Tuesday morning federal headlines – Feb. 7, 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 gives FederalNewsRadio.com users more information about the stories you hear on the air.

  • Congress has sent President Obama a bill permanently authorizing the Federal Aviation Administration. That follows five years of legislative stalemate. FAA has operated under a series of 23 continuing resolutions. Lawmakers authorized $11 billion over the next four years for modernizing the air traffic control system. FAA is in the midst of converting from ground radar to satellite positioning for guiding aircraft. The bill also directs FAA to authorize drone flights within four years. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Air Force says it’s in the process of testing smartphones on the nation’s four largest commercial cellular networks as it tries to move away from its legacy radio infrastructure. The Air Force C-2 Integration Center is in the middle of an experiment that will evaluate Apple and Android-based smartphones on the carriers’ new 4G networks. That’s in preparation for what the Air Force says will be the deployment of “tens of thousands” of smartphones later this year. The service wants to transition away from its five existing legacy radio networks, saying they’re not flexible enough and too expensive to maintain. (Air Force)
  • A trio of Senators are demanding action over a growing backlog of federal retirement claims. Senator Mark Warner or Virginia, and Senators Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski of Maryland have written a letter to the Office of Personnel Management. They want OPM to submit monthly updates to Congress — and work with OMB to develop a more efficient, tech savey retirement processing system by 2014. They also want OPM to report on all federal agencies that file inaccurate or incomplete information about retirees. The senators together represent a quarter-million Federal Employees. They say they’ve received many complaints about the more than 50-thousand backlogged retirement applications. OPM Director John Berry says tackling the backlog is his top priority for 2012. (Government Executive)
  • The National Institutes of Health has created a new devoted to clinical trials. It’s designed to let visitors apply to join trials or learn more about them. The portal features first hand accounts of trial volunteers and explanations from researchers conducting them. There’s also a search function for people who feel they might be eligible for a trial. NIH Director Doctor Francis Collins says the recruitment help is needed to boost clinical trials for a variety of drugs. (NIH)
  • The trusted traveler program for Americans flying home from overseas is graduating from its pilot status. The Homeland Security Department has published a final rule making Global Entry permanent. It’s operated by Customs and Border Protection. It lets pre-approved, low-risk travelers speed through clearance by scanning their passports in special kiosks and entering a fingerprint. Global Entry is available at 20 airports. Now the department can quickly expand it. The program is open to U.S. and Mexican citizens. Since 2008, Global Entry has processed 1.8 million admissions by a quarter of a million members. (Customs and Border Protection)
  • The Agriculture Department cracks the whip on SNAP. USDA has intensified efforts to root out fraud under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. In the last quarter of 2011, it fined or suspended 225 stores from the food stamp program. Investigators disqualified 350 stores for trafficking in SNAP benefits. Nearly a quarter million stores participate in SNAP. USDA officials say they are stepping up inspections of stores operating at former locations of disqualified stores. (USDA)
  • A House Energy and Commerce subcommittee is promising an “aggressive review” of cyber threats to U.S. infrastructure over the coming year. Oregon Congressman Greg Walden tells The Hill that his panel’s dive into cyber issues will kick off tomorrow with a hearing on threats to communications networks, and how the private sector is responsing. Five cybersecurity experts are scheduled to testify. Several House committees are working on cybersecurity legislation that the hope to bring to the House floor by the end of the year. And Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has promised a vote on a comprehensive cyber bill early this year. (House Energy and Commerce subcommittee)
  • Many military families are paying a lot more than they need to for child care. That’s according to a new report by the Government Accountability Office. GAO found a high rate of military deployments is one factor that’s led child care facilities on military bases to fill up. To compensate, the Defense Department offers subsidies so families can use off-base child care. But GAO found many military familes are never told about those subsidies. DoD says it’s in the middle of new construction projects that’ll provide 21-thousand new child care spaces on military bases. And later this year, they plan to pilot a new central website that will let servicemembers request child care services either on-or-off of military bases. (Government Accountability Office)
  • The Homeland Security Department has appointed a public advocate to handle complaints and questions about its immigration enforcement policies. Andrew Lorenzen-Strait will take on that job. In recent months, the department has revamped its deportation policies, with an emphasis on criminals. The public advocate will help immigration advocates and those caught up in the system understand what’s going on. Lorenzen Strait has been an advisor to Immigration and Customs Enforcement since 2008. He’ll report to Gary Mead, the head of enforcement and removal operations. (Federal News Radio)