Monday morning federal headlines – Dec. 3, 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 bill to update the Hatch Act has sailed through the Senate. The Office of Special Counsel, which investigates Hatch Act cases, says the measure makes “common-sense reforms.” About half of its investigations now are at the state and local level. The measure would let more state and local government employees run for partisan positions, meaning the agency could spend more of its time on federal employees. It would also let the special counsel choose from a greater range of penalties for violators. The bill now goes to the House. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Homeland Security Department has created a new watch list, apparently hoping no one would notice. NextGov reports, the new list comprises people disqualified from the TSA PreCheck program. PreCheck is designed to let people go through airport lines quickly, with their shoes on. But people who fail the PreCheck one-time screening because of certain violations end up on the new watch list. TSA put the change into effect just before Thanksgiving, with only a quiet notice but no public input. An agency spokeswoman said that under the Privacy Act, it didn’t have to collect comments. She said passengers denied PreCheck simply go through regular screening along with everyone else. (NextGov)
  • The Government Accountability Office has renewed its call to get rid of the paper dollar bill and replace it with a coin. GAO estimated this would save the government $4.4 billion over the next 30 years. Richard Peterson, the acting director of the Mint, says he’ll show Congress samples of new dollar coins later this month. Some House members are skeptical. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) said dollar coins would be hard to tell from quarters. Rep. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) said men don’t like suit pockets full of coins. (GAO)
  • One month after Hurricane Sandy, FEMA is running 34 disaster recovery centers in New York, and it plans to open more. Residents can get face-to-face help there. In a blog post, Federal Coordinating Officer for New York Mike Byrne described a federal response that is far from over. He said many homes lack power even though the streets have it. FEMA is working on temporary patches to bring power into homes so residents can return, and, he said, FEMA staff are offering tips on rebuilding to shoppers at local Home Depot stores. (DHS)
  • The Energy Department has awarded funding to 66 projects through its Advanced Research Projects Agency. The ARPA-E grants for 2012 amount to $130 million. They’re designed to advance alternative fuels and high efficiency technologies. Two areas getting the most funding are advanced fuels and modernizing the electrical grid. ARPA-E is betting on several projects aimed at converting methane to liquid fuel. Biofuel projects also received funding. (ARPA)
  • The General Services Administration is phasing out its portal. A GSA spokeswoman said it was part of the agency’s efforts to streamline service delivery. She said all the services listed on will remain available at the GSA Advantage site. Free social media applications will be available to agencies at GSA set up in 2009 as a place where federal agencies could buy cloud services and mobile applications. Last year, listed more than 3,000 products. But agencies only spent about $5 million there in 2011. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Senate has moved forward with a plan to cut the Defense Department civilian workforce by 5 percent over the next five years. A measure striking that provision was defeated. The measure was offered by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who called the cuts a second sequestration. Cardin said that now, the 2013 Defense Authorization bill would mean the loss of 36,000 civilian jobs, plus more in the Defense industry. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) put the cuts into the bill. He thinks cuts in uniformed ranks should be accompanied by a civilian force reduction. The White House has threatened to veto the Senate bill in its current form. (Federal News Radio)
  • Fancy a plum job in President Obama’s second term? You can now shop for that deputy-assistant position on your phone with a new app from the Government Printing Office. The mobile version of the Plum Book breaks down jobs by agency, title and pay plan. It’s the entire list of thousands of appointed roles, including many Senior Executive Service positions. (GPO)