Thursday morning federal headlines – Dec. 20, 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.

  • After only one day of hearings into the Benghazi attack, heads are rolling at the State Department. Lawmakers yesterday heard secret testimony from the special panel appointed to investigate the Libyan episode. It left four Americans dead when terrorists overran a diplomatic outpost. Obama administration officials said those who resigned were Eric Boswell, assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security; Charlene Lamb, deputy assistant secretary responsible for embassy security; and Raymond Maxwell, deputy assistant secretary of state who oversees the Maghreb nations of Libya, Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco. State said a fourth person resigned whom it wouldn’t name. Hearings continue today. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Census Bureau says a Web-first approach to surveys will help it revive sagging response rates. By letting people respond to surveys online, the agency should save some money too. The Census Bureau has sent 3.5 million households letters asking them to fill out the American Community Survey online. If households don’t respond by early January, the agency will follow up with paper, phone calls or in-person visits. The Census Bureau says it could shave $3 million off the quarter-billion-dollar price tag. (Federal News Radio)
  • The longest-serving woman in Congress is about to get something that’s eluded her 27-year career — a committee chairmanship. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) will become the first woman to chair the Appropriations Committee. The position was opened by the death of Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii). Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) was in line for the job, but he said he prefers to remain chairman of the Judiciary Committee. Mikulski was first elected to the Senate in 1986. She served in the House for 10 years before that. The Baltimore native was a social worker before running for office. (Federal News Radio)
  • The fiscal 2014 budget is on hold. Agency officials with budget responsibility have yet to receive White House guidance on plans they submitted in May. Usually, agencies get the so-called passbacks from the Office of Management and Budget shortly after Thanksgiving. But so far this year, they have received nothing. An OMB official confirms to Federal News Radio that the administration is holding off on passbacks. It’s waiting to see how negotiations over taxes and deficit reduction come out, and whether the January sequester will take place. (Federal News Radio)
  • 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’s tried 29 recipes, testing them for hardness, corrosion resistance and durability and whether they look good. One elusive quality is the metal’s magnetic signature. If that changes, not a parking meter or vending machine in the land will 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)
  • The House has approved several good-government laws. The Government Employees Accountability Act lets agency leaders put managers on unpaid leave if they are under investigation for a crime. That bill still needs Senate approval. The Public Interest Declassification Board Reauthorization Act saves the board from extinction Dec. 31. It heads to the president for a signature. And the Hatch Act Modernization Act gives the Office of Special Counsel more leeway in punishing political activity by federal employees. It’s also passed the Senate and heads to the president. (House)
  • The White House says national security depends on sharing the right information with the right people and the right time. But if you need a little more guidance, it has just released a national strategy. First, it says information is a national asset. Agencies have an unprecedented ability to gather, store and use that information. Second, it says agencies have to work together to manage risk. The strategy cautions that there will always be limits on sharing information. But that doesn’t mean agencies should forget to tag data, identify and authenticate users and secure networks. (White House)