Thursday morning federal headlines – April 19, 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.

  • One military leader dismissed the idea that planned spending cuts represent a military doomsday. Navy Undersecretary Robert Work predicted a golden age for the Navy and Marine Corps. He voiced this opinion despite the fact that both services would shrink under the Budget Control Act enacted last year. Work told a Navy League conference, a recent strategic review was the most comprehensive since the Eisenhower era. He said the shift in emphasis to the Pacific rim would make maritime forces more central than ever to U.S. security. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Senate’s accounting-minded member moved to rein in agency conference spending. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) introduced a bill that would require agency heads to review any conferences costing more than $200,000. It would also require a yearly report to Congress on total agency conference spending. The Accountability in Government Act comes as Congress concludes three days of hearings on a costly GSA conference. McCaskill’s bill would also withhold performance bonuses for any employee under investigation. That’s in response to a bonus going to GSA Region 9 building commissioner Jeff Neely, now under suspension. (Federal News Radio)
  • The General Services Administration’s inspector general told senators his office had made a criminal referral to the Justice Department. But Brian Miller stopped short of saying who was referred or whether he planned more referrals. Miller testified for the third day about his report on the now-infamous GSA Region 9 Buildings Service conference. Miller said his office has heard from numerous whistleblowers since his report became public. He likened the calls to turning over rocks and finding new scandals underneath. (Federal News Radio)
  • Heads are rolling at the Secret Service. Dismissals followed revelations that 11 agents had cavorted with prostitutes before President Obama arrived in Cartegena, Colombia. The Secret Service fired three agents and put eight on administrative leave. Agency officials said one supervisor would be allowed to retire but one more would be fired for cause. The Associated Press reported searches of the hotel rooms found no evidence of illegal drug use. (Federal News Radio)
  • Veterans Affairs wants contractors to submit payment requests electronically. It will amend its acquisition regulations to require it. The rule isn’t yet final. An interim clause gives three options to vendors who voluntarily e-submit. They can use Va’s electronic invoice and presentment payment system, or the industry-standard X-12 format. Vendors can also use another e-format if it’s approved by the VA’s contract shop. (GPO)
  • Attempts to increase federal unions’ say over workplace issues are fizzling out. Several agencies have experimented with collective bargaining over nontraditional subjects, from the type of phone system the agencies uses to the grades and numbers of employees assigned to projects. Supporters said the expanded bargaining can help agencies save money and become more efficient. But Federal Times reported that results have been inconclusive and even disappointing. The National Council on Federal Labor Management Relations planned to tell President Obama that the tests showed little success but should continue for at least two more years. (Federal Times)
  • A bill to let federal employees semi-retire has cleared a House panel. GovExec reported the bill had bipartisan support from members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The bill would let employees who are about to retire convert to part-time. They would be allowed to roll unused leave into their Thrift Savings Plans. Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who sponsored the bill, estimated it would save $465 million over 10 years. (GovExec)
  • Federal employees’ groups are up in arms about a Senate measure to scale back the federal workers’ compensation program, which is included in legislation to overhaul the Postal Service, but it would impact all feds. The National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association said the provision would cut benefit levels by more than a quarter for workers at or above retirement age. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said feds in their 90s should be receiving retirement benefits rather than the more-generous workers’ comp. Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) has sponsored an amendment that would mitigate the provision. (Federal News Radio)
  • President Barack Obama is asking agencies to lead the fight against domestic violence. The White House said the federal government should be a model employer. To that end, a new executive order directs the Office of Personnel Management to craft guidance on ways agencies can help workers at risk, set up leave policies and discipline employees who commit or threaten to commit domestic violence. After OPM does that, agencies have four months to develop policies. The White House is pushing Congress to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, which expired last year. The Administration said three women die each day in this country from violence at the hands of a family member. (White House)
  • A rural lawmaker hopes to throw a big wrench into the Postal Service’s plan to slash its delivery network. Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) wants to stop the agency from closing any rural post offices for at least two years. He has proposed an amendment to a sweeping Postal Service reform bill. After the two years, it would let officials close post offices only if another one was within 10 miles, and if they could show that senior citizens and people with disabilities would not be inconvenienced. The Postal Service wants to close more than 3,000 post offices as part of a plan to save $20 billion a year. Postal executives don’t like another amendment that Tester is pushing to cut their salaries, which are higher than those of counterparts at other agencies, but lower than leaders of private-sector competitors. (U.S. Senate)