Monday morning federal headlines – March 19, 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.

  • Agriculture Department officials are warning people not to respond to faxed letters asking for personal information. The letters bear the USDA logo and the name, Frank Rutenberg, who is identified as a senior procurement officer. The letters ask for both personal and financial data. They have been received in Alabama, Nebraska, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. USDA said the letters are fake. Agriculture’s inspector general is looking into the matter. (USDA)
  • The Defense Department hired United-Health Military Veterans Services to operate Tricare in the Western United States. The 10-year contract has a potential value of $20 billion. United-Health had protested Tricare’s award in 2009 to the incumbent, TriWest Healthcare Alliance. Tricare’s awards for the North and South regions also resulted in protests. United-Health initially won the South. Tricare re-awarded that contract to Humana and that award remains in dispute. In the North, an award to Aetna was successfully protested by Health Net. (DoD)
  • A bipartisan bill in the Senate would lower the cap on contractors’ salaries eligible for reimbursement. The bill was introduced by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). It would cap all contractor employees’ pay at $400,000. A deal last year kept the top pay at $698,951. That provision extended the cap to all employees, not just the top five executives. Back in 1995, the cap was $250,000. (Federal News Radio)
  • House Republicans are preparing an alternative 2013 budget that cuts the existing deal by 2 percent. Many of the $19 billion in cuts would come from the Education, Energy and Housing and Urban Development departments. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is spearheading the effort. Last year’s budget deal capped 2013 discretionary spending at just over $1 trillion and left Social Security and Medicare-Medicaid untouched. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Navy said repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has not hurt the force like some had expected. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert said he hasn’t seen a real difference since the policy ended last fall. Some people had worried letting gay and lesbian service members be open about their sexual preferences would hurt force cohesion. But Greenert said so far, so good, and that it was a non-story. He also said the change hasn’t affected recruiting, and that the Navy is still making 100 percent of its goal. But the Navy isn’t calling it a success story just yet. Greenert said leaders need to remain vigilant for any signs of trouble. (DoD)
  • The White House is re-shaping its National Security Staff. The president and National Security Advisor Tom Donilon have combined the jobs of executive secretary and chief of staff. They’ve moved the vice president’s Deputy National Security Advisor Brian McKeon into the new job. The White House said the change would create a more integrated management approach for the staff. McKeon replaces Ambassador Broke Anderson, who is leaving government and moving to Montana. (White House)
  • The Office of Special Counsel found the tone for retaliation against whisteblowers at the Dover Mortuary came from the top. It blamed Air Force Col. Robert Edmonson, the former commander, for an atmosphere that led to prohibited personnel practices. The retaliation hit employees who protested the mishandling of slain servicemembers’ remains. Edmonson has already been reprimanded. An Air Force statement said more action would come. The Office of Special Council’s final report noted that corrective actions for the whistleblowers have been completed. (Office of Special Counsel)