Federal News Radio)
  • The National Guard is reducing the number of troops on the Southwest border, and increasing its aerial drone surveillance as more border patrol agents take their positions. The announcement come from the Homeland Security Department. DHS says the drones will allow the National Guard to shift surveillance from fixed sites to mobile ones that can quickly match the dynamic environment of the border, and hopefully enhance their ability to detect and deter illegal activity at the border. The transition to the new DOD/DHS strategic approach will begin in January, with additional aviation assets in place by March 1. (Homeland Security Department)