Tuesday morning federal headlines – Jan. 17, 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 FederalNewsRadio.com users more information about the stories you hear on the air.

  • President Obama wants 11 federal agencies working international trade to play together. They’re the guinea pigs in a wider program to reduce duplication across the government. Each agency must prepare descriptions of what it does. The Office of Management and Budget will compile an inventory so it can sort who should do what. The 11 trade agencies each have until February 1 to designate a senior official to oversee the reporting. OMB plans to issue a detailed timeline for the de-duplication effort. (Federal News Radio)
  • Federal unions say they are worried President Obama’s plan to consolidate business and trade agencies could mean layoffs. Bill Dougan, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees, said he hopes “they find a way to make sure thousands of people working in these agencies aren’t giving pink slips.” The American Federation of Government Employees released a statement too. In it, President John Gage “takes issue with the notion that most of government is inefficient and that cutting federal workers will somehow solve the problem.” But he cheers Obama’s elevation of the Small Business Administration to the cabinet. The White House says the consolidation of the six business and trade-related agencies would cut up to 2,000 jobs through attrition. (Statements from NFFE and AFGE)
  • Federal employees who use their own cars for official business will see no change in mileage reimbursement rates this year. The rate is still 51 cents per mile. Motorcycle riders get 48 cents per mile, also unchanged. If you use your own airplane, the reimbursement rate is one dollar, 29 cents per mile. Rates are set by the General Services Administration. The agency says it will monitor fuel costs and adjust reimbursement rates if necessary. (Federal News Radio)
  • A new Inspector General report says most of the Postal Service’s past processing-center consolidations made good business sense. The IG looked at more than 30 consolidations over the past seven years. He concluded that it made good business sense to conduct all but one of those mergers. Four more were poorly executed and never realized the savings that the agency expected. The IG says the agency should keep closer watch on the implementation process and keep stakeholders better informed. The Postal Service is considering closing hundreds of processing centers and thousands of post offices…in an effort to climb out of the red. (Postal Service Inspector General)
  • The Environmental Protection Agency has a new tool that lets the public track greenhouse gas emissions from the country’s biggest polluters, including some government buildings. The interactive map on the agency’s website lets them search for facilities by location and industry. The agency developed the tool as part of an open-government campaign. But officials say the process helped it refine its data and improve accuracy. The tool has data from 6,700 facilities, mostly power plants. (EPA)
  • The Federal Trade Commission is asking for public comment on proposals to change the way the agency operates. FTC wants to improve the way it handles investigations and misbehaving attorneys. The changes would streamline the investigative process by speeding up the way the agency uses electronic discoveries to resolve disputes. It would do away a requirement to preserve documents related to an investigation after one year. And it would change the way the agency deals with allegations of misconduct by attorneys practicing before the Commission. The public can comment until March 23. (FTC)
  • The International Trade Commission will investigate a bevy of smartphone and tablet makers for possible patent infringement. Many of the devices are used widely in the federal government. The ITC received a complaint from Digitude Innovations. The Alexandria, Va., company collects and licenses technology patents. Digitude Innovations is asking the ITC to issue a cease and desist order to stop the import of devices it says unfairly use its patents. Companies under investigation include RIM, the maker of BlackBerries, and H-T-C, which makes Android smart phones. Also named are LG, Motorola, Samsung, Sony, Nokia and Pantech. (International Trade Commission)
  • A new partnership is designed to speed reconstruction of the Northeast Corridor rail line. The White House Council on Environmental Quality and the Transportation Department launch a pilot project to expedite environmental reviews for the project. They’ll look for efficiencies in the review process itself. Nearly every component in the project is subject to environmental reviews by federal, state and local authorities along the way from Washington to Boston. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says the sooner the reviews get done, the faster construction can start. Information on progress will be posted at performance dot gov. (Department of Transportation)
  • Drug companies will have to report every bagel they bring to a doctor’s office under new rules coming from the Obama administration. The New York Times reports the administration wants to head off medical conflicts of interest. Some research purports to show that when doctors receive lecture fees or entertainment from drug companies, they are more likely to prescribe the companies’ products. Reporting will apply to any company with a drug used by Medicare or Medicaid. It will cover entertainment, speaker fees and royalties. All of the information will be posted to a federal web site. (New York Times)
  • One senator wants to make it easier for military dogs to find new homes after they leave service. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) plans to introduce a bill that would streamline adoptions. The bill would provide a funding stream for moving the dogs back home providing veterinary care and allow the Defense Department to issue letters of commendation to dogs for outstanding work in battle. Right now, dog owners or military units themselves have to bear the costs of shipping military dogs back home after they can no longer work. That’s because the Defense Department classifies the dogs as equipment, the senator said in a release. (Federal News Radio)