Monday morning federal headlines – July 16, 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 disappointed health care contractor says it’s dropping its fight with the Defense Department over Tricare. TriWest Healthcare Alliance originally won a six-year, $20 billion deal to provide health care in DOD’s 21-state western region. United Health protested. That was back in 2009. DOD in March took the award away from TriWest and handed it to United. TriWest said it will discontinue an appeal. Company officials said continuing would drive up costs for everyone involved. They said the start of the new contract has been delayed long enough. (Federal News Radio)
  • The General Services Administration updated a web tool to help agencies make their buildings greener. The move came after more than half of federal departments reported missing sustainability goals set by the Obama administration. Version 2.0 of the online Sustainable Facilities Tool has several enhancements. Now agency managers can buy sustainable products directly from the site. There’s an improved search engine, and it has an updated interface and rewritten instructions. Since GSA first rolled out the tool in 2011, 30 agencies have adopted it. A mobile version has been downloaded 1,400 times. (Federal News Radio)
  • The government’s latest Manhattan project has been called into question. It’s the new National Bio and Agro Defense Facility, scheduled for construction in Manhattan, Kans. A National Research Council review concluded the $1.4 billion project could be scaled back without endangering biosecurity. The look-see was commissioned by Homeland Security. The reviewers concluded Manhattan could share its duties with existing facilities, or it could find private funding sources to augment appropriations. The committee rejected the idea of maintaining animal disease research at Plum Island, Maine, and relying on foreign labs to conduct research and deter threats. (Federal News Radio)
  • Florida’s Space Coast is welcoming a Utah aerospace company in the hopes that it would employ former NASA workers. Rocket Crafters said it would have about 1,300 workers within six years. But right now, a year after NASA ended the space-shuttle program, thousands of engineers and others are struggling to find jobs in central Florida. Older workers who made more than $100,000 a year are finding there are not that many options for them. The Kennedy Space Center employs just 8,500 people now. That’s just over half of its size last year. (Federal News Radio)
  • A bill to slash agency travel budgets won’t save the government money. A House panel has approved the so-called “GSA Act” to cap travel expenses at 70 percent of fiscal year 2010 levels. The Congressional Budget Office said the bill might cost the government more. It requires agencies to post itemized conference-spending reports on their websites. That could raise administrative costs a little. And CBO said agencies would spend more on telecommunications so they could have virtual meetings rather than face-to-face gatherings. (CBO)
  • The Obama administration wants to let states change how they meet federal welfare-to-work requirements. Critics charge the administration with undermining landmark welfare reform legislation. That law was signed by President Clinton in 1996. It replaced welfare with state grants, and limited how long people could receive assistance. But Health and Human Services said it will approve experiments in states wanting to find better mechanisms than now exist for getting people to work. Two lawmakers have written to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, demanding to know what is going on. (Federal News Radio)
  • A small food-testing program would leave a big hole in the nation’s fight to protect fruits and vegetables from dangerous pathogens. Neither the Agriculture Department nor Congress wants to keep funding the Microbiological Data Program. Food Safety News reported it may shut down at the end of this month. If that happens, public testing for E-coli, salmonella and the like on fresh produce will drop by more than 80 percent. The Agriculture Department says the Food and Drug Administration should take on these responsibilities. But it’s not clear what the FDA will do or where it will find the resources to ramp up produce testing. (Food Safety News)
  • One hundred and thirty House Democrats told a U.S. District Court Judge they thought same-sex spouses of federal employees should receive health benefits. GovExec reported they filed a brief in the latest challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act. Judge Jeffrey White ruled in March that the government can’t offer health care benefits to same-sex partners. But after White’s ruling, an appeals court ruled the law to be unconstitutional. The Supreme Court is expected to decide next year. The Office of Personnel Management has not given full benefits to same-sex couples, citing the Defense of Marriage Act. (GovExec)
  • A federal appeals court has struck down a Forest Service drug-testing policy. The ruling called the policy a solution in search of a problem. The Forest Service requires all staff who work for a Job Corps program to comply with random tests. The National Federation of Federal Employees brought the suit. It said the random tests violated federal workers’ Fourth-Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure, and, it said, the Forest Service could not show that random drug testing would make the operations safer. Job Corps staff oversee work programs for young adults in remote, rural areas. (Federal News Radio)