Wednesday morning federal headlines – July 11, 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 administration’s spending watchdog is getting down to business a year after it was established. The Government Accountability and Transparency Board is having agencies test methods to make sure the data they report is accurate. Defense and Health and Human Services are looking at the best ways to standardize spending data. A group of inspectors general are testing tools that give them access so they can flag possible fraud. Treasury is also checking out a way of applying a universal tag to every grant. The GAT Board wants testing to be completed this summer. (Federal News Radio)
  • Health and Human Services is in danger of hiring foxes to watch its henhouses. A new inspector general report found HHS was accepting bids from fraud detection contractors with financial interests in the claims processors they would be hired to monitor. The IG said the bidding evaluation system at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services was flawed. Auditors looked at 100 bids over an 18 month period. It found 2,000 instances of potential conflicts of interest. The IG recommended stronger and clearer policies. CMS said it thoroughly vets all bidders. (Federal News Radio)
  • After 27 months of negotiations, the Social Security Administration and the American Federation of Government Employees have reached an agreement on a new contract. Members of the nation’s largest federal employee union have ratified the contract. It goes into effect on Monday. AFGE lead negotiators said there would be improvements in eye care and travel benefits. The contract will last four years. (AFGE)
  • President Barack Obama will make federal health insurance available to about 8,000 temporary wildland firefighters. A White House official said the announcement would come today. The firefighters work for the federal government. But personnel rules said because they were seasonal, the firefighters could’t buy into federal health insurance plans. A bill from Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) would also provide federal health care benefits to temporary firefighters. (Federal News Radio)
  • Finding out whether someone is alive or dead isn’t all that easy. The Social Security Administration has been having trouble. The inspector general said the agency failed to record more than 1 million deaths in its master file. That means people resting in their graves may be earning benefits. The IG recorded nearly 700 cases in 2010 at a cost of nearly $18 million. That database was the linchpin for other agencies too. They used it to confirm that their benefit recipients were, in fact, alive and should receive a check. (SSA)
  • Lockheed Martin is cutting 740 positions in a Washington, D.C.-based unit. The cuts are spread nationwide. More than half of the workers have left voluntarily. The rest, about 300 people, are getting pink slips. The Mission Systems and Sensors unit counts the Navy, Coast Guard, Air Force, Marines and Army among its customers. It focuses on systems engineering, software development and program management. The cuts represent 5 percent of the unit’s workforce. Lockheed Martin held nearly $43 billion in federal contracts last year, but it said it was examining every aspect of its business given the budget pressures facing its customers. It said the cuts would help it stay competitive. (Federal News Radio)
  • Immigrations and Customs Enforcement has backed off a deal to rent a database of automobile license plate images. It was going to make the award yesterday, but now another bidder has come forward. ICE officials wouldn’t say who the new company is. The original vendor, Vigilant Video, offered a $25,000, five-year deal for use of its database in the Dallas field office. An ICE spokesman said the agency was still committed to using the technology to locate the cars of fugitive illegals. The award was first reported by NextGov. (Federal News Radio)
  • The White House has kicked off its annual SAVE Award. The contest pits federal employees against each other to see who can come up with the best idea to cut waste. The Office of Management and Budget will pick the best four submissions. Then the public will chose a winner through an online vote. A NASA employee won last year’s contest. He proposed creating a lending library of extra equipment and tools. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Veterans Affairs Department said it was getting a handle on its mountain of disability claims…thanks to a new hands-on training program. It said employees were completing 150 percent more claims daily and they were improving accuracy too. So far, the department has trained more than 1,300 staff members. A record number of veterans were seeking the government’s help for disabilities caused by war injuries. Nearly a 1 million people — or 45 percent of troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan — have filed claims. Secretary Eric Shinseki pledged to cut their wait time down to four months. (VA)