Thursday morning federal headlines – June 28, 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 bill slashing agency travel budgets has sailed through a House panel. The House Oversight Committee approved the legislation to cap non-military travel at 70 percent of fiscal year 2010 levels. Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) called it the “GSA” Act after the agency that spent $800,000 on a Las Vegas conference. His legislation limits conference spending to $500,000 and forces agencies to keep employees on a tighter leash. Agencies would not be able to send more than 50 employees overseas without the State Department’s approval, and they would have to post itemized conference-spending reports on their websites. (House)
  • A Senate committee has passed a bill to speed up disposal of surplus federal real estate. The Federal Real Property Asset Management Reform Act would funnel 2 percent of sales to Housing and Urban Development. HUD would use that money for grants to the homeless. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) estimates the bill will save $ 5 billion over 10 years. The bill was sponsored by Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Department of Veterans Affairs is seizing a commercial website that it said defrauds veterans. VA will take over and shut it down. The company agreed to transfer the site to settle an investigation by several state attorneys general. The site is run by a marketing company called QuinStreet. The attorneys general said it defrauded veterans and servicemembers’ benefits by channeling them and their GI benefits dollars to for-profit schools that paid to advertise on the site. Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway said many of the courses offered were more expensive and of lower quality than GIs and veterans could obtain at community colleges. As of this morning, the site carried no display advertising. (Federal News Radio)
  • Congress is getting antsy about sequestration. It’s demanding more answers about how automatic budget cuts of more than a $100 billion will play out in Defense and civilian agencies. Those cuts are scheduled to begin in January. The House Budget Committee passed a bill forcing the administration to provide sequester details, and the House Armed Services Committee asked OMB director Jeff Zients to testify about the mechanics and impact of the sequester. The Congressional Budget Office estimated sequestration would reduce federal discretionary spending by 9 or 10 percent. (Federal News Radio)
  • Congressional leaders have a tentative agreement on a two-year bill to overhaul federal highway programs. House and Senate Republican negotiators agreed to drop a requirement that the government approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline. Democrats agreed to speedier environmental reviews of highways and less funding for bike and foot paths. Now Hill staffers are rushing the agreement into language so the conferees can sign off on it. Congress begins a week-long recess Friday afternoon. That’s the same day current Transportation authorization expires. (Federal News Radio)
  • Veterans Affairs is cutting staff at 21 regional management offices as part of a major realignment effort. Federal Times reported the department is trying to get ahead of lawmakers, who want to trim those offices by half. VA is hoping workers will retire or leave on their own or be willing to relocate. The number of positions cut will vary by office. Auditors said lax management and runaway spending have plagued the regional offices. When VA opened them, they were supposed to be much smaller than they are now. (Federal Times)
  • House Democrats said the White House is cutting them out of key trade negotiations. Two-thirds of them wrote to Trade Representative Ron Kirk to complain. In the past, Democratic lawmakers have been skeptical of trade agreements, voicing concerns over human rights, the environment and the loss of jobs at home. Lawmakers cannot change trade deals after they are negotiated and a lot is at stake here. Kirk’s office has spent three years in discussions with Chile, Singapore, Vietnam and five other countries. Mexico, Canada and Japan may join in, setting the stage for the most important free-trade agreement in decades. The Trade Representative said it does consult extensively with lawmakers. (Federal News Radio)
  • Five wounded warriors said they’ve got only four good legs among them, but they’re using all of them — and then some — to climb North America’s tallest mountain. The group hopes to reach the top of Alaska’s Mount McKinley today, although heavy snow has delayed them. They want to finish around July Fourth. The veterans lost limbs in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Two of them are double amputees. One brought a spare set of prosthetics. They say they want to show what wounded warriors can do and inspire others with disabilities. (Google)
  • The National Weather Service will get to keep its meteorologists after all. A House appropriations panel has approved the agency’s emergency request to reprogram $36 million. The Senate has already approved it. House subcommittee chairman Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) told Federal News Radio earlier this week awmakers had no choice. The agency would have had to lay off workers during hurricane season. But he said the Weather Service was not off the hook. It’s still not clear why the agency moved dedicated funding between programs without permission in the first place and left a funding gap. (Federal News Radio)