Wednesday morning federal headlines – April 11, 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.

  • Senators clashed over two competing cybersecurity bills and now the White House is taking sides. Cybersecurity Coordinator Howard Schmidt said the administration favored the bill that has the government set cybersecurity standards for the private sector. That bill is sponsored by Sen.Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and applies to operators of critical infrastructure. The competing bill has government and industry sharing cyber threat information, but that’s it. Schmidt said that’s not enough to protect against catastrophic cyber attacks. (Federal News Radio)
  • A new House bill would expand classified information sharing between government and the private sector. The goal is better mutual knowledge of cybersecurity threats. Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) said the bill was patterned after a program started by the Defense Department. Thirty-seven contractors shared threat information with DOD. Pentagon officials transferred the program to Homeland Security. Both departments hope to expand it. (Federal News Radio)
  • Census Bureau Director Robert Groves is stepping down to become provost of Georgetown University. He will start the new job in August. Groves joined Census in 2009. Both the administration and members of Congress credited him with rescuing the 2010 decennial count that was late and over budget. An expensive experiment with handheld computers had failed. Groves returned the Census to its traditional paper forms and the count was completed on time. (Federal News Radio)
  • Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) issued a stern order to the General Services Administration’s acting administrator, Dan Tangherlini. She wanted names and bonus payments of GSA officials named in a tough IG report on excessive conference and employee prize spending. McCaskill was peeved about the so-called Hats Off program. Hats Off appeared to have randomly given out expensive gifts to employees in the Public Buildings Service. On the conference front, GSA has canceled it’s Green-Up meeting scheduled for later this month in Las Vegas. Las Vegas was the site of GSA’s ill-fated Western Region training conference. (Federal News Radio)
  • The White House praised a program that gives prizes for creative ideas. The Office of Science and Technology Policy said cash incentives have produced private sector innovations that have benefited several agencies. OSTP’s report followed President Obama’s signing of the America Competes reauthorization act. The new law extends to all federal agencies the authority to conduct challenge prize competitions. The General Services Administration developed a contract vehicle to let agencies quickly develop new prize competitions. (White House)
  • Monday is kickoff day for hearings about the General Services Administration scandal. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will get the first hearing on Monday afternoon. House Transportation and Infrastructure Public Buildings Subcommittee Chairman Jeff Denham is moving his hearing from Thursday up to Tuesday. The Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee will hold its hearing Wednesday. (Federal News Radio)
  • The White House is planning to set up a governmentwide chief technology officers’ council. The forum would allow political appointees and career technology leaders to share tips and launch interagency initiatives, NextGov and the Federal Times reported. Veterans Affairs CTO Peter Levin told reporters at an IT event Tuesday, the forum would be less formal than the chief information officers’ council, although there would be regular meetings with specific agenda items. He said the CTO council may build upon the President’s Innovation Cohort. That group brings together agency technology leaders to share new ideas and solve problems in real time. (NextGov and Federal Times)
  • Transformers toys and movies may be inspiring the Pentagon, NextGov reported. The $34 million DARPA Robotics Challenge was seeking robots that could respond to disasters like the Fukushima nuclear accident. It wanted machines that could drive utility vehicles, travel across rubble, remove debris blocking entryways and climb ladders. They should be easy for non-experts to control. DARPA is asking for proposals by the end of May. (NextGov)
  • Federal investigators in Afghanistan are coming under tighter examination. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) issued a new ethics rule for its employees. The agency said the restrictions would help them stay objective and independent. The rule might change the way auditors interact with contractors or local groups. For example, employees must get agency approval before taking outside jobs as speakers, writers or teachers. SIGAR oversees security and contracting for U.S.-funded rebuilding efforts. (GPO)