Friday morning federal headlines – March 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.

  • NASA needs to do a better job of allocating its scarce dollars for aeronautics research, according to a new NASA-funded report from the National Research Council. The panel found NASA was putting its money into scattered, small scale projects for fear of taking on too much risk. Instead, the council said, the agency needed to focus on two to five programs that might include higher risk, but would also bring big payoffs in flight research. It said NASA also needed to coordinate with outside groups to make sure its flight research programs were relevant to national needs. (National Academies)
  • Republicans critical of Medicare have proposed an alternative that would impact healthcare benefits. Four GOP senators have introduced a bill to add senior citizens to the Federal Employee Health Benefits Plan. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said it could save $1 trillion over 10 years. But the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association said the plan could shake the federal program, while asking seniors to shell out more for healthcare. (NARFE)
  • The Office of Management and Budget said its upcoming mobile strategy wasn’t just about mobile anymore. The Obama administration is expanding its scope to cover all things digital and the ways agencies deliver information to the public. The strategy is expected to be released in April, and it will still cover details on strategic sourcing plans for mobile devices and services. But it will also delve more deeply into how agencies can work more closely with industry to improve how data is delivered to citizens. (Federal News Radio)
  • Construction is slowly moving forward for a new headquarters for the Department of Homeland Security. Federal Times reported the General Services Administration has just awarded a $30 million contract to build a joint operations center for DHS’ various components on the former St. Elizabeth’s Hospital campus in southeast Washington, D.C. The overall headquarters construction has been pushed back by big Congressional budget cuts, and the whole facility is not expected to be completed for another decade. The Coast Guard portion of the complex could be completed as soon as next year. (Federal Times)
  • Agencies are embarking today on new plans to increase diversity in their ranks. President Barack Obama issued an executive order last summer telling them to focus on hiring, retaining and promoting people from more varied backgrounds. They are also supposed to make employees feel more comfortable about speaking up. An interagency group is reviewing the plans, but the Office of Personnel Management said agencies shouldn’t wait for the feedback. A survey on reveals many feds doubt the initiative will change anything at their agency. (Federal News Radio)
  • Cabinet-level agencies received a C-minus for their processing of open-records requests, according to a House Oversight Committee scorecard. The committee looked at how agencies were tracking the Freedom of Information Act requests that they received. It gave high marks to the departments of Education, Energy, Labor and Transportation. But, it said the departments of Defense, Homeland Security and Justice couldn’t cough up basic information about the requests. Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) called the findings “troubling and necessitates greater scrutiny.” (Federal News Radio)
  • The Federal Aviation Administration and the air traffic controllers’ union have extended their contract for four more years, the Washington Post reported. Controllers would receive the same pay raise as other federal employees, rather than negotiating their own increases. The early agreement suggested things are better between management and labor at the FAA. The work contract wasn’t set to expire for another six months. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal said the FAA was pushing a “culture change” in the name of safety. It said it would require controllers to get retrained periodically and will encourage all employees to admit mistakes without fear of punishment. (Washington Post/Wall Street Journal)
  • Legislative agencies are requesting little if any new money for fiscal 2013, but Congress is saying agencies should prepare for some steep cuts.The Hill reported lawmakers on the Senate Appropriations Committee repeated a warning their House colleagues made last month. The Government Accountability Office said staffing has shrunk to the lowest level in 77 years. It is requesting a slight increase in funding to rebuild its team. Lawmakers have defended the investigative agency as essential to their own work. (The Hill/Federal News Radio)