Friday morning federal headlines – March 30, 2012

The Morning Federal Newscast is a daily compilation of the stories you hear Federal Drive hosts Tom Temin and Emily Kopp discuss throughout the show each day. The Newscast is designed to give users more information about the stories you hear on the air.

  • E-mail and online shopping have left Postal Service workers with little to do. Employees worked a record-low number of hours in fiscal 2011. The independent Postal Regulatory Commission’s new findings are no surprise to the struggling agency. The Postal Service cut more than 6,800 delivery routes in its fifth consecutive year of financial losses. Leaders told Congress Tuesday that the agency wanted to offer buyouts to 150,000 workers. (Postal Regulatory Commission)
  • Congress passed a transportation bill that would keep federal aid flowing to construction projects and let the government continue collecting $110 million a day in fuel taxes for three more months. The bill gives the House more time to consider a larger transportation bill that would include a measure increasing federal employees’ retirement contributions. In what is seen as a political gesture, the House approved the GOP budget plan. It calls for extending the federal pay freeze through 2015, increasing federal retirement contributions and cutting the federal workforce by 10 percent. It’s expected to go nowhere in the Senate, however. (Federal News Radio)
  • Pentagon leaders have been warning for months that sequestration would equal “devastation” for the military itself. They told Congress it would also take a massive toll on defense contractors. Frank Kendall, DoD’s acting acquisition chief, told the Senate yesterday that another $500 billion in budget cuts would affect “hundreds of thousands” of jobs in the defense industry. DoD is in the middle of a project to build a comprehensive map of the entire defense industrial base, so it can keep tabs on how existing budget cuts are affecting contractors. Officials are especially worried about third-and-fourth tier firms. Kendall said DoD would intervene to keep firms from going under in some cases, but those interventions would have to be few and far between. (Federal News Radio)
  • A senator in charge of overseeing government contracting policy said she expected the Obama administration to release new guidance on counting the cost of contractors soon. Sen.Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) was critical of what she said were “flawed assumptions” that lead agencies and Congress to think that contractors were cheaper than federal employees. Federal Times reported she told a Senate committee yesterday that OMB would release new governmentwide guidance on how to gather data and calculate contractor costs within the next 60 days. McCaskill said government spending on service contracts went up 79 percent over the last decade. Over the same period, spending on federal civilian salaries increased only 35 percent. (Federal Times)
  • About a year ago, the Office of Federal Procurement Policy started a campaign to break down communication barriers between federal agencies and federal contractors. The “mythbusters” campaign was widely praised as a success, but OFPP thinks there are still some myths to be busted. A second mythbusters round is about to get started. This one will focus on industry’s perspective. OFFP’s acting administrator said they want to make sure vendors gathered all the information they needed before they sat down with government contracting officers. She said the office was working closely with industry groups to identify the most commonly-held myths in the vendor community. A new document laying out the results should be ready within the next few months. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Agriculture Department and the Federal Aviation Administration are teaming up on what could be a novel approach to alternative energy production. A new USDA study found many of the nation’s airports could prove to be ideal sites to grow feedstocks for biofuels. The department is especially interested in airports with large areas of grassland on their property. Converting those grasslands to biofuel crops would serve two purposes, according to USDA. It could provide airports with alternative energy that they could use on-site; and it would get rid of the kind of vegetation where birds tend to roost and pose a threat to aircraft. The study was published this week in the journal “Environmental Management.” (Federal News Radio)
  • The Federal Employees Health Benefits Program would offer more options next year. The Office of Personnel Management said it would add 10 health care plans, marking the biggest expansion in five years. The agency’s annual “call letter” set out other changes to tamp down the rising costs of medicine. It wanted generic drugs to make up 75 percent of prescriptions filled. It also called on insurers to offer health, wellness and obesity-reduction programs. (Federal News Radio)
  • A new Senate bill paves the way for top career feds to earn more money. Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) said some members of the Senior Executive Service earn less money than the employees they supervised. That was because SES members don’t receive the locality pay or minimum salary increases that feds do under the General Schedule. His bill linked the two pay systems. It would also let senior executives include their performance bonuses in their retirement calculation. (Federal News Radio)