Friday morning federal headlines – July 20, 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.

  • Would you rather read something from the Agriculture Department or Veterans Affairs? The document from USDA may be easier to understand. A new plain writing report card ranks a dozen agencies on how well they are complying with a new law. USDA received top scores. VA failed and other big agencies received mediocre grades. The Center for Plain Language looked at whether the agencies had good policies, including a way for the public to respond, and it looked at whether they were writing documents using plain language. (CPL)
  • The House voted to cut off spending on a contractor that was also helping the Syrian regime. The amendment to the 2013 Defense Appropriations Bill was introduced by Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) It would prevent the Pentagon from doing business with the Russian arms dealer Rosoboron-export. The Army has a $640 million contract with the company to buy Russian helicopters for Afghanistan. Moran said the Defense Department should conduct a competition among U.S. firms for the choppers. (Federal News Radio)
  • Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) asked six agencies for details on contracts they have with a company called Quality Associates. The company is suspected of accidentally posting confidential information online. The company archived Food and Drug Administration documents that were spotted online last Friday. FDA used Quality Associates technology to monitor email of whistleblowers. Grassley also wanted information from Homeland Security, Agriculture, IRS, EPA, NIH and the Consumer Products Safety Commission. He was especially interested in how they used Quality Associates keystroke logging product. (Sen. Chuck Grassley)
  • One Justice bureau is trying to cut the cost of supporting contractor workers. Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is looking into a technology called virtual desktops. That would let contractors use tablets or smart phones to get to their email and other applications. ATF could stop supplying expensive notebook PCs. Rick Holgate, the CIO of the bureau, said ATF spent $3,000 a year, per user, on equipment for contractors and local law enforcement officers. (Federal News Radio)
  • Five senior senators are working to get comprehensive cybersecurity legislation passed this session. Led by Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), they’ve written a revised version of the Cybersecurity Act of 2012. The new version tries to reconcile with a competing bill from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) The sticking point was how the government deals with cyber practices of critical infrastructure owners in the private sector. Lieberman said his new bill uses a carrot instead of a stick. Majority leader Harry Reid (R-Nev.) is expected to bring the new bill to the floor next week. (Federal News Radio)
  • The General Services Administration is in hot water again for another extravagant party. Lawmakers learned yesterday that GSA had spent more than a quarter-million dollars on a one-day celebration for employees. The event was back in 2010, the same year GSA had that lavish Las Vegas conference that stirred up outrage. This smaller event included an awards ceremony at the Crystal Gateway Marriott and a more exclusive commissioner’s reception at the Key Bridge Marriott. The agency paid for a drum-band exercise and it gave out drumsticks to attendees. GSA’s new leadership said it does not tolerate this type of spending. (Federal News Radio)
  • Democrats and Republicans in the House have found something they can agree on. They passed strong privacy protection legislation before a cloud of drones is released on the American public. At a hearing, members said they were worried about the potential privacy violations once local and state jurisdictions got their hands on unmanned surveillance aircraft. Local governments are clamoring for drones to do work that’s too difficult or expensive for manned aircraft. Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), who is pushing for domestic drones, acknowledged the need for privacy safeguards. (Federal News Radio)
  • New rules proposed by the Office of Personnel Management would extend federal employees benefits to their same-sex partners and their children. One regulation follows through on President Barack Obama’s promise to extend health, dental and vision care to the children of those same-sex partners, even if there is no biological or legal adoption connection to the federal employee. Another streamlines the process through which the same-sex partners can receive annuity benefits. (OPM)