Monday morning federal headlines – Dec. 17, 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.

  • Fiscal belt-tightening may be headed to a new extreme in Chicago. A federal union says the General Services Administration is launching an experiment to have employees in downtown office buildings empty their own trash. The idea is to save on custodial fees. The National Federation of Federal Employees has two issues with that plan. Union officials say it’s unfair to custodians, and they say it’s counterproductive. A regional union officer wonders whether federal employees will also be asked to vacuum rugs and scrub floors. The union says its considering requesting bargaining on the matter. (NFFE)
  • Life has gotten tougher for government contractors. The latest annual survey by Grant Thornton shows contractors have the lowest profits from federal business in 18 years. More than half of the contractors surveyed say their margins are under 5 percent. Many contractors are finding federal work is a shrinking portion of their revenues. Overall, contractors say federal revenues fell 9 percent last year. Defense contracts fell 16 percent. The survey seems to confirm a White House announcement earlier this month that contract spending dropped by $20 billion last year. (Federal News Radio)
  • Border Patrol agents won’t serve as interpreters for local police any longer. Rather, they’ll pass on requests for language help to private contractors. Police in many areas called the Border Patrol to assist when they pull over someone who does not speak English well. But, in a letter to the departments of Homeland Security and Justice, immigration advocates questioned agents’ objectivity. They said Border Patrol agencies called to interpret ask people questions about immigration and in some cases arrest them. The Border Patrol said the new guidance helps it use its resources efficiently. (Federal News Radio)
  • Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) is staying put at Walter Reed Hospital for now. A spokesman said he’s in stable condition but there is no timetable for his release. The senator was hospitalized earlier this month for respiratory complications. The 88-year-old Inouye has been in the Senate for 50 years. He’s the country’s longest serving senator and chairman of the Appropriations Committee. (Federal News Radio)
  • Friday we asked “Why Richard Windsor?” That’s the name on EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson’s second email account. Sources tell us the agency asked Jackson to pick a name that meant something to her. Jackson had a dog named Richard and she used to live in East Windsor, N.J. Jackson uses the Richard Windsor account to email with others in the federal government. Otherwise, that communication would get lost in the millions of emails she receives from the public. The EPA says there’s nothing secret about this second account. It is subject to open-records laws. But Republican lawmakers continue to question the EPA about it. The latest request came last week from Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), who chairs the Energy and Commerce Committee. (Federal News Radio)
  • Federal construction and renovation projects are grinding to a halt, thanks to deep budget cuts. Federal Times reports, analysis from the inspector general at the General Services Administration spells it out. Construction funding fell from nearly $900 million in 2010 to $50 million last year. That’s leaving projects across the country half-finished. Plus, the IG said delays only make the projects more expensive in the long run. Among the suspended efforts: A renovation of the Commerce Department’s 80-year-old building is on hold indefinitely. The multi-billion dollar Homeland Security headquarters is partially built, with no re-start in sight. (Federal Times)
  • An online commenting scandal is toppling leaders of one U.S attorney’s office. New Orleans U.S. Attorney Jim Letten resigned earlier this month. Now, local media reports that his number two left Friday. Jan Mann admitted to posting comments about federal judges and ongoing probes on the New Orleans Times-Picayune’s website. The Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility is investigating Mann and another former prosecutor for misconduct. Their posts threaten to undermine some of the biggest corruption cases out of New Orleans. (Federal News Radio)