Tuesday morning federal headlines – Feb. 28, 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.

  • The Agriculture Department is moving forward with plans to streamline itself. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsak tells Congress he will put modernization plans into action in 90 days. The agency wants to consolidate 131 Farm Service Agency Offices with other USDA service centers. It plans to close about 260 offices, facilities and labs in total. Vilsack says investment in innovative technologies and business solution is also a big part of the plan to improve service and the customer experience. (USDA)
  • Do you have a great idea for how QR codes could help improve response during an emergency? Need $40,000? The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency wants to hear your ideas. DARPA has launched its “Cash for Locating and Identifying Quick Response codes” challenge, or CLIQR quest. DARPA will simulate a disaster and then ask teams to use QR codes to quickly identify needs — like water, food and gas — to help direct emergency response and relief efforts. Entries are being accepted until March 8. (CLIQR)
  • The IRS has launched a new round of buyout and early retirement offers. Sixteen hundred employees will receive offers. IRS will grant the early outs to the first 270 who accept. They’ll have to leave the IRS by May 3, according to an internal email obtained by Federal News Radio. The affected employees work enforcement in the small business, large business, and wage and investment divisions. It’s the third buyout round in three months for the IRS. (Federal News Radio)
  • Tony West, the head of the Justice Department’s civil division, will become the acting associate attorney general. That’s the number three post at the department. Associate Attorney General Thomas Perrelli is leaving. In his three years, Perilli has overseen some of the department’s most sensitive issues. He led negotiations with companies involved in the Gulf Oil spill. He was also a negotiator in a $25 billion settlement with the nation’s largest mortgage lenders. West, as head of the civil division, defended the administration’s health care law in state legal challenges. (Federal News Radio)
  • Congress is about to open its kimono on stock, real estate and other financial trades. Members will have to report their deals every 30 to 45 days. The information will be posted online within two weeks of reporting. The provision also applies to senior Hill staff and about 28,000 employees in the executive branch. The reporting bill has passed both the House and Senate. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is expected to move a conference version soon. Under current law, members file yearly reports. They’re not publicly available for up to six months. (Federal News Radio)
  • The FBI is boasting about a big year fighting financial crime. Kevin Perkins is head of the bureau’s criminal investigations. He says that last year, FBI probes led to 3,000 convictions and $12 billion in court-ordered restitution. High on the list were Ponzi schemes and Medicare fraud. The FBI set up a financial intelligence center to examine emerging threats. Officials showed a public service ad featuring actor Michael Douglas, who once played the part of a nefarious stock trader. (Federal News Radio)
  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has broken ground on a new water research lab. It’s located at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa. The 60,000 square foot National Water Center will bring together several federal agencies involved in flooding and water supply research. Joining in the ceremonies were NOAA deputy administrator Kathryn Sullivan, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) and representatives from the U.S. Geological Survey. Officials expect a mid-2013 completion. (NOAA News)
  • Patricia Renfro is taking over as director for Governmentwide Acquisition Contract program at the General Services Administration. Mary Davie announced Renfro’s selection on Twitter yesterday. Renfro has been working at GSA regional office in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, area as the director of the Enterprise GWAC Center West. She replaces Mike O’Neill who now works for the Navy. (Federal News Radio)
  • The General Services Administration has re-upped to run the secure identity card program under Homeland Security Presidential Directive-12. GSA initially awarded EDS a contract to run the office in 2007. HP bought EDS a year later. The new contract could be worth $47 million over three years. Under the deal, HP will continue running the managed service office and providing secure ID cards. GSA works with more than 90 customer agencies. As of Sept. 1`, more than 4 million federal employees and 840,000 contractors have secure ID cards under HSPD-12. (HP)
  • “Virtually all” agencies have overlapping programs. That’s the latest from the Government Accountability Office’s second annual report on duplicative programs across the government. The report will be the center of a hearing later this morning before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. GAO finds 51 questionable areas, including 32 with potential problems and 19 others that could be done more cheaply or efficiently across a variety of programmatic areas. They include the federal workforce, economic development and information technology. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Office of Personnel Management met 26 of its 42 performance goals for 2011. In the agency’s annual performance report, OPM found it increased the satisfaction of federal managers with the hiring process. It says customer satisfaction increased to 63 percent from 58 percent. OPM says it spent $2 million on hiring reform training at more than 50 agencies and at more than 50 locations across the country. It also says 90 percent of all employees’ initial security clearances take 40 days, down from 179 days in 2004. Top secret investigations take on average 79 days down from 392 days in 2004. Among the goals OPM did not make are the percentage of customs satisfied with retirement services. Their goal was 88 percent; they achieved 76 percent. It also did not meet its goal to fully certify 60 percent of all senior executive service members performance plans. OPM says it certified 54 percent. (OPM)