Wednesday morning federal headlines – April 25, 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 government has spent nearly 25 years researching and developing GPS technology. Now NASA will test the Real-time Earthquake Analysis for Disaster Mitigation Network (READI). The network uses real-time GPS measurements from nearly 500 stations throughout California, Oregon and Washington. Because it delivers high-precision, second-by-second measurement of ground displacements, scientists should be able to get more accurate information quicker than using traditional instruments that measure shaking. Scientists are hopeful READI will be especially effective for predicting tsunamis. Calculating the strength of one requires detailed knowledge of the size of the earthquake and associated ground movements. (NASA)
  • Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, is urging the General Services Administration to stop paying Jeff Neely, the official at the center of the conference spending scandal. The Public Buildings Services commissioner in Region 9 for GSA was put on administrative leave earlier this month after an inspector general report revealed a 2010 conference in Las Vegas with a $820,000 price tag. In a letter to acting Administrator Dan Tangherlini, Mica called for Neely’s immediate firing or, at the very least, removal from the federal payroll. Mica said: “Continuing to pay an official who has abused and demonstrated a wanton disregard for his responsibilities as a federal employee and senior executive is unacceptable.” (Federal News Radio)
  • Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.) has sponsored legislation to cut travel budgets by half governmentwide. Then, in three years, they would be halved again. He called it the GSA — or Government Spending Accountability — Act. The bill carves out exceptions for Defense and security-related agencies. Ross noted that federal travel costs rose between 2001 and 2006 but doesn’t give figures for more recent years. The Senate has voted to curtail conference spending, and the House may do so later today. (Rep. Dennis Ross)
  • The General Services Administration’s spending is putting federal employees in the spotlight, and a conservative group is capitalizing on it with a campaign commercial. The American Future Fund’s spot features suspended GSA official Jeff Neely in a Las Vegas hot tub, as a narrator lists the extravagant spending for which he appears to be responsible. The commercial suggests that President Barack Obama is not taking charge. It quotes him as describing the government as “pretty big.” The Washington Post reported that Obama made those remarks last year in an unrelated interview. (American Future Fund)
  • Transgender people are legally protected from bias in the workplace. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled sex discrimination laws cover people who have switched sexes. The case involved a man who applied for a job at a contractor to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Mia Macy, now a woman, claimed a job offer was withheld when the agency learned of her impending sex change. She is an Army veteran and former policeman. The Transgender Law Center took up her case. (Federal News Radio)
  • FEMA is still struggling to recover millions of dollars in improper payments that it spent to help victims of recent hurricanes. A watchdog group said the agency recovered about a third of the money. The Project on Government Oversight looked at records from fiscal 2005 to 2010. It sought information on FEMA payments to people found guilty of fraud related to helping victims of hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma. The group also looked at how the agency chased after the improper payments. It accused FEMA of having no standard process in place. The agency said it was recovering millions of dollars and no longer made the same mistakes in handing out disaster relief money in the first place. (POGO)
  • The Army private accused of the biggest leak of government secrets in U.S. history may go free later today. A military judge will rule on a motion to dismiss the case against Bradley Manning. Defense lawyers requested it on the grounds that prosecutors had been too slow in sharing information. But prosecutors said it took a while to obtain documents from civilian agencies and go through them. They are accusing Manning of sending hundreds of thousands of sensitive documents to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks. He faces 22 separate charges. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Senate is nearing a vote on a comprehensive postal reform bill. The goal is to return the Postal Service to financial stability. Yesterday it held a marathon series of votes on amendments to the bill. It plowed through about a dozen amendments, with about two dozen to go. Senators rejected an amendment to expand the federal workers compensation program. And they shot down a proposal to force postal workers into retirement without a buyout. But the Senate approved an amendment limiting federal agency spending on conferences. A vote on the full bill could come today. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Office of Personnel Management is close to finishing guidance and training standards for agency performance improvement officers. By law, the standards must be finished by Jan. 4. OPM has already completed one requirement under the Government Performance and Results Modernization Act. Earlier this year it listed the specific skills needed to further agency performance. (Federal News Radio)