Monday morning federal headlines – May 21, 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 House cleared a $642 billion defense budget blueprint. The authorization bill is for 2013 and includes more than a half trillion dollars for the Pentagon’s base budget. It also has $88 billion for the war in Afghanistan and counterterrorism. But the president has threatened to veto, because the bill goes above spending limits Congress and the White House set last summer. The Senate is likely to come up with something closer to what the president wants. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Postal Service needs more money, but it may not come from federal customers. The General Services Administration is asking agencies to be frugal when it comes to mail. A new GSA bulletin encouraged agencies to use the Postal Service’s flat-rate boxes and envelopes, schedule mail in advance to take advantage of USPS discounts and go electronic whenever possible. Executive orders geared toward making agencies less wasteful, more efficient and more green prompted the bulletin. Meanwhile, the Postal Service said it was losing billions of dollars in part because customers, including agencies, are turning away from snail mail and toward e-mail. (GSA)
  • A new Senate bill would limit fee hikes for retirees who use TRICARE. Under the plan, the percentage of any increase in fees would not exceed the percentage of hikes in military retired pay. The measure targets caps on health insurance enrollment fees, deductibles and pharmacy co-payments. It has bipartisan sponsorship from Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) (Senate)
  • The National Weather Service will have to explain what it did with millions of dollars. Lawmakers said the agency might have re-allocated up to $100 million without congressional approval. Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.), chairman of the House Science Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight, said, in a letter, that Weather Service staffers have been investigating but haven’t offered any details. He said they should come forward with the results now. (House)
  • Ask engineering students where they’d love to work and chances are they’d pick a federal lab over the Fortune 500. Engineering undergrads ranked NASA number one in a survey by the marketing firm Universum. Seventeen percent of them said they would rather work in a NASA lab than at Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Google, Apple and even BMW or Walt Disney World. The survey also found that students cared most about finding a balance between a good, secure job and their private lives. Universum said they were looking for employers who respected their workers. (PRWeb)
  • Senators are asking high-ranking General Services Administration managers how they are spending their money in the wake of the agency’s lavish Las Vegas conference and spending spree. Regional administrators received letters from the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. The letters asked them how much money they spent on travel, who managed their travel budgets, whether they have spent more than $10,000 on a single conference and more. The committee posed seven questions in all and asked for responses by June 1. (Federal News Radio)
  • Fiscal 2013 budgets are still up in the air, but the White House is asking agencies to start planning 2014. The Office of Management and Budget is asking agencies to report their most innovative uses of evidence and evaluation when they draft their new budget blueprints. It is taking a cue from a Pew Charitable Trust project involving a dozen states. OMB said those states were ranking programs based on evidence of their return on investment. It said agencies could do the same by either looking at funding across programs or within a single program. Plans that demonstrate a strong commitment to the development and use of evidence are more likely to receive funding. (OMB)
  • The House approved language to prevent agencies from working with companies involved in human traffickers. It was an amendment to the 2013 defense authorization bill, which passed the House Friday. The provision would require all contracts to allow for termination and penalties if the contractors engaged in trafficking. It would also require large overseas contracts to have compliance plans and force agencies to investigate complaints of trafficking. The measure was aimed at contractors working in the Middle East. Last year, the government uncovered some firms allegedly holding back employee passports, forcing people to stay on work sites. There have also been allegations that some companies have lied about compensation. (House)

    Jury selection will begin today in the trial of Pfc.Naser Jason Abdo, who is accused of planning to bomb a Texas restaurant full of troops from Fort Hood last Summer. Authorities said Abdo, who is a Muslim, wanted to avenge the war in Afghanistan. A gun store owner, suspicious of Abdo’s purchases, tipped off police to his whereabouts. He was AWOL from Fort Campbell in Kentucky when he was taken into custody. If convicted of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction he’ll face up to life in prison. (Federal News Radio)