Tuesday morning federal headlines – June 19, 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 FederalNewsRadio.com users more information about the stories you hear on the air.

  • NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration have set a regulatory framework for overseeing commercial space travel. Companies heading to the International Space Station or low-Earth orbit will have to get licenses from the FAA. That agency will regulate launches and landings, but NASA will oversee crew safety and mission assurance of any flight it’s paying for or somehow involved with. The two agencies have signed a memo of understanding to avoid stepping on each other’s toes when it comes to regulating the nascent industry. (NASA)
  • It’s déjà vu all over again for a big transportation bill. With a June 30 deadline and just days left on the session calendar, there’s still no agreement on Capitol Hill. House and Senate leaders are making last-ditch efforts to revive stalled legislation to overhaul federal transportation programs. One point of disagreement is whether to include a one-year extension to the federal pay freeze. The leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), meet today. A 47-member House and Senate committee has been negotiating for more than a month. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Obama administration’s pick to be the next ambassador to Iraq has withdrawn from consideration. Statements from Senate Republicans appeared to doom the nomination. A vote had been scheduled for today in the Foreign Relations Committee. Brett McGurk’s nomination sparked controversy from the outset. Leaked e-mails showed that while working in Iraq for the Bush administration, McGurk had an affair with a Wall Street Journal reporter. The pair later married. Both McGurk and Gina Chon deny violating professional standards. (Federal News Radio)
  • A showdown between the Justice Department and a Republican congressman may be heading to a close, but it’s not over yet. House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said he would meet with Attorney General Eric Holder this afternoon. But Issa said he wasn’t going to call off contempt proceedings against Holder. The Justice Department agreed to turn over more documents concerning Operation Fast and Furious, a botched gun-tracking program, but Issa said that wasn’t enough. He wants even more documents plus a description of them, the dates they were created and a list of those that the Justice Department is withholding. The contempt vote is scheduled for tomorrow. (Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.))
  • Top performers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology are likely to see smaller bonuses this year. GovExec reported that was thanks to cost-saving changes in the agency’s personnel system. NIST eliminated mandatory minimum bonuses for superior and exceptional employees at the top of their pay band. The change affects employees in NIST’s alternative personnel management system. Those employees had been guaranteed bonuses equal to the increases they would have received if not for the governmentwide pay freeze. NIST imposed a similar bonus cap last year. (GovExec)
  • The trial of the Army psychiatrist accused of going on a shooting rampage at Fort Hood could be delayed because of a beard. The military judge overseeing the trial said he would bar defendant Maj. Nidal Hasan from the courtroom unless he shaved. Hasan would have to watch his trial on closed-circuit TV. Growing a beard violates Army rules. Hasan’s lawyers said they will seek an exception based on religious beliefs. Although a few exceptions have been made in recent years for Sikh combat doctors. Hasan is Muslim. The Fort Hood shootings three years ago left 13 people dead and more than 30 injured. Hasan faces the death penalty if convicted. (Federal News Radio)
  • Maybe it’s a good thing that no pilots are flying the most accident-prone aircraft in the Air Force. The military’s three biggest drones are three times more likely to get into accidents than the fleet on average. They are made by Northrop Grumman and General Atomics. Bloomberg Government calculated that some accidents caused more than half-a-million dollars in damage. It noted that drones have become safer over the past decade. Most accidents are caused by component failures or operator error. (Bloomberg Government)
  • The Senate finally broke a deadlock late last night that could have killed the farm bill. Both parties agreed on 73 amendments to the bill, which has now ballooned to more than 1,000 pages. But they voted down more than 200 other amendments. The main sticking points were foreign policy and budgetary amendments unrelated to the farm bill. This version of the bill would stresses crop insurance and would eliminate direct payments to farmers even when they don’t plant crops. The bill faces an uphill battle in the House, where GOP lawmakers want to keep direct payments for Southern rice and peanut farmers. (Federal News Radio)