Friday morning federal headlines – Dec. 21, 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.

  • State Department officials appealed yesterday to Congress for more embassy-security funds. Two deputy secretaries testified in back-to-back hearings on the security lapses that led to the attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya. William Burns told lawmakers: the agency had learned some hard lessons and is acting on them. Senate Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) said the department had clear warning signs of the danger, but Congress should be blamed for failing to provide enough funding. The State Department wants $1.4 billion for increased security next year. (Federal News Radio)
  • The White House is telling agencies not to panic in the face of sequestration. With just 11 days until the spending cuts go into effect, the Office of Management and Budget said day-to-day operations at agencies would not change dramatically. Budget cuts would not happen overnight, and OMB would not furlough employees, at least not yet. The White House said it was OK for agencies to start talking about sequestration with their employees. The Pentagon, Social Security Administration and Commerce Department are among those who have. (Federal News Radio)
  • New rules could force accountants at government contractors to pick up the pace. The Federal Acquisition Regulations council wants to extend a White House memo governing how quickly prime contractors have to pay their small-business subcontractors. The proposal would require a prompt-payment clause in every new solicitation. It’s vague on the specifics, however, it does not say how soon prime contractors should pay up, causing some small businesses to fear a large contractor could pay them in 59 days rather than 60. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Veterans Affairs Department said it was cutting red tape for vets applying for benefits. It will work with the Social Security Administration and the IRS to verify applicants’ eligibility. That means VA staff that used to process the old paperwork can spend their time on a backlog of claims. How much red tape is VA cutting? It said it won’t send out 150,000 annual reports to beneficiaries next month. (Veterans Affairs)
  • The U.S. Mint is trying to make coins of the realm cheaper. But it’s not having much success. In a 400-page report to Congress, the Mint details exhaustive experiments to come up with a less expensive metal for casting coins. It tried 29 recipes, testing them for hardness, corrosion resistance and durability and whether they looked good. One elusive quality was the metal’s magnetic signature. If that changes, not a parking meter or vending machine in the land would work right. At issue is the fact that it costs 2 cents to make a penny and 11 cents to make a nickel. (Federal News Radio)