Wednesday morning federal headlines – Sept. 26, 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.

  • In a flurry of last-minute activity last weekend, Congress passed a bill cracking down on the use of agency credit cards. The measure requires agencies to do a credit check on prospective card holders, maintain detailed records, limit the number of cards issued and set policies on credit limits. Senate sponsors said one General Services Administration worker racked up tens of thousands of dollars in personal expenses on a government purchase card. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said feds have used the cards to buy kitchen appliances, jewelry and cruises. He singled out the departments of Defense and Housing and Urban Development, the Forest Service and the Federal Aviation Administration for management problems. (Sen. Chuck Grassley)
  • The National Institutes of Health is retiring 110 research chimpanzees. The chimps were housed at a research center in Louisiana that activists have accused of abusing animals. Earlier this year, NIH asked the Institute of Medicine to do a study. Researchers found most invasive research on chimps was scientifically unnecessary. Nature magazine reported some of these NIH animals will go to Chimp Haven, a federally-funded sanctuary in Louisiana. The rest will go to a San Antonio institute where they can be observed for behavioral studies. NIH will still use about 300 chimps for invasive research of new medical therapies. (Nature)
  • The FBI is cutting its backlog of forensic DNA cases. It’s gone from more than 3,200 to about 400 in less than two years. The Justice Department Inspector General credited the FBI for putting more analysts on the job and using automated technology. The lab conducts DNA tests on biological evidence from crime scenes and items like envelopes and drinking glasses. The inspector general warned that the FBI lab still doesn’t have a way to manage operations electronically. The Bureau has spent more than $14 million to develop an information-management system. Auditors said that system was critical to preventing future backlogs and delays. (Federal News Radio)
  • Auditors want the Internal Revenue Service to rearrange its offices. The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration said there were savings to be found in maximizing empty cubicles. It said the IRS will complete 66 space consolidation and relocation projects by the end of this month for about $4 million in savings this fiscal year. But it said the agency needed to finalize an agreement with its union quickly so that teleworking employees can start sharing work stations. In response, the IRS said just hold your horses. That agreement will begin next month. (Treasury)
  • Veterans Affairs is rushing to ease fears after mistakenly sending letters to veterans’ families saying they would lose benefits under sequestration. Stars and Stripes reported the VA told about 6,000 spouses and parents of seriously wounded veterans that their stipends could be cut in January if the automatic spending cuts go forward. That’s not true. The White House said all VA programs were protected from sequestration. The department would not tell the newspaper how the mix-up occurred. (Stars and Stripes)
  • Army Secretary John McHugh is in the hospital after a bicycle accident. An Army spokesman said McHugh was riding his bike in Alexandria Monday evening when the accident occurred. The spokesman did not elaborate on how the accident occurred or McHugh’s injuries. McHugh is still at the Walter Reed Military Medical Center today. He is expected to make a full recovery. (Federal News Radio)