Wednesday morning federal headlines – Feb. 15, 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.

  • Three senior senators introduced a long-awaited comprehensive cybersecurity bill. It’s a two-headed affair. The bill attempts to secure federal systems by updating the Federal Information Security Management Act. And it expands the Homeland Security Department’s role in securing critical infrastructure in the private sector. Sponsoring the bill are Sens. Joseph Lieberman, Susan Collins and Jay Rockefeller. The bill follows a call by President Obama for DHS to spend a record $751 million next year on cybersecurity operations. (Federal News Radio)
  • Although spending will rise by $200 billion under the administration’s 2013 budget request, the federal workforce will stay roughly the same size. About 2,400 new people would be added to the government payroll under the Obama administration proposal. But some agencies would gain lots of people, while others will lose them. The Treasury workforce would grow by more then 3 percent, and the Securities and Exchange Commission by 15 percent. But the Broadcasting Board of Governors would lose 5 percent of its people and the Office of Personnel Management 7 percent. (Federal News Radio)
  • President Obama has signed a landmark FAA authorization bill into law. It passed the Senate last week after four years of partisan wrangling. The agency has operated under a series of 23 continuing resolutions. Now the FAA will stay open continuously for the “next” four years. Labor unions opposed the bill because of the rules it imposes on them in trying to organize the transportation industry. The bill authorizes 11 billion dollars in funding for Next Gen, the FAA’s project to upgrade the air traffic control system. (Federal News Radio)
  • A big energy bill in the House has become a battleground over federal employee benefits. Republicans added language to help pay for the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act. That provision requires a step-by-step increase in how much of their salaries federal workers contribute to their pensions. Plus it would end supplemental payments to early retirees. Now, Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) has offered an amendment to remove those provisions and replace them with one ending a tax loophole for energy companies. GovExec reports, Connolly’s move was supported by Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). (GovExec)
  • Federal employees say their morale is low, but at least they’re doing better than their coworkers. More than 70 percent of the feds we surveyed say morale issues have caused their coworkers to retire. The biggest morale killers? The two-year pay freeze, followed by ineffective managers and fed-bashing from Congress and the public. Over half of the feds surveyed, though, say their managers could do a better job motivating employees. They say supervisors could offer time-off awards, team-building events and simple “thank you’s” to build morale. The survey is part of our exclusive digital series “Managing Morale.” (Federal News Radio)
  • President Obama doesn’t want to say goodbye to older feds who are ready to retire. His 2013 budget includes a plan to let them work part time and receive an annuity part time. The Federal Times reports, the White House sees this as a way to pass on knowledge from one generation of feds to another. It could also ease the pressure on agencies to hire temps to fill critical skills gaps. Retirees come back to the government to work part time now, but they get their full pensions and can only work for a limited period of time. (Federal Times)
  • A former Food and Drug Administration commissioner says his old agency needs a makeover, the Wall Street Journal reports. The conservative Manhattan Institute has asked Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach to lead a campaign to overhaul the FDA. Eschenbach wrote an op-ed published yesterday in the Wall Street Journal. He says the FDA hasn’t kept pace with scientific advances since the human genome was decoded more than a decade ago. He calls on Congress to “modernize it from the bottom up” with faster approvals of new drugs. Lawmakers are considering legislation to reauthorize the agency. (Wall Street Journal)
  • Federal patrol teams helped recover a record-breaking $4.1 billion in health care fraud money last year, USA Today reports. That’s a 58 percent increase since 2009, when the departments of Health and Human Services and Justice created an action team to combat fraud. They also stepped up the number of Medicare Fraud Strike Force teams that educate seniors, local governments and others about fraud prevention. Officials say agencies are doing a better job of screening providers before they get in the system and have beefed up enrollment requirements. Health and Human Services has published a proposed rule that sets a deadline for providers and suppliers to return Medicare overpayments.(USA Today)