Friday morning federal headlines – May 18, 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.

  • A senior Veterans Affairs Department official and Senior Executive Service member was forced to step down this week after an investigation revealed she helped ensure more than $2 million in business contracts were awarded to the company where her former boss worked. Federal Times reported Patricia Gheen was a 37-year employee of VA and deputy chief business officer for purchased care at the Veterans Health Administration in Denver. Apart from the forced retirement no disciplinary action has been taken. (Federal Times)
  • The House Appropriations Committee has drafted legislation freezing spending levels for congressional staff, travel and office expenses. The tab would stand at $574 million.The bill drew support from both Republicans and Democrats. Sen. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.) said he wanted the Capitol dome to stand for greatness, not austerity. Congress heads out today for a week-long recess. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Pentagon may have to find new ways to show its love of the game. The House could vote later today to block military sponsorship of professional sports. The National Guard sponsors NASCAR’s most popular driver Dale Earnhardt Junior. The Army and Air Force also tattoo their brands on race cars. USA Today reported a NASCAR fan was pushing the change. Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) said it was not a good recruiting tool. (USA Today)
  • The Small Business Administration has proposed new regulations for including small businesses in multiple-award contracts. Agencies have launched several MACs in recent years. Small contractors complained they have often been left out. Now the SBA is acting on The Small Business Jobs Act, passed in 2010. It lets contracting officers set aside parts of a multiple-award schedule for small and disadvantaged suppliers. The rules would let agencies reserve specific dollar amounts or numbers of orders. The rules won’t be mandatory. But if agencies don’t use them, they’ll have to explain why. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Justice Department said prisons across the country must adopt a zero-tolerance policy on rape. The final rule was nearly a decade in the making. It requires prisons to screen inmates for signs of sexual abuse, provide timely medical care and develop protocols that protect gay, lesbian and transgendered inmates. Federal prisons have to implement it right away. Other prisons could lose federal funding if they do not follow it. Justice said nearly one in 10 state and local prisoners are raped by prison staff or inmates. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Postal Service confirmed plans to start closing and consolidating processing plants. Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe said USPS can no longer wait for Congress to tell it what to do. He said he would proceed with plans to consolidate 230 plants, including 48 starting this summer. It will shed thousands of jobs. The Senate passed a bill that would prevent the closings. The House is deadlocked over what to do. Meanwhile, USPS is running at multi-billion-dollar annual losses. Donahoe said its infrastructure is too big for the shrinking volume of mail it handles. (Federal News Radio)
  • The House votes today on a defense budget that would add $8 billion to President Obama’s plan for fiscal 2013. There’s agreement on some things. Service members would get a slight 1.7 percent raise. But overall the Pentagon doesn’t love the bill, and the White House has threatened a veto. The House wants to keep the military’s focus on Iraq and Afghanistan rather than future threats in Asia, the Middle East and cyberspace. Lawmakers are not wild about the Pentagon’s request for a new round of domestic base closings. But they do want officials to study sites for a missile defense system on the East Coast. The Pentagon said that would be $100 million poorly spent. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Obama administration’s shared IT services strategy has left contractors wondering where they fit in the equation. OMB officials tried to answer that question. Scott Bernard, chief architect for OMB, said the strategy could expand contractors’ opportunities. The strategy came out two weeks ago. It asked agencies to get together and share services they all operate separately. The goal is to save money by cutting duplication. The policy expands on the Lines of Business initiative started under the Bush administration. (Federal News Radio)
  • The White House is asking the Senate to confirm the first U.S. ambassador to Myanmar in more than two decades. President Obama nominated Derek Mitchell, he current special envoy to the southeast Asian country. Under Mitchell’s watch, Myanmar held its first democratic elections in years, electing former political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi to Parliament. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with her Myanmar counterpart yesterday. (Federal News Radio)