Tuesday morning federal headlines – March 6, 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.

  • Congress is looking into a snafu at the Office of Personnel Management. OPM mistakenly sent acceptance letters to 300 people who, in fact, did not qualify for the Presidential Management Fellowship Program. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, wants to know how the mishap happened. He thinks it indicates much larger management and technology problems within OPM. Issa and Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.), who chairs the workforce subcommittee, are asking for information. OPM officials say they will comply. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Navy and Marine Corps have launched a program to detect and stop alcoholism among service members. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus says every sailor boarding a ship will undergo a breathalyzer test. Officials believe irresponsible drinking is the common denominator in a host of personnel problems, ranging from drunken driving to domestic violence. The alcohol campaign is part of a sweeping initiative to improve the health and readiness of naval personnel. Service officials are also looking at smoking cessation programs. (Federal News Radio)
  • A former FDA scientist has been sentenced to five years in prison. Cheng Yi Liang, a chemist from Gaithersburg, Md., pleaded guilty in October to securities fraud. Trading occurred while Liang worked at FDA’s Office of New Drug Quality Assessment. He was ordered to forfeit $3.7 million in trading profits. Federal prosecutors say Liang regularly accessed an FDA system containing drug approval applications. He used the information on pending approvals to make bets on drug company stocks. (Justice Department)
  • A whistleblower is filing suit against the IRS claiming the agency owes him a reward. Joseph Insignia was a Dutch Bank executive. He blew the whistle on his employer, who was helping American companies dodge taxes. Now Insignia is taking the IRS to court for failing to give him a reward for his information. A 2006 whistleblower law allows those with inside information on disputes that exceed $2 million in taxes and penalties to receive 15 to 30 percent of the amount collected. The Washington Post reports, IRS officials in charge of his case say the government is still open for a reward determination. But Insignia said it’s already been five years and it’s creeping closer to the seven-year limit to collect. (Washington Post)
  • The Transportation Security Administration says a smarter approach to passenger screening is saving the agency money. TSA administrator John Pistole told an audience at the National Press Club yesterday that his budget request for 2013 is $200 million smaller than the previous year, in part, because of the agency’s risk-based strategy to airport screening. GovExec reports he’s promising a further expansion of programs like “Precheck,” which lets frequent fliers and other select passengers move through an expedited screening process. That trusted traveler program will start being rolled out to members of the military who have valid common access cards by the end of this month. (GovExec)
  • Customs and Border Protection says it’s expanding the Global Entry program to four more U.S. airports. Minneapolis, Charlotte, Denver and Phoenix are the latest additions. That brings the tally of Global Entry airports to 24. DHS says the system speeds up the time international travelers end up spending in passport processing lines by around 70 percent, and most users make their way through processing in less than five minutes. Pre-approved trusted travelers swipe their machine-readable passports through a kiosk, supply a fingerprint and answer a few on-screen questions. In January, President Obama signed an executive order making Global Entry a permanent program. (CBP)
  • Congress is taking up the question of whether lax visa control contributes to terrorism. A hearing today by the Homeland Security Committee will look at the case of Amine El Kahlifi. He was arrested for wearing a vest he thought was a bomb in a U.S. Capitol parking lot. He’d overstayed his visa to the United States by 12 years. The Obama administration policy is to not deport people only because they overstay their visas. But Rep. Candace Miller (R-Mich.) says a long list of terrorists are people who weren’t tracked after their visas expired. (Federal News Radio)
  • The National Institute of Standards and Technology has spent the past year updating its guidance on implementing federal IT security. Now it wants comments from both the public and private sectors. The new revisions to special publication 800-53 incorporate lessons learned about evolving threats to federal IT systems, including an analysis of attacks on federal systems over time. NIST is also adding guidance on privacy for the first time. After the public comment period, NIST hopes to have the guidance finalized by this summer, when it’ll apply to every federal agency. (Federal News Radio)
  • Top Pentagon leaders may insert elite CIA-led special operation forces into Afghanistan after American forces exit from the war torn country in 2014. It’s one of several possible plans being debated by Pentagon staffers. It has not been presented to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, the White House or Congress. If adopted, the Pentagon could still say there are no more U.S. troops on the ground because once the SEALS, Rangers and other units are assigned to CIA control, they become spies. Either way, special operations units would still target militants on joint raids with Afghans and keep training Afghan forces. (Federal News Radio)
  • A new study by the National Research Council faults the Army for poor public communications in the long-running debate over possible groundwater contamination at Maryland’s Fort Detrick. The panel found that data on whether the pollution is responsible for cancer clusters in surrounding communities is inconclusive, and that further studies probably would not yield any solid answers. But it points to what it calls a legacy of mistrust by community members toward the Army, who it says needs to be more effective in communicating the results of health studies. (National Academy of Sciences)