Thursday morning federal headlines – March 29, 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.

  • A special counsel told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee about wrongdoing by federal prosecutors. Henry Schuelke looked into the prosecution of the late Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), who had been indicted for corruption. But Justice Department lawyers withheld evidence from Stevens’ defense attorneys that would have exonerated him. He was convicted and lost a re-election bid in 2008. Attorney General Eric Holder later asked the judge to void the conviction. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) introduced legislation to establish a universal standard for prosecutors, to ensure that they turn over information that could be favorable to a defendant. Stevens died in a 2010 plane crash. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Justice Department is suing to shut down a tax preparation company’s office in five cities. Justice said Instant Tax Services looked the other way when franchisees prepared fraudulent tax returns with inflated refunds and preparation fees. Justice estimated tax losses at $16 million. It will go after Instant Tax Services offices in Saint Louis, Kansas City, Chicago, Indianapolis and Las Vegas. Justice said it’s already won convictions against ITS tax return preparers in Ohio and Missouri. (Federal News Radio)
  • The House voted to dispatch not one, but two fiscal 2013 budget proposals. One came from Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C), which took the president’s top line numbers and presented them as a bill. The vote against if was unanimous, 0 to 414. The Hill newspaper reported Budget Committee Ranking Member Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) called the Mulvaney bill politics at its absolute worst. In a nearly equally lopsided vote, the House killed a bipartisan plan. That one had been proposed by Reps. Steve LaTourette (R-Ohio) and Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.). It would have cut $4 trillion from the deficit over 10 years, partly by tax increases and entitlement reductions. (Federal News Radio)
  • Efforts to cut federal improper payments need a boost from Congress. Office of Management and Budget Controller Danny Werfel told a Senate Panel a 1988 privacy law is standing in the way. The law makes it difficult for agencies to access databases owned by the Social Security and the Internal Revenue Service. Making deeper cuts in improper payments requires agencies to run matches between those databases and their own. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) suggested the problem was not legal but rather inter-agency cooperation. (Federal News Radio)
  • Agencies are demanding more thorough background investigations on job applicants. The Office of Personnel Management said that explained why the average cost of investigations has spiked 70 percent in six years. The Government Accountability Office released a report suggesting OPM needed to be more open about what, exactly, it is charging agencies for. Agencies now pay OPM nearly $900 for the average investigation. Often it’s cheaper for them to check out applicants’ backgrounds on their own, or have a contractor do that job. OPM said it is making changes to increase transparency and cut costs, but it also defended the program as much faster and better than it used to be. (Federal News Radio)
  • A new House bill aims to stop federal contractors from taking part in human trafficking, The Hill reported. The measure by Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) stemmed from concerns about contractors abroad. Last year, the government uncovered some firms allegedly holding back employee passports, forcing people to stay on work sites. There have also been allegations that some companies have lied about compensation. Connolly’s bill would let agencies terminate contracts, if a company is found to be involved in human trafficking. (The Hill)
  • Sen. Mike Lee (R-Iowa) wants to revamp the Federal Reserve System. He’s introduced a bill that would take away some of the Fed’s responsibilities. Specifically, Lee wants to eliminate the so-called dual mandate of ensuring maximum employment and price stability. Lee’s bill would have the system focus only on price stability. It would also change how the organization reports information with the aim of better transparency. (Sen. Mike Lee (R-Iowa))
  • The House votes today on a highway funding bill that would change federal employee retirement contributions, GovExec reported. It’s a 90-day extension that would increase the amount feds chip in for their pensions. The Senate has passed a long-term version without those provisions. (GovExec)