Wednesday morning federal headlines – Jan. 18, 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 GOP controlled House kicked off its new session with a symbolic vote against raising the debt limit. Last summer’s bipartisan debt and budget pact allows the President to raise the debt limit 15 days after he officially notifies lawmakers the government is close to the current $15.2 trillion cap. That is unless Congress votes to deny the borrowing increase. The measure to block the increase is expected to pass the House easily. But it’s dead on arrival in the Senate. The president’s veto power also guarantees that the increase will go through. (Federal News Radio)
  • The inspector general for the Securities and Exchange Commission is leaving his post after four years on the job. David Kotz will leave at the end of January. During his time as IG, Kotz exposed serious lapses in detecting and pursuing major fraud schemes. The SEC says Kotz found that the agency bungled its examination of disgraced financier Bernard Madoff over 16 years, allowing him to carry on out his $20 billion investment fraud. He leaves to become a managing director of Gryphon Strategies, a private investigative firm. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Defense Information Systems Agency says a recent hack attack shows the security benefits of cloud computing. DISA last year started hosting Army email. When the DISA cloud was hit with email bringing in malware, cyber officials quickly squashed it. Mark Ordnorff, DISA’s top IT security official says, under the old setup, the malware could have hit many individual servers undetected. DISA’s view was backed up by Gen. Keith Alexander, commander of U.S. Cyber Command. He says they way they’re set up now, most DOD networks are not defensible. (Federal News Radio)
  • The White House named Jeffrey Zients as acting director of the Office of Management and Budget. He’ll take over next month when the current director, Jack Lew, becomes President Obama’s chief of staff. This will be Zients’ second time as acting director. He stepped in after Peter Orszag left in 2010. Zients joined OMB as deputy director for management in June 2009. He has the added title of chief performance officer. Zients led development of the government reorganization plan the president unveiled last week. Before joining the administration, Zients was CEO of two companies he helped found. (Federal News Radio)
  • The State Department has agreed to talks with the European Union over space debris. The goal is to establish informal rules to limit orbiting junk that threatens satellites. The EU has already proposed rules of its own. The United States wants to modify them, and it wants China and Russia to be involved. In 2007, China deliberately blew up one of its own satellites. That sent large amounts of debris into orbit. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Internal Revenue Service has passed a milestone. It’s processed 1 billion electronic tax returns. The IRS opened the 2012 tax filing season with a reminder that e-filing brings the fastest refunds. Last year, 77 percent of individual returns came in electronically. This year, the IRS is requiring professional filers to go electronic if they handle 10 or more clients. (IRS)
  • The White House is expanding a program to streamline permitting for major construction works. President Obama says he’ll name a project manager with responsibility for cutting red tape. Program goals are to speed up the issuance of environmental and other permits needed for big infrastructure construction, and to let the public see what’s going on through the website. The program started in November by tracking 14 projects. The president said all 14 will be completed on time. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Office of Personnel Management is trying to tackle its retirement services backlog with more staff and upgraded technology. The Washington Post reports the agency has sent lawmakers a detailed plan. It says the agency will ask staff to work longer hours, with rewards for increased productivity. It also plans to automate its retirement technology system piece by piece, since a wholesale overhaul failed a few years ago. OPM has a backlog of about 50,000 claims and falls behind by 1,900 more each month. The Post says the agency does not need Congress’ approval and is already going ahead with these changes. (Washington Post)
  • The Air Force says it’s using 15 percent less energy on its bases than it did a decade ago. That’s no small feat: it’s the biggest gas guzzler in the federal agency with 900 flights each day. The service has cut its jet fuel use by 2 percent since 2006, even though it has been carrying more cargo. A lot of the savings came through simple changes, like filling up cargo planes before they depart and flying more direct routes. On land, it is replacing old cars with all-electric vehicles and installing windmills on some bases. (Federal News Radio)
  • Lawmakers are hauling the National Park Service to Capitol Hill. They want to know why protestors have occupied a federally owned plaza in Washington for three months, the Washington Post reports. The Park Service says protestors have a First Amendment right to be there. But that doesn’t satisfy the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) says it looks like protesters are camping out, which is against the law. City officials have asked the Park Service to remove the campsite at McPherson Square, just blocks from the White House, because of rats and other public health concerns. The hearing is scheduled for Tuesday. (Washington Post)