Friday morning federal headlines – June 1, 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 president’s pick to lead the Nuclear Regulatory Commission appears headed for fast-track approval. GovExec reported both Democratic and Republican senators approve of Allison Macfarlane. She’s a science and policy professor who would replace Gregory Jaczko as commission chairman. Mcfarlane wrote a book critical of the Yucca Mountain Nevada nuclear waste storage project, which has since been canceled by the administration. President Obama also nominated Republican Katherine Svinicki for a second term. Senators said both nominees would be considered together. (GovExec)
  • The House voted to give the intelligence community more money than it asked for. It has passed a 2013 budget that, the Associated Press estimated, would give spy agencies about $77 billion. That’s 4 percent less than last year, but slightly more than the president wanted. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) said lawmakers have cut some programs to fund others. The bill would let agencies hire more surveillance officers. Rogers warned against the alternative — sequestration. Under across-the-board cuts, he said agencies would lay off thousands of intelligence workers and cut back on analysis. (Federal News Radio)
  • The House approved legislation that would boost health care spending for veterans. It would provide more money to compensate Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, who are claiming service-related disabilities in record numbers. But those goodies would be partly paid for by another year of frozen federal salaries. In all, the bill would raise disability payments by 20 percent and health care spending by 5 percent. It passed with overwhelming support from both parties. But the White House is threatening a veto. It said the VA bill crowds out other spending. The bill leaves in a provision forcing the Pentagon to pay union wages on federal contracts. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Federal Aviation Administration is facing skeptics as it prepares to realign hundreds of facilities over the next 15 years. Its inspector general told a House committee, in past property consolidations FAA didn’t do enough cost research. So it didn’t know whether the moves saved money. David Grizzle, of the chief operation office of FAA’s Air Traffic Organization, promised more detailed studies for future property changes. The FAA is preparing for the transition to its Next Generation of air traffic control. It wants fewer but more capable facilities as it retires old radar buildings. (Federal News Radio)
  • The White House said that at the rate things were going, the government would save more than $8 billion by year’s end through real estate deals. Most of the savings come from the Pentagon’s Base Realignment and Closure process, but civilian agencies so far have saved nearly $2.5 billion combined. The Internal Revenue Service has reduced office space by 1 million square feet, and the General Services Administration has made a relative killing on a 1950s building in Nome, Alaska, which sold for nearly $1.7 million. (White House)
  • A stalemate in Congress has sparked the administration to reform federal cybersecurity policy on its own. The Office of Management and Budget named a committee of three former staff members to revise a key cyber document. It’s been 10 years since Circular A-130’s last revision. It still talks about GSA leading governmentwide cybersecurity efforts, years after Homeland Security got that job. Leading the revision are Frank Reeder, Karen Evans and Dan Chenok. Reeder told a gathering at NIST, existing authorities leave a lot of room for the administration to act. Several major cyber bills have stalled in Congress. (Federal News Radio)
  • Federal employees’ groups are playing a new round of whack-a-mole as they try to swat down another Capitol Hill proposal to cut benefits. House GOP leaders want to raise feds’ retirement contributions by 1.2 percent. This time, it’s to fund low-interest student loans. The American Federation of Government Employees said the plan amounted to a tax hike on federal workers. The National Treasury Employees Union wrote President Barack Obama, saying it didn’t always agree with the president’s budget ideas, but at least he has tried to spread the pain of cuts broadly. (NTEU)
  • President Barack Obama is heading to an appliance factory in Minnesota today to launch a new jobs initiative for veterans. The “We Can’t Wait” Initiative would help thousands of vets obtain civilian licenses and credentials for manufacturing jobs and other high-demand skills. The president’s economic council released a report on the unemployment situation for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. The council said frequent moves combined with different requirements for licenses across state lines made it particularly difficult for vets to develop civilian careers. The president will also push his Veterans Job Corps legislation that has stalled in the House. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Pentagon is launching a new cyber war strategy this summer. Its research arm DARPA is inviting computer whizzes and gamers in the private sector and academia to develop technology that could help the military launch cyber attacks. Until now, the military has focused mostly on defending against cyber attacks. The five-year, $110 million program is called “Plan X.” Outside experts told the Washington Post that if the Pentagon can do this, it could dominate the digital battlefield. They said cyber battles probably would not be fought on their own like in video games, rather, opponents in a real war would use cyber attacks to weaken each other’s defenses. (Washington Post)
  • It’s official: the federal workforce is shrinking, but not by a lot. There were 11,600 fewer federal workers in April than a year earlier, which was about O.5 percent of the total workforce. But USA Today reported federal employment has fallen for seven straight months. It was the longest drop in more than a decade and marked an end to a hiring spree that began under President George W. Bush in 2007. Federal employment grew 13 percent from the time the recession began in 2007 until last year. Now, the Internal Revenue Service is among the fastest-shrinking agencies. It cut 6 percent of its workers last year though attrition. The Environmental Protection Agency and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission also trimmed back. (USA Today)
  • Transportation safety officials have swooped down on more than two dozen curbside bus companies. It’s the largest-ever federal crackdown on what’s commonly known as “Chinatown buses.” The cheap buses ferry passengers mostly between East Coast cities, dropping them off on the curb rather than at a bus terminal. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the companies are “very, very bad actors.” He said they have ignored safety rules. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration spent a year investigating them. The buses have a fatal accident rate seven times higher than their competitors. (Federal News Radio)