Monday morning federal headlines – April 9, 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.

  • The Fish and Wildlife Service has made seven grants for research into a disease that’s wiping out North American bats. White Nose Syndrome has already killed an estimated 5.5 million of the creatures. Service Director Dan Ashe said bats are crucial to the ecosystem. Grant funding comes from the Endangered Species Recovery Funds. Researchers will attempt to improve understanding of a fungus that infects bats’ noses and how to eradicate it. Bats are just about to emerge from their winter hibernation. (Fish and Wildlife Service)
  • National Mall redesign advanced a step with a down-select of architectural plans. A jury convened by the National Mall group selected 12 finalists. They’ll submit detailed plans for three areas of the mall. Constitution Gardens, the area around the National Monument and the front of the Capitol all need renovations. The National Mall group hopes to raise $350 million for the work. The finalists’ concepts go on display today through Sunday at the Smithsonian Castle and National Museum of American History. (Federal News Radio)
  • Focus on General Services Administration spending shifted from conferences to a gift program for employees. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee said GSA spent $438,000 over four years on the so-called Hats Off Program. GSA’s Public Buildings Service said the program has ended. Hats Off prizes included iPods, digital cameras, GPS receivers and other electronics. The average gift value rose to more than $300, exceeding the agency’s stated limit of $99. Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the Transportation panel, said Hats Off degenerated into a taxpayer funded giveaway. (Federal News Radio)
  • The State Department said a worldwide game of tag showed how social networking can speed up diplomacy. It sponsored a competition in which teams had to find and photograph five people throughout the world. The winners were a group from the United States, the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates. They found someone in Slovakia in under eight hours using only a photograph. They also tracked down targets here in Washington and in New York, but couldn’t find the ones in Stockholm or London. (Federal News Radio)
  • The investigator who revealed lavish spending at the General Services Administration is coming under fire himself. Former regional Public Building Service commissioner Alan Greenberg said the report “wreaks of a political hatchet job” designed to ruin senior GSA leaders. He said Inspector General Brian Miller embellished for the media, with inflammatory terms and editorial comments. He said IGs rarely release reports to the agency and the media on the same day, as Miller seems to have done. Former Public Building Services Commissioner Joseph Moravec described the fallout and uproar on Capitol Hill as a “witch hunt” in Gov Exec.
  • The Office of Personnel Management is reporting a drop in its retirement backlog despite a larger-than-expected number of new retirees. OPM has received 35,000 claims this year and processed 31,000. But it still has a backlog of 52,000 claims. Retirees wait an average of five months for their annuities. OPM promised to cut that time in half with a new, low-tech strategy that includes hiring back its own retirees, Federal Times reported. (Federal Times)