Monday morning federal headlines – March 12, 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.

  • President Obama appointed Todd Park as the next federal chief technology officer. He is replacing Aneesh Chopra, who stepped down last month. Park is the CTO at Health and Human Services and joined the federal government in August 2009. He created a health information data dissemination program patterned after NOAA’s weather data releases. He also helped launch, which gives consumers information about health care plans. Last month, Frank Baitman started as the new chief information officer at HHS. (Federal News Radio)
  • Federal workers would face another year of a pay freeze under an amendment to the Senate highway bill. Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) inserted the bill, which would extend the pay freeze to December 2013. The Roberts amendment also included language easing the way to more domestic oil exploration, and it would create what Roberts called a deficit reduction trust fund. That fund would be partially filled by the pay freeze. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Nuclear Regulatory Commission ordered big changes in safety procedures for U.S. nuclear generators. The orders came on the one-year anniversary of the earthquake that severely damaged coastal reactors in Japan. U.S. operators must install new equipment to limit core damage in a serious accident. They also have to beef up protection of safety equipment. U.S. plants have until 2016 to comply. NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko said he was disappointed the commission couldn’t agree to faster compliance. An industry spokesman put the compliance tag at $100 million. (Federal News Radio)
  • Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano released an implementing directive Friday to bolster the sharing of classified information by the federal government with state, local, tribal and private sector partners. The directive establishes an oversight structure to instill uniformity and consistency down the lines of communication. The effort was coordinated with agencies to maintain consistency with existing policies and standards. (DHS)
  • The number of new federal contractors fell last year despite White House efforts to increase competition. The Washington Post reported that new suppliers fell by 14 percent. Federal budget cuts might be part of the reason, but it could end up putting more strain on agency resources. Former top procurement official Dan Gordon told the Post that less competition could lead to higher prices and government contracting being seen as more of an “insider’s game.” New small-business contractors suffered the biggest decline last year. They were awarded last year just two-thirds of the money they made in 2010 — $3.6 billion, down from $5.5 billion. (Washington Post)
  • Administrators said tribal employees are gearing up to join the federal healthcare program. The Federal Employee Health Benefits Plan officially opens to tribal employees on May 1, but the Office of Personnel Management said 2,500 of them have already signed up. Director John Berry told a conference of American Indians last week that the agency has set up a hotline for them. It is also preparing to welcome tribal employees into the Federal Employees Group Life Insurance program. Officials do not think the new members will affect plan prices. The expansion is part of the Affordable Care Act. (OPM)
  • The government is looking for universities, nonprofits or U.S. businesses that want to help create an identity ecosystem. The National Institute of Standards and Technology is soliciting proposals to administer a steering group that would lead the effort. The ecosystem is part of the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace. The idea is to come up with standards for obtaining and authenticating Internet users’ identities and devices. It would be safer and simpler than having people maintain dozens of different usernames and passwords. The two-year contract for administering the steering group is worth $2.5 million. (NIST)
  • President Obama has tried to open up the government with new websites and other transparency initiatives. The government fielded a half-million more Freedom of Information Act requests last year than in 2010. The Associated Press reported, though, agencies were having a hard time keeping up. The backlog of requests rose 14 percent last year. The Department of Homeland Security accounted for most of the backlog. Its offices that deal with immigration have seen a spike in requests. (Associated Press)