Friday morning federal headlines – March 23, 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 Senate passed a small business investment bill that would help startup companies raise capital by reducing some federal regulations. The bill combines six smaller bills that change Securities and Exchange Commission rules so small businesses can attract investors and go public with less red tape and cost. Senate Democrats did pass one amendment to increase investor protections, so the bill goes back to the House for another vote. The bill has rare bipartisan support. The House approved it two weeks ago. President Obama said he will sign it. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Census Bureau is about to see its population of employees drop as 206 employees at the bureau’s headquarters have applied for a $25,000 buyout. The agency announced last month its offer of early retirement and up to 400 separation payments for employees who retire between Feb. 29 and April 3. Find more on which offices qualify for a buyout at our government-wide buyout guide. (Federal News Radio)
  • Morale is lousy at the Homeland Security Department, and lawmakers want to know why. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations and Management Committee, said surveys showing employee dis-satisfaction amounted to a bad referendum on DHS leadership. In response to the surveys, Secretary Janet Napolitano established an Employee Engagement Executive Steering Committee. In addition, a new program has been set up to identify and groom employees for future leadership. DHS ranked among the lowest of large agencies when it came to worker satisfaction, according to the annual Partnership for Public Service, Best Places to Work survey. (Federal News Radio)
  • Veterans Affairs re-awarded a high-profile contract it terminated two weeks ago. The new contractor, Harris Corporation, will write the code for a core program supporting electronic health records. It’s part of a joint VA and Defense Department plan for a unified health record system. VA first awarded the contract to ASM Research and withdrew the award when an ASM subcontractor was thought to have an organizational conflict of interest. The new contract is worth about $80 million. (Federal News Radio)
  • The intelligence community can now keep information that, until now, it had to erase. New Obama administration guidelines let analysts keep information on U.S. citizens for five years, even when there’s no connection to terrorism. Data rules for the National Counter Terrorism Center were designed to protect privacy, but the director of National Intelligence said that, under the old rules, nobody caught a terrorist who nearly managed to bomb an airliner on Christmas 2009. James Clapper said the new guidelines would make NCTC more efficient and effective. (Federal News Radio)
  • The administration is getting stingy on locality pay, because it feels the government can’t afford to expand it right now. So the President’s Pay Agent has rejected a proposal by the Federal Salary Council to expand locality pay to five new cities in 2013. Locality pay bumps up salaries of federal workers in high-cost locations following a formula. The rejected cities are Albany, N.Y.; Albuquerque, N.M.; Bakersfield, Calif.; Charlotte, N.C.; and Harrisburg, Pa. (OPM)
  • The Government Accountability Office said that system problems are making it hard for the Army to compare pay files with personnel files. In one case, it took two months of manual labor before the Defense Manpower Data Center could reconcile them, which raised questions about whether soldiers have been receiving the pay they were supposed to. GAO said the Army is making progress, but it was a long way off. The problem was a big threat to DoD’s path toward audit readiness. (Federal News Radio)
  • The administration is crafting new rules to prevent contractors from dumping IT devices in landfills. Contractors will also need to use recyclers certified through federally recognized programs. The rule isn’t public yet, but the Wall Street Journal reported it would be out soon. This would only apply to equipment bought with federal dollars. (Wall Street Journal)
  • FedEx will pay to settle claims that it broke contracting rules about discrimination. The shipping giant will dole out $3 million in back wages. The money will go to 22,000 people rejected for entry-level jobs in 15 states. FedEx also agreed to internal reforms aimed at preventing discrimination. That included new equal opportunity training and self-monitoring for compliance. The effected workers included African-Americans, Caucasians and Native Americans. (Labor Department)
  • The Energy Department is giving away $100,000 in its new Apps for Energy contest. It’s asking developers to work on apps that would make energy usage data easier to understand. The idea was to create a complete picture of how someone used energy. Entrants must be at least 13. The apps can be any kind of application, including for web, computers or mobile devices. The prize money could go to a number of developers rather than just one. The contest opens on April 5. (Energy Department)