Thursday morning federal headlines – March 15, 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 Labor Department wants states to help crack down on improper payments under the unemployment insurance program. Labor said it created the Fraud Tips and Leads Gateway, an online tool designed to let the public report suspected unemployment insurance fraud, then have state authorities investigate those leads. Labor is also creating new consumer-facing materials designed to help keep people from making improper claims in the first place. Labor has been trying to crack down on improper unemployment payments, which amounted to around $19 billion over the past three years. (Labor Department)
  • The Department of Homeland Security made its first certification under a new program designed to make sure private companies are ready for disasters. AT&T is the first company to meet DHS standards under the “PS-Prep” program. The company passed a third-party audit that examined its plans to keep its critical functions going in the event of a disaster. DHS said PS-Prep offers companies several options to prepare for emergencies, including following best practice programs and aligning and certifying to national standards. DHS plans to announce more certifications later this year. (DHS)
  • The U.S. and the United Kingdom are promising a closer relationship on cybersecurity efforts. The two nations released a joint statement on cyber during Prime Minister David Cameron’s visit to the White House yesterday. In it, the governments pledge to step up their joint planning efforts to prepare for cyber challenges later this year and to share more cyber threat information. They also announced a tri-lateral partnership with Australia. The three countries will pool their research and development dollars to conduct joint cybersecurity research projects. (White House)
  • The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee has already made it clear he’ll do all he can to save the Defense Department from future budget cuts under sequestration. Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said he wants to undo the cuts Congress and the Pentagon have already agreed to — cuts he, himself voted for. In a speech at the Ronald Reagan Library yesterday, McKeon said he held his breath last year when he voted for the Budget Control Act. But now it was clear that the $487 billion in reductions go past cutting out fat and are now cutting into the bone of DoD’s budget. McKeon has already introduced legislation that would put off the further round of sequestration cuts by reducing the federal workforce. (Federal News Radio)
  • Defense officials said the Afghan man who crashed a stolen truck at an airfield yesterday was trying to run down U.S. Marines, the Associated Press reported. The Marines were assembled there waiting for Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s plane to arrive. Since the secretary’s trip hadn’t been announced in advance, DoD officials don’t think the man was targeting Panetta himself. They said Panetta was never in danger. The driver, who was working as an interpreter for U.S. forces, died later in the day after suffering extensive burns. A British soldier was injured when he tried to stop the driver from stealing the truck on the base. The Afghan man hit the British soldier with the truck as he was driving away. (AP)
  • The Navy Department thinks it can save big bucks on software by pooling the buying power of the Navy and the Marine Corps. Navy Chief Information Officer Terry Halvorsen told Federal News Radio the two services are trying to set up enterprise software licensing agreements with 15 of their largest software vendors. He estimated the effort would save about a $100 million over the next five years. Once the agreements are in place, using them would be mandatory for every command in both the Navy and Marines. Currently, most individual bases and commands buy software on their own. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Senate has approved an amendment to restore the transit benefit to last year’s levels for feds who use public transportation to get to work. If approved by the House, it would be retroactive to Jan. 1. That was when last year’s provision expired, and workers had to shell out an extra $105 more a month for their commute. The amendment was part of the transportation bill the Senate approved yesterday. It also approved a measure to let retiring feds keep working part time. (Federal News Radio)
  • Congress is demanding that the Postal Service reveal the results of a study that showed what would happen if it cut service. GovExec reported, Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) filed a motion with the Postal Regulatory Commission to make the study public. He said the report projected how much of an impact closing mail facilities, cutting delivery from six to five days a week and other proposals would have on the agency’s bottom line. The Postal Service is lobbying for those changes as it stands to lose $14 billion this year. The agency has told the Commission that it wants to keep the findings secret because they were of a commercial nature. (GovExec)
  • Contractors predicted business would be good this year despite an anticipated slowdown in government spending. Deltek has released its annual survey of more than 400 firms. Vice President Warren Linscott wrote in the Washington Post, contractors predicted an average growth rate of nearly 20 percent this year. Growth was slower last year at 7 percent. The report found that big, multiple award contracts are benefiting large companies most of all and may push companies to merge. The Senate will hold a hearing later this month to look at how agencies can cut the costs of contracting. (Washington Post)
  • The Obama Administration’s efforts to open more government records to the public is receiving mixed reviews. The government watchdog OMB Watch said, on one hand, agencies were processing the highest level of requests since 2005 under the Freedom of Information Act. But on the other hand, the group said agencies were taking greater advantage of an exemption that allows them to withhold information from the public if it’s prohibited by a law other than FOIA. OMB Watch said the State Department and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission use that exemption more and more. (OMB Watch)
  • The government may be leaving the safeguarding of radioactive materials in the hands of unqualified people. The Government Accountability Office said that could leave some materials at hospitals and other facilities more vulnerable to tampering, sabotage or theft. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission oversees security of radiological sources. But GAO said the agency’s requirements don’t prescribe specific measures. It said the NRC leaves too much up to individual states. The congressional watchdog testified at a Senate subcommittee hearing yesterday. NRC commissioners go before another committee today. (GAO)/ul>