Monday morning federal headlines – Oct. 15, 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.

  • Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) is demanding answers about a deal between the Obama administration and contractors. At issue is a plan to compensate defense contractors if they end up laying off workers because of program cuts after sequestration. In turn, the contractors have agreed not to warn employees of impending layoffs, as they are normally required to do by federal law. Issa has asked contractors if they’ve consulted counsel. He has asked the White House whether the whole thing is legal in the first place. Sequestration budget cuts are scheduled for Jan. 2. (Federal News Radio)
  • The military’s research arm DARPA is taking the long view once again now that the United States is withdrawing from Iraq and Afghanistan. The agency’s new director Arati Prabhakar said it will push “radical transformations” in defense technology. She made her first public speech since becoming DARPA’s leader at a breakfast of defense industry executives Friday. NextGov reports Prabhakar is pushing DARPA to focus on cybersecurity, data analysis and biological research. Prabhakar said the United States has lost some of its edge in tech innovations and has to reckon with the fact that some of the best technology is globally available. (NextGov)
  • Landowners along the U.S.-Mexico border are accusing the federal government of ripping them off. The government has seized their land to build a fence. One Texas farmer said federal officials offered him about $1,600 for part of his backyard. Then he learned his neighbor received 40 times that amount for a similar parcel. And another one got $1 million after hiring an attorney to negotiate for him. The disparities raise questions about why the Justice Department treats landowners differently. Federal attorneys told the Associated Press the initial offers are starting points, that let the government start construction. Most of the fence is now done, but the government is still negotiating for surrounding land. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Justice Department said it was acknowledging law and tradition in letting Indian tribes possess eagle feathers. For everyone else, possessing eagle feathers remains a federal crime. bald and golden eagles are protected species. But for some Indians, the birds and therefore their feathers have spiritual significance. Now tribe members will be allowed to keep and wear or otherwise use feathers they find. But they can’t disturb nests. Nor can they legally kill eagles, except in limited circumstances with a permit from the Fish and Wildlife Service. Trafficking in bird parts other than feathers is also still against the law. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Merit Systems Protection Board has completed the first major rewrite of its regulations in more than 30 years. The board’s goal was to incorporate experience and case law occurring since Congress created the board in 1978. Chairwoman Susan Grundmann told Federal News Radio constant tweaking over the years created consistency and workability problems. The rewrite has taken two years. New rules take effect Nov.13. One rule, though, is still to get its overhaul. That’s the one dealing with burden of proof establishing the board’s jurisdiction in a given case. (Federal News Radio)
  • Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner became the first skydiver to break the speed of sound in a 24-mile-high jump from a balloon on Sunday, reaching 833.9 mph in a free fall that lasted some 9 minutes. Landing on his feet in the New Mexico desert, the man known as “Fearless Felix” lifted his arms in victory to the cheers of onlookers and friends.
    Associated Press/Red Bull Stratos, Balazs Gardi – In this photo provided by Red Bull Stratos, Pilot Felix Baumgartner of Austria celebrates after successfully completing the final manned flight for Red Bull Stratos in Roswell, N.M., Sunday, Oct. 14, 2012. Baumgartner came down safely in the eastern New Mexico desert minutes about nine minutes after jumping from his capsule 128,097 feet, or roughly 24 miles, above Earth. (AP Photo/Red Bull Stratos, Balazs Gardi)