Tuesday morning federal headlines – March 13, 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 FederalNewsRadio.com users more information about the stories you hear on the air.

  • DARPA director Regina Dugan is stepping down to take a job at Google, Wired magazine reported. Deputy director Ken Gabriel will serve as the acting director. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is the Pentagon’s premier research group. Dugan had been an active albeit controversial leader. She pushed many fast-payoff projects and introduced crowd-sourcing to help improve ideas. But, she was also the subject of an IG investigation for DARPA awards to a company she founded and still partially owns. (Wired)
  • Advocates for federal employees are once again on the Hill asking lawmakers not to cut feds’ pay and benefits. The Federal-Postal Coalition of unions and managers’ associations has written to senators to urge them not to extend the federal pay freeze, according to the National Treasury Employees Union. Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) proposed the extension as an amendment to a giant transportation bill. The chamber is expected to vote on it today. The coalition said federal workers shouldn’t have to shoulder the burden of energy policy changes. (NTEU)
  • The struggling Postal Service is defending its executives’ pay as lawmakers consider placing a cap on their compensation. The agency operates like a business. Officials told GovExec they should be able to offer competitive salary packages. But Rep. Kathy Hochul (D-N.Y.) said they shouldn’t make more than cabinet secretaries, especially when the agency is bleeding money. She plans to sponsor legislation capping Postal Service executives’ pay. The agency expects to lose $14 billion this year and wants to cut more than 100,000 jobs. (GovExec)
  • Federal public affairs officers act more like closed doors than open windows into the government, according to one survey. The Society of Professional Journalists surveyed 164 seasoned reporters who covered government. It found that PAOs controlled access to federal managers so closely it nearly amounted to censorship. Yet most reporters said they have good relationships with public affairs. Reporters said, they nearly always get an answer on a request for an interview. But the answer is usually no. The survey was published as part of Sunshine week. (SPJ)
  • The Energy Department can barely manage its $30 billion loan guarantee program. That’s partly because it doesn’t keep a central set of records. The Government Accountability Office found Energy lacked consolidated data on loan applications. To find information for the GAO audit, Energy staff had to scrounge around for months. GAO concluded DoE was unable to provide adequate oversight. The loan guarantee program caught the eye of Congress last year when loan recipient Solyndra went bankrupt. (GAO)
  • The Office of Management and Budget imposed a time-out on agency financial systems projects. But a GAO audit found the pauses failed to improve their schedule or budget performance. The White House paused the projects in 2010. Thirteen agencies said the reviews led to no change in long term costs. Sixteen said no improvement in schedule occurred. In a few cases, project costs actually went up. The GAO audit was ordered by Sens.Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Scott Brown (R-Mass.), the chairman and ranking member of the subcommittee on Federal Financial Management. (Federal News Radio)
  • One federal agency — Federal Prisons — is taking a soothing approach to tight budgets. It’s letting inmates at the Federal Prison Camp at Alderson, W.Va., buy MP3 players. The minimum security prison for women allows inmates to use their own money to buy the devices. A computer at the prison holds a music library with 1 million songs. Inmates pay for them, too. A spokeswoman said the players keep inmates busy and that promotes more harmony. If the pilot program works out, the plan would be rolled out to all federal prisons. (Federal News Radio)
  • Attorney General Eric Holder said the Justice Department would begin posting monthly lists of FOIA requests coming to the department’s three highest offices — the offices of the attorney general, the deputy and associate attorneys general. They would publicly identify the subject matter and disposition of requests. In the past year, backlogs at those offices rose from 275 to 372 requests at the end of September. Holder also said the department would introduce a new way for the public to submit FOIA requests to the agency’s senior leadership. Requests can come in online, and requesters would be able to track them. (Federal News Radio)