Wednesday morning federal headlines – Oct. 10, 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.

  • A researcher at the National Institute of Standards and Technology is sharing this year’s Nobel Prize in physics. David J. Wineland received the prestigious award for his work in measuring and manipulating the quantum- mechanical nature of individual particles. Such manipulation has long been thought to be impossible. It allows direct observation of quantum mechanics without destroying the particles. And it promises new applications of quantum physics, such as superfast computers. Wineland shared the prize with a French physicist, Serge Haroche. The two worked independently and developed different methods to achieve the same result. Wineland lives in Boulder, Colo., where he also teaches at the University of Colorado. He is a 37-year veteran of NIST. (Nobel Prize)
  • A new report shows just how much the government has to do to fight health-care fraud. The Government Accountability Office said the government investigated more than 10,000 providers in the Medicare, Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Programs in 2010. That reflected a rise in cases against pharmacies and home health agencies in particular. Nearly half of the criminal cases targeted medical facilities and equipment suppliers. But the Health and Human Services inspector general asked the Justice Department to pursue charges just one-sixth of the time. GAO has sent the report to Senate Democrats. Auditors have kept Medicare and Medicaid on its high-risk list because, it said, their size and complexity make them vulnerable to fraud. (GAO)
  • Top Republicans on the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees want a scalp. They’re calling on VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to fire his chief of staff. John Gingrich signed off on the budget for two training conferences last year that cost VA $6 million. The VA inspector general found about $800,000 of that was wasted. That included promotional items and a video mimicking a movie about Gen.George Patton. Gingrich has accepted responsibility for the conference and admits he should have looked more closely at the details. Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said firing Gingrich would send the right message. (Federal News Radio)
  • Republican lawmakers are lashing out at the White House for its recent guidance to contractors on sequestration. The White House has said it isn’t clear whether Congress will allow the automatic budget cuts to begin in January or pass a law to avoid them. So, the Office of Management and Budget said any layoff notices this fall would be premature. And it said the government will cover the costs companies incur because of sequestration-related contract cancellations. But the Republican leaders of the House Education and Workforce Committee said this was politics. The courts, not the executive branch, enforce the layoff-notice requirement in the so-called WARN Act. The law requires companies to tell employees at least 60 days in advance of mass layoffs. (House)
  • The State Department’s description of last month’s attack on a consulate in Libya is now in sync with Republican claims. State now said the attack was purely the product of a terrorist plan, and not the result of an out- of-control Muslim protest. An unnamed State Department source told the Associated Press that officials never concluded it was caused by the protest in the first place. That was just the initial explanation pending investigation. The message came on the eve of a hearing on the attack before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) has accused the State Department of refusing to grant requests from its contingent in Libya for more security. Four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador, were killed in the attack. (Federal News Radio)
  • Government auditors said the Environmental Protection Agency was struggling to regulate one of the most promising sources of new energy. The Government Accountability Office said EPA regulators have “one hand tied behind their backs” when it comes to monitoring shale oil and gas production. Reuters reported they lack key data on the environmental and public-health risks. Advances in shale exploration have allowed energy companies to tap into domestic sources. But it has also raised fears about pollution and environmental damage in local communities. (GAO)