Friday morning federal headlines – Feb. 24, 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.

  • NASA will pay you to live and eat like an astronaut for four months. The space agency is recruiting volunteers to test their tastebuds during a simulated trip to the red planet, reports Forbes. Volunteers will live in a confined space with nothing but packets of astronaut food to eat for four months. The study wants to see whether people can avoid menu fatigue. When that happens, researchers say astronauts eat less and lose body mass, endangering the mission. To qualify for the study you must have a degree in the math or sciences, be a non-smoker and speak English. At the end of the study participants get cooking lessons, a trip to Hawaii and $5,000. (Forbes)
  • The U.S. Agency for International Development is adding a benefit to help retain employees. It will offer a child care subsidy to lower-income employees. The Federal Employees Education and Assistance Fund says, the subsidy’s a bargain. The group figures an agency spends a quarter of a million dollars to recruit, hire and train a new professional. The health care subsidy costs much less. Thirty federal agencies already offer child care subsidies. (Federal News Radio)
  • Small business contracting at the Air Force has been losing altitude. Now its acquisition leadership is pushing the throttle. The Air Force launches a plan for increasing both prime and subcontracts going to small business. Under consideration is giving extra award fees to prime contractors who meet their small business goals. Air Force is also developing new metrics for small business prime contracting. (Federal News Radio)
  • Brought before a court martial judge, Pvt. Bradley Manning opted not to enter a plea. Manning is charged with aiding the enemy and could face life in prison. The Army says he delivered hundreds of thousands of secret cables to WikiLeaks. But at yesterday’s hearing, Manning deferred his plea. He also deferred his choice of whether to be tried by a military jury or just a judge. Those decisions will have to come just before the trial, scheduled to start in April. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Postal Service might close more than 200 processing centers in a bid to save money. The agency has finished a five-month review of facilities. Leaders there say the plan could mean cutting 35,000 positions, even though some employees might be reassigned. The plan is part of a bigger effort to help the struggling Postal Service save $20 billion over the next three years. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill agree something needs to be done, but they disagree on exactly what. The closure plan is pending proposed revisions to agency service standards. (Federal News Radio)
  • Paul Bartock, a technical director for the National Security Agency, died in his sleep. He leaves behind his wife and three children. Bartock received the Exceptional Civilian Service Award in 2003 and 2008 and Government Executive Magazine’s National Information Security award in 2007. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Justice Department says it’s knocking out chunks of its Freedom of Information Act requests backlog. Leaders there say the backlog for initial requests fell by 26 percent in 2011. And the number of pending administrative appeals fell by 41 percent. Still, critics say the department is too secretive. Earlier this month, Justice won the National Security Archive’s Rosemary Award for the worst in open government. (Federal News RAdio)