Wednesday morning federal headlines – July 18, 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.

  • Fresh from cancelling a major conference, the General Services Administration has cancelled most senior executive bonuses for 2012 and 2013. And it has imposed a hiring freeze. For good measure, it has also suspended all performance awards from the administrator’s office for the rest of this year. Acting Administrator Dan Tangherlini said he reviewed the bonus payment system and found inconsistencies across the agency. So he cut SES bonuses by 85 percent. Tangherlini also ended GSA’s so-called Awards Store program, where employees got iPods and other electronic bric-a-brac as on-the-spot awards. (Federal News Radio)
  • Seasonal firefighters can now join the federal employees’ health benefits program. The Office of Personnel Management said they can enjoy the same health care benefits that other federal employees have whenever they are working for the government. When the firefighters return home, they can continue their coverage at their own expense. OPM’s move comes just a week after President Barack Obama ordered the agency to step in. Wildland firefighters working for the Interior and Agriculture departments were ineligible for benefits because they worked just part of the year. (OPM)
  • A report on the effects of sequestration reverberated across federal agencies and Washington. The report says automatic budget cuts, scheduled for Jan. 3, would cost hundreds of thousands of federal civilian jobs next year. The study was commissioned by the Aerospace Industries Association and conducted by George Mason University Prof. Steven Fuller. He found that even though the Defense Department would lose more dollars, civilian agencies would lose more jobs. The report concludes that between government and industry, sequestration would cost 2.1 million jobs. Not everyone agreed. Former Office of Management and Budget official Gordon Adams said the AIA study fails to take in the dynamic nature of the economy. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Pentagon is looking for the next generation of armored trucks to replace its long-time Humvees. Bloomberg Government reported the vehicles may no longer match the military’s needs, and Humvees have been vulnerable to roadside bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan. But it said the Army and Marine Corps are developing a replacement truck and plan to begin making it in three years. In the next two months, the Defense Department plans to award contracts for prototypes. Some defense analysts say the department should spend its money elsewhere given the looming budget cuts. (Bloomberg Government)
  • Foreign service officers are the latest federal workers to oppose the STOCK Act. The American Foreign Service Association said publicly posting financial information could pose security risks to FSOs serving overseas. The association said while it respects the intent of the STOCK Act, foreign service officers should be exempted. It was the latest in a growing chorus of federal groups calling for exemptions, including the Senior Executives Association and the Assembly of Scientists, which represents researchers at the National Institutes of Health. (AFSA)
  • House Republicans brought out a 2013 budget bill Tuesday that would end the AmeriCorps program. It would also end federal funding for National Public Radio, public television and Planned Parenthood. It would deny funding to implement the Affordable Care Act. Those moves are part of the spending bill for labor, health and education. It’s the last of 12 annual spending bills for the upcoming budget year. The House has passed six of them. But the Democratic-controlled Senate has yet to debate any of its budget bills. With Congress only in session for two more weeks, Congress appears headed to a continuing resolution bill when it returns in September, just before the end of the fiscal year. (Federal News Radio)
  • The General Services Administration’s inspector general is looking at the contracts awarded for the GovEnergy conference. Yesterday, Federal News Radio reported hat GSA had pulled out of the conference, causing its cancellation. Now GovExec reported that management asked the IG to review the contracts anyhow. The IG’s office said a quick review didn’t reveal anything wrong with the contracts. The 15th annual GovEnergy conference was to have taken place next month in St. Louis. But GSA officials said GovEnergy didn’t meet their new standards. The GSA administrator resigned and several ranking officials were pushed out after details of an expensive 2010 conference came to light earlier this year. (GovExec)
  • Veterans Affairs officials go to Capitol Hill this morning to defend the agency’s progress on tackling the backlog of veterans’ disability claims. About two-thirds of veterans who apply for disability have to wait more than four months for a response. Undersecretary Allison Hickey said VA was moving faster to process applications, but she didn’t expect the backlog this year to shrink to the size it was a year ago. She said many of those veterans with pending claims already received some disability benefits. A House panel called the hearing. Lawmakers were frustrated that VA still processed claims on paper despite plans to move to an electronic system. (Federal News Radio)
  • A soaring number of appeals is slowing the Postal Service’s plans to close thousands of small post offices. Auditors said appeals rose from just six two-years ago to 126 by May of this year. More than one in every five closures faced appeal and a long, drawn-out process. Both the Postal Service and the Postal Regulatory Commission are spending more time and money on appeals. The Postal Service inspector general said the rise caught USPS lawyers off guard. It said they need more resources to handle the rising workload. The Postal Service is planning to contract out the work. (USPS)