Friday morning federal headlines – April 27, 2012

The Morning Federal Newscast is a daily compilation of the stories you hear Federal Drive hosts Tom Temin and Emily Kopp discuss throughout the show each day. The Newscast is designed to give users more information about the stories you hear on the air.

  • A House committee approved legislation to increase federal employees contributions to their pensions. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee would jack up payments by five percent over five years. The 19 to 15 vote split along party lines. The boost was part of a larger bill aimed at deficit reduction. Feds in the Federal Employment Retirement System now pay zero-point-eight percent of their salaries into the pension system. That would rise to nearly six percent. The House measure also ends to so-called FERS supplement for early retirees. But the change only would apply to new federal hires. Don’t feel bad. The measure hits members of Congress and their staffs even harder. (Federal News Radio)
  • A military judge has refused to dismiss the most serious charge against the Army private accused of the biggest leak of government secrets in U.S. history. If Bradley Manning is convicted of “aiding the enemy,” he could spend life in prison. Prosecutors will have to prove that Manning knew he was giving information to the enemy when he gave sensitive documents to the website WikiLeaks. Manning has yet to enter a plea to that, or any of the 22 charges that he faces. His trial is expected to begin in September. (Federal News Radio)
  • The House Oversight Committee has approved measures to limit new regulations in all sorts of ways. One bill would stop agencies from finalizing major rules or guidance for two years…or until the unemployment rate reaches 6 percent. There would be exceptions for national security or health emergencies. Another bill would stop agencies from proposing or finalizing so-called “midnight rules.” It means agencies couldn’t issue regulations during an outgoing president’s “lame-duck” period between November and January. Technical rules to fix language or other minor details could still go through. At the same meeting yesterday, the committee approved a measure to require agencies to list every program they run. They would also have to evaluate the program’s efficiency and post results online. Then, they would be expected to find ways to merge duplicative or overlapping programs. The bill follows a Government Accountability Office report that finds the government wastes billions of dollars a year on overlapping or fragmented programs. (House Oversight and Government Reform Committee)
  • There’s good news for servicemembers seeking better health care and less confusion from the Defense Department and Veterans Affairs. VA says it will deploy a joint electronic health record system earlier than expected. Next Gov reports VA plans to start using the system in 2014. That’s two years ahead of schedule. It will be rolled out first in Norfolk, Virginia and San Antonio hospitals. The VA awarded a major contract last month for what it calls the “heart” of the joint system. Chief Information Officer Roger Baker says the agencies now have to develop software more quickly than planned. (NextGov)
  • Customer service is going downhill at the IRS because of budget cuts. Representatives are taking longer to answer phone calls and letters from taxpayers. That’s the message the National Treasury Employees Union — which represents IRS workers — took to Capitol Hill this week. The Senate Finance Committee held a hearing yesterday on ways the IRS could make tax filing season better for taxpayers. The agency’s budget is $330 million less than in fiscal 2010. It has lost 5,000 employees. The IRS is asking for an increase of $945 million in next year’s budget. (NTEU)
  • A Congressional report is expected to be released that casts doubt on the CIA’s harsh interrogation methods. The report will say that techniques like water-boarding and sleep deprivation do not work. An official tells Reuters that investigators found “no evidence” that the methods contributed to the capture of Osama bin Laden last year. Democrats on the Senate intelligence committee spent nearly three years going through CIA records from the Bush administration. Republicans withdrew their support of the study because of ongoing criminal investigations. President Obama banned the techniques after taking office.(Reuters)
  • A contractors group is objecting to the way Health and Human Services plans to deal with challenges of health care reform. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services wants help with the law’s many complicated provisions. It plans to set up a federally funded research and development center. The FFRDC would be sole recipient of CMS contract awards. The Professional Services Council thinks CMS should hire more employees and use competing contractors. Council president Stan Soloway CMS is violating federal acquisition regulations. (Professional Services Council)
  • A new study finds five in six federal contractors prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. The Williams Institute at UCLA looked at the top 50 contractors. It says 86 percent have policies protecting gay and lesbian employees. More than half also prohibit discrimination based on gender identity. Advocates say it’s all the more reason why President Obama should issue an executive order banning discrimination against gay federal contractors. Obama has said he would encourage Congress to pass a law. (Williams Institute)
  • This year’s Presidential Distinguished Rank award recipients have collectively saved the government tens of billions of dollars. They provided legal and financial advice during the economic crisis. And they led a successful realignment of 11,000 Defense workers in 25 states. That’s just a few of their accomplishments. The 51 recipients were feted last night at a black-tie gala at the State Department Diplomatic Reception Room. That event sponsored by the Senior Executives Association. Winners are nominated by their agency heads. They are evaluated by a panels of private citizens and approved by the president. Later this morning we’ll have the winners posted.