Friday morning federal headlines – Feb. 10, 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.

  • A prestigious federal fellowship program is in hot water after sending acceptance emails to 300 people who were rejected from the program. The highly competitive Presidential Management Fellows program grooms future leaders for government agencies like the State Department, NASA and the Pentagon. The error was first reported by FoxNews when angry candidates reached out. The program blames the mistake on an administrative error. Angela Bailey, the Office of Personnel Management’s associate director of employee services, says officials moved quickly once they realized their mistake and sent a follow up email correcting the mistake. That didn’t stop some candidates from turning to the program’s Facebook page to vent. (FoxNews)
  • Small businesses in 34 industries can earn more money and still be considered small by the government for a bit longer. The Small Business Administration increased the size standards for a majority of the small businesses. In a final rule published in today’s federal register, SBA listed the new revenue limits. For instance, small businesses providing administrative management and consulting services now can have revenues that average $14 million over three years. The old size standard was $7 million. The SBA also increased the size standard for technology companies, up to $25.5 million, from $25 million. SBA says more than 8,000 new firms are now eligible to compete for federal contracts as small businesses under the new size standards. (GPO)
  • The Postal Service is telling lawmakers it is running dangerously low on cash. USPS released its financial results for the first quarter of 2012 yesterday, posting a $3.3 billion loss. Leaders blame rising healthcare costs for retirees and the continued decline of first-class mail revenue. USPS says $21 billion out of its $25 billion in net losses over the past five years have stemmed from the legal requirement to prefund retiree health benefits. One measure under debate in the Senate would refund some of the money that the Postal Service has prepaid to the federal pension system and allow the agency to restructure future payments. (Federal News Radio)
  • Employees at the Government Accountability Office have voted to form the federal government’s newest union. About 2,000 GAO support staff voted overwhelmingly yesterday to be represented by International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers. GAO analysts voted to form their own collective bargaining unit under IFPTE in 2010. The new union includes accountants, executive assistants, human capital specialists, IT specialists, librarians, paralegals and other professional staff. (GAO)
  • The Internal Revenue Service has agreed to settle a whistleblower claim by one of its economists. The Office of Special Counsel says the San Jose, Calif.-based employee was suspended for two weeks without pay when he notified the IRS inspector general about what he saw as gross mismanagement of an IRS contractor. OSC determined the suspension violated Charles Adelberg’s First Amendment rights and the Whistleblower Protection act. The IRS disagreed, but agreed to settle. Neither side is discussing the terms of the settlement. (OSC)
  • The federal push toward plain language is making its way into the Obama Administration’s health care reform law. The Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and Treasury published final regulations yesterday that will require insurers to give their customers a short, easy to understand summary of what their plans cover. The new explanations will become available this September. Insurers will also have to provide a glossary of terms used in health insurance coverage, like “deductible” and “co-payment.” (HHS)
  • House Democrats are renewing their push for a campaign finance overhaul. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (R-Md.) has reintroduced to DISCLOSE 2012 Act. It would require outside groups running campaign ads — including federal contractors and lobbyists — to identify themselves and their top contributors. It would also impose new reporting requirements on Super PACs. The bill is in direct response to a 2010 Supreme Court ruling that removed limits on corporate and union spending in elections. A similar bill died in the House last year. (Federal News Radio)
  • With all the attention being paid to federal employee retirement benefits, the government’s liability to contractors’ pensions is growing. That according to a new report by the non-partisan Citizens Against Government Waste, said MarketWatch. The non-profit builds on the work by the Government Accountability Office that found the Energy Department is on the hook for almost $37 billion over the next 10 years to fund company pension plans. Citizens Against Government Waste says many vendors sponsor defined benefit pension plans for their employees. The groups say company officials control not only the level of benefits offered, but also the strategies used for investing. And since many cost-plus federal contracts include clauses that ensure these pension plans are fully funded even if the plans’ investment benchmarks are not met, Citizens says agencies bear the investment risks associated with pension fund investment decisions made by the company. Separately, Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) requested GAO to analyze the Defense Department’s retirement liabilities. (MarketWatch)