Thursday morning federal headlines – Feb. 16, 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 last FEMA temporary housing unit has left New Orleans. The agency says it’s a milestone for recovery in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the gulf coast in 2005. That last family moved into their rebuild home this week. FEMA provided temporary trailers to more than 90,000 families throughout Louisiana in the largest housing operation in the nation’s history. FEMA has provided nearly $6 billion worth of housing assistance in the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, including $4 billion for rent, repairs and replacement housing and $1.6 billion for things like furniture, clothes and replacement vehicles. (FEMA)
  • OPM Director John Berry is defending the Obama administration’s federal pay and retirement proposals. Berry says the world has shifted since the last overhaul of the retirement system in 1985. For the 2013 budget, the president called for federal pay raises averaging one-half of 1 percent. That would follow two years of frozen pay. And, the president has called for employees to pay more toward the federal retirement system. The employee contribution would rise 0.4 percent per year, for three years. OPM itself would get a 7 percent budget cut in 2013. (Federal News Radio)
  • The number of U.S. troops is shrinking. Defense Department officials believe the number of military bases should also shrink. But calls on Congress to initiate another round of base closures is getting the cold shoulder. Some members don’t think the BRAC process, or base realignment and closure, saves any money. Texas Republican Mac Thornberry is a member of the House Armed Services Committee. He says the latest BRAC round won’t break even before 2018. Thornberry says, the Pentagon’s call for two more BRAC rounds leaves him scratching his head. (Federal News Radio)
  • House and Senate negotiators have agreed on a plan to extend the payroll tax cut. And it pays for the extension with changes to federal benefits. Negotiations shifted a few times. Ultimately, a proposed 1.5 percent hike in federal employees’ contribution to their retirement funds was changed to a 2.3 percent contribution for new employees only. Unions have denounced the proposal. AFGE president John Gage says it looks as if a payroll tax cut for millions of Americans is being paid for by feds. (Federal News Radio)
  • Sour relations between the National Nuclear Security Administration and three of its laboratories threatens the quality of scientific work at the labs. That assessment comes from a panel of the National Academy of Science. The researchers found that NNSA staff is too heavy in oversight of lab operations. The oversight stems from security and safety problems in the past. The Academy says, those problems have been fixed, but the trust is still broken. The panel also found that changes in the management contractors of the labs was stressful. But it’s not the main problem. They say, NNSA headquarters has to stop micro-managing the labs. (National Academies)
  • The FCC has shot down plans for LightSquared’s planned satellite network. A new report finds the signal interferes too significantly with GPS systems. FCC had granted LightSquared a temporary licence to give it a chance to work out the problem. But, NTIA, the federal agency that coordinates spectrum uses for the military and other federal entities, finds the harmful interference hasn’t been resolved. The FCC’s international Bureau recommends removing Lightsquared’s signal authority. FCC is collecting public comment on NTIA’s conclusions and on the proposals, and says it will release the results later today. Lightsquared’s network planned to bring wireless broadband to rural areas. (Federal News Radio)
  • There’s a new gender gap in the federal workplace, but it’s probably not what you think. The Partnership for Public Service analyzed federal employee viewpoint survey results. It found that female feds are slightly more satisfied with their jobs than males — the opposite of last year. That’s government-wide. But the gap varies widely by agency, and men are still more satisfied with agency leaders than women. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s leaders received the highest ratings among agencies for fairness from both men and women, despite a very public battle among the agency’s leaders. (Federal News Radio)
  • Federal investigators are expanding their probe into whistleblower retaliation at the Food and Drug Administration. The Office of Special Counsel says it heard “new and troubling allegations” that FDA officials tried to have the whistleblowers prosecuted. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) are asking for an investigation. The lawmakers say FDA officials “potentially broke the law” when they got ahold of the personal email accounts of the scientists known as the FDA Nine. The employees used those accounts to tell Congress about their worries over un-safe medical devices. (