Friday morning federal headlines – May 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.

  • Bureau of Land Management head Bob Abbey is retiring. During his three-year tenure he oversaw BLM’s shift in focus, from leasing out federal lands for oil and gas exploration to renewable energy projects. Last week, he joined Interior Secretary Ken Salazar at the launch of the first solar power project on federal land. He also approved nearly 30 similar projects. Deputy BLM Director Mike Pool will take over as acting director at the end of May. (Federal News Radio)
  • Former Federal Aviation Administration Administrator Randy Babbit lost his job after being arrested for drunk driving, but now a judge has dismissed charges against him. The judge ruled that the police officer had no legitimate reason to stop Babbit, who resigned after the arrest last fall. He said he was “thrilled” at this outcome, but he didn’t regret stepping down. He said he plans to work in aviation consulting. (Federal News Radio)
  • Conference travel is alive and well at the General Services Administration. Next week’s GSA Expo is still on. Although they are not banned from attendance, employees do need to take a few extra steps beforehand. The tighter rules came in the wake of a regional conference in Las Vegas that sparked congressional outrage. Acting Administrator Dan Tangherlini outlined the new rules in a memo obtained by Federal News Radio. Industry conference sponsors expressed relief that GSA employees can still show up. (Federal News Radio)
  • Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told House Republicans, thanks but no thanks. The Armed Services Committee approved a defense authorization bill that restored money to several programs to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. The Pentagon wants to cancel some of them. Panetta said if Congress forced money on the Pentagon it didn’t want, it would have to be paid for with cuts in programs DoD did want. He added, even with the House bill, Defense was still obligated to cut $487 billion over 10 years thanks to the Budget Control Act. Panetta said, there’s no free lunch. (Federal News Radio)
  • Career inspectors general across the government are doing just fine without a Senate-confirmed IG. Some departments have had the position open for years. Yet it doesn’t seem to matter. At a hearing, House members were told that IG offices could thrive without a person in the top slot. Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) praised Charles Edwards, the acting IG at Homeland Security. Under Edwards, annual savings and recovered funds rose sharply. Davis said the career IG staffs had the budgets and knowledge they needed to do the job. The State Department has been without a Senate-confirmed inspector general for five years. A spokesman said that in the same period, audits rose by 56 percent. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Obama administration is trimming the fingernails on the regulatory giant. It will eliminate a handful of regulations it said would save industry and local government $6 billion in the next five years. The president ordered agencies to examine old rules to see if they were still justified. The new executive order builds on one issued in January 2011. The rules purged yesterday would affect hospitals, gas stations, railroads and hospitals. (Federal News Radio)
  • Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said having openly gay service members has not hurt the military a bit. He said it was now “part and parcel” of what is accepted. The military services and combatant commands have sent Panetta monthly updates since Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed nine months ago. The Associated Press said: No leader has reported problems with military order or discipline because of the change. Officials said they were worried beforehand simply because they did not know the impact it would have. (Federal News Radio)
  • The House voted to slash funding for several agencies despite a veto threat from the president. The departments of Commerce and Justice, NASA and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission would receive about $1.6 billion less than they have this year. The new National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace would receive no funding. The bill also contained measures that limited what the agencies could do with the money they would receive. It would prevent the Justice Department from enforcing the Affordable Care Act and participating in lawsuits challenging state immigration laws. The measure was the first of 12 annual appropriations bills to hit the House floor. (White House)
  • Homelessness programs provided a case study in fractured government. The Government Accountability Office said the departments of Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Veterans Affairs and Labor provided similar services to similar groups of people. They all provided career help, case management and transportation, for example. Investigators blamed Congress for part of the problem, saying lawmakers had mandated some of the programs. But agencies shared the blame. They had adapted the programs to meet shifting needs, which sometimes brought the programs too close together. (GAO)
  • The House approved another bill to lighten feds’ wallets. If it becomes law, feds would contribute 5 percent more of their paycheck toward their pension. Current employees would see their contributions increase gradually over five years. New workers would have to pay that much right away. The measure was in a bill passed as an alternative to sequestration. Federal unions said the new option would make feds shoulder more of the burden of federal deficit cuts. The bill passed largely along party lines. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Postal Service lost $3.2 billion in the second quarter of the fiscal year. While that was no surprise, the agency was hoping the bad news would persuade Congress to help it. The Postal Service blamed most of the losses on a requirement to prepay retirees’ health benefits and asked Congress to repeal the law. Without lawmakers’ help, officials said they would default on payments of about $11 billion this year. The news came a day after the Postal Service announced it had backed off a plan to close thousands of post offices. The proposal angered many rural lawmakers. (Federal News Radio)