Thursday morning federal headlines – Oct. 4, 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.

  • Three agencies are offering prizes to anyone who can come up with great ways to use data. NASA, the National Science Foundation and the Energy Department have launched what they call the Big Data Challenge. Their goal is to combine the large amounts of data they collect and see if it can be used in a way that benefits them all. The challenge is about data glory, not money. The top prize is only $1,000. The agencies issued the challenge in connection with a new report on big data from the industry-backed TechAmerica Foundation. (Federal News Radio)
  • A tough report on Homeland Security fusion centers is being disowned by the leaders of the Senate committee that produced it. That opposition could slow attempts to curtail the fusion centers. The report came out yesterday from the Senate Homeland Security subcommittee on investigations. It says fusion centers are wasteful and ineffective. Full committee chairman Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) said he strongly disagreed with the report’s findings. Ranking member Susan Collins (R-Maine) also distanced herself from the report. Lieberman and Collins were strong backers of the Homeland Security Department and its fusion centers after 9/11. The Obama White House also took exception to the report. (Federal News Radio)
  • Sequestration could cost more than 1.4 million jobs next year, the Congressional Research Service said. The nonpartisan agency offers its prediction of the impact of the automatic budget cuts in a new report. Analysts studied estimates by the White House and outside groups. They said most of those job losses would result from a $48 billion cut to defense spending. But that 1.4 million figure includes much more than cuts to the federal and contract workforce. Researchers add in jobs at companies that supply those contractors and others that depend on federal employees or contractors to spend money. (Congressional Research Service)
  • A labor-relations board said the Broadcasting Board of Governors wrongly fired employees who had criticized the agency. The Federal Labor Relations Authority paved the way for the 16 workers to return to the agency without a loss of seniority or benefits. They were let go during a Reduction in Force. The agency said it was necessary because of a budget shortfall. The employees’ union, the American Federation of Government Employees, challenged the decision. Lawyers said the workers had angered management by speaking with investigators at the Government Accountability Office. (Federal Labor Relations Authority)
  • The agencies who spend the most on service contracts are benefiting the least from strategic sourcing. That’s the gist of a Government Accountability Office report coming out today. GAO said the departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Energy and Veterans Affairs are missing out on billions of dollars in potential savings. Under the Strategic Sourcing initiative, agency needs are pooled to get the best prices from contractors. The four departments spent nearly $400 billion with contractors last year. GAO said, only small percentages of those dollars went through strategic sourcing contracts. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Social Security Administration is responding to budget pressures by cutting back branch office hours. Starting Nov. 19, SSA offices around the country will close 30 minutes earlier. Starting in 2013, they’ll close at noon every Wednesday. A spokeswoman said SSA is receiving less funding under the continuing resolution than it requested. She said the earlier closing would give employees time to complete late interviews without dipping into overtime. The American Federation of Government Employees told Federal Times it would appeal Social Security’s position to Congress. AFGE represents 28,000 Social Security workers. (Federal News Radio)
  • The National Institute of Standards and Technology said soon every doctor may be able to diagnose their patients by checking their DNA. NIST said, while working with Columbia University engineers, it has found a cheaper way to get a person’s complete genetic sequence. NIST described its tool as “a sort of molecular ticker-tape reader.” It said the research now needed to be commercialized effectively. DNA markers can indicate that someone is at risk for getting a certain disease. But the sequencing costs thousands of dollars with today’s technology. (NIST)