Friday morning federal headlines – Jan. 20, 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 Navy has broken ground on what will become its biggest energy project. A new solar array is under construction at the China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station in California. It will cover 118 acres of Mojave Desert, and it will produce nearly 14 megawatts of electricity. Only the Air Force’s array in Nevada is bigger. Sun Power of San Jose will build the Navy’s array at its own cost, while the Navy agrees to buy the power for 20 years. (Federal News Radio)
  • The U.S. has a new diplomat — a very tall one. Basketball great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has agreed to become a cultural ambassador as part of the State Department’s “people-to-people” diplomacy effort. The agency is sending him abroad to promote the United States to young people worldwide. His first stop? Sports-crazy Brazil. He plans to talk with kids there about using sports as a means of empowerment…and they’ll shoot a few hoops. Abdul-Jabbar is the NBA’s all-time leading scorer. He presented Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with a Lakers jersey, number 33. (State Department)
  • The hacker group Anonymous says it was responsible for taking down the Justice Department’s website yesterday. Justice said its site was hit by a denial of service attack. The incident occurred a few hours after Justice officials shut down a popular file-sharing website called Mega-upload. Anonymous also claimed responsibility for downing the websites of the Motion Picture and Recording Industry associations. was running normally this morning. The attacks occur as Congress debates a controversial bill to stop internet piracy. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Marine Corps’ version of the F-35 fighter is safe for now. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta plans to announce the expensive plane is no longer on probation. He travels to the Patuxent River Naval Air Station later today to make the call. Former Secretary Robert Gates had threatened to cancel the project if prime contractor Lockheed and the Navy couldn’t get costs and technical problems under control. Defense plans several versions of the high tech plane, including one for the Navy, Marines and Air Force. The Joint Strike Fighter has been under development for more than a decade. Lockheed has delivered several working prototypes. (Federal News Radio)
  • Military supply transportation costs have soared through the roof since Pakistan shut border crossings to NATO convoys. The U.S. is paying six times as much to send war supplies to troops in Afghanistan through alternate routes. The Associated Press reports, the monthly transportation tab tops $100 million. That’s up from $17 million per month before Pakistan clamped its border shut in November. Pakistan’s action was retaliation for a Coalition air strike that accidentally killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. (Federal News Radio)
  • It won’t be easy to cut the cost of Medicare. The Congressional Budget Office says, two promising techniques just don’t work. And both are part of the Health Care Affordability Act. One was to have better coordination among care givers for the chronically ill. The other was a system that pays doctors on quality of care, not on volume. The CBO looked at 10 demonstration projects. It says neither way saves money. In fact, care coordination drove costs up thanks to fees for people doing the coordinating. (Congressional Budget Office)
  • The Departments of State and Defense have signed a historic agreement to swap staff. It formalizes a process that about 200 employees already take part in. A State spokesman says the close collaboration will increase understanding of the shared missions and be helpful especially in the budgeting and planning processes. A few dozen State Department personnel also will serve at U.S. military service academies and academic institutions. (State Department)
  • The U.S. Agency for International Development is mapping out its spending for all the world to see. NextGov reports that the agency aims to make its already-public database of spending data easier to understand. USAID Administrator Raj Shah says the new Geo-Center project’s online map will help the public evaluate the agency’s programs and provide information that could be used by researchers or other agencies. It’s part of an open-government initiative. Shaw spoke at a Brookings Institution event where a nonprofit group released findings on transparency among aid organizations. Publish What You Fund ranked the USAID and the State Department in the bottom half of 58 groups. (NextGov)
  • A top FCC official is leaving next month. NextGov reports Paul de Sa has helped oversee merger reviews, broadband adoption and deployment, and spectrum policy. He has been chief of the Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis since 2009. He departs at a time when Congress is considering restricting the agency’s ability to manage auctions of spectrum licenses. (NextGov)
  • A new White House executive order puts pressure on federal agencies to encourage more foreign visitors. President Barack Obama is directing the Departments of State and Homeland security to approve 40 percent more visa applications from Chinese and Brazilian would-be visitors. In addition, they must expand the visa-waiver program and speed up approval of tourist visas for those visitors that still need them. Meanwhile, a task force lead by the departments of Commerce and the Interior will focus on boosting tourism and recreation jobs. Commerce also will launch a website with tourism-related federal stats. Obama announced the new tourism strategy in Orlando yesterday. Anti-immigration groups say the measures will weaken visa requirements. (White House)