Friday morning federal headlines – Jan. 13, 2012

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 users more information about the stories you hear on the air.

  • The Internal Revenue Service is offering buyouts to up to 400 workers. The agency tells employees they’ll have until March to decide whether to accept early retirement. For those receiving the offer, the maximum buyout is $25,000. Then the employees will be eligible to retire under the CSRS program. The last IRS buyouts occurred in November. They were confined to analysts, public affairs and those in outreach jobs. (Federal News Radio)
  • The government is challenging scientists to help it create better ways to find information in huge collections of data, InformationWeek reports. The National Institutes for Standards and Technology is looking for participants for its 21st annual Text Retrieval Conference. NIST announced eight data mining fields of research that participants will tackle. They include crowdsourcing and the search of microblogs, medical records and legal documents. NIST is asking scientists to sign up now. Participants will receive the data to start mining in March and will show their work at the conference in November. (InformationWeek)
  • The Justice Department says recent recess appointments made by President Obama are legal. Justice rejects challenges of the President’s appointments of a national consumer watchdog and other officials. The department released a 23-page legal opinion summarizing the advice it gave the White House before the Jan. 4 appointments. GOP leaders argued the Senate was not technically in recess when President Obama acted, because it held periodic pro forma sessions where no business is conducted. Justice says, that doesn’t count. Richard Cordray, a former attorney general of Ohio, was appointed to be the first director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Two Democrats and a Republican were also named to the National Labor Relations Board. (Federal News Radio)
  • President Obama has taken the formal step to ask Congress for another increase in the debt limit. The $1.2 trillion increase is part of a deal the president reached with Congress last summer to lift the government’s borrowing limit in stages. The letter came on the same day the Treasury Department announced the budget deficit this year is lower than it was at the same time in 2011, but still high by historical standards. It stands at $322 billion through the first three months of the budget year — $47 billion less than the same time last year. (Federal News Radio)
  • The latest batch of Defense Department buyouts is in the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. GovExec reports NGA will offer separation incentives to 150 of its employees. Workers who accept by the February deadline will get payments of up to $25,000. To see an agency-by-agency breakdown of buyout offers in the federal government, visit our 2012 Buyout Guide. (GovExec)
  • The Army has released its latest shopping list in its series of Network Integration Evaluation events. The NIE is the Army’s new process for testing and evaluating technology capabilities by putting products directly in the hands of soldiers at Fort Bliss, Texas. The capability gaps the Army’s identified for its event this October and November include a Multi-Channel Tactical Radio, Improved Operational Energy and small form factor satellite communication terminals. (FedBizOpps)
  • FOIA officers got a sneak peek at a new website designed to speed up their work. The EPA is building the site, with help from the National Archives and Records Administration. It’s scheduled to go live next October. Miriam Nisbet is NARA’s Government Information Services director. She tells Federal News Radio, the portal will help FOIA workers file annual reports and collaborate in multi-agency requests. All told, the government gets 600,000 FOIA requests a year. It has a backlog of 70,000. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Air Force Academy says it’s investigating a drug problem on its Colorado campus. Fifteen cadets are under investigation for use of illegal drugs at the academy, which has a strict zero-tolerance policy toward intoxicating substances other than alcohol, caffeine, tobacco and prescribed medications. Depending on the outcome of the investigation, the cadets could face courtmartial, non-judicial punishment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, reprimands and involuntary separation from the Air Force. (Air Force)
  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is aiming to improve storm forecasting this coming winter. A specially-equipped NOAA airplane will make extra flights over the north Pacific Ocean during the next two months. The plane will drop sensors into the air and gather the data they produce. The sensors will tell what’s going on with wind speed, pressure, temperature and humidity. Onboard meteorologists will analyze the data. NOAA officials hope to improve the accuracy of four-to-seven day forecasts. The high altitude jet will take off from a Coast Guard station in Honolulu. It’s also used to study hurricanes. (NOAA
  • The Interior Department, the Coast Guard, the EPA, NOAA, the CDC, USGS and a host of other agencies will all have a role in implementing the nation’s first-ever national ocean policy. The White House released a draft version of the policy’s implementation plan yesterday, calling on agencies to work together to develop efficient, coordinated permitting processes, improve water quality, provide climate change forecasts and improve environmental response in the Arctic. It also includes plans for agencies to consolidate all their ocean data in a new section of The administration is asking for public comments on the plan. The comment period closes on Feb. 27. (The White House)
  • Customs and Border Protection has donated $1 million worth of unclaimed merchandise to charity. Sometimes shipments arrive at U.S. ports of entry without contact information or documentation. It becomes what the government calls General Order merchandise. After six months, if no one claims it, the government can dispose of it. The latest batch included clothes, linens, toys and shoes. CBP donated it to charities in Florida, Georgia and Texas. Not all General Order merchandise is donated. Sometimes CBP sells it at auction. (CBP)
  • Be sure not to miss out on some federal freebies this weekend. National parks and forests that normally charge an entrance fee are waiving those fees Jan. 14-16. It’s all in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Day. (NPS)