Wednesday morning federal headlines – Dec. 12, 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.

  • The Education Department has given out $400 million in grants to promote local schools. The grants went to 55 districts in 11 states plus Washington, D.C. Three recipients are charter school groups. It’s all part of this year’s Race to the Top Competition, a signature education initiative of the Obama administration. The department turned down 300 proposals. Grants ranged from $10 million to $40 million. Typical is a $30 million grant to Miami public schools, where administrators are putting math centers in every building. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Agriculture Department has eased its nutritional rules for school lunches. Now government-subsidized meals can contain more meat and grains. The rules enacted earlier this year required cafeterias to serve plenty of fruits and veggies and follow calorie restrictions. The agency said it follows expert guidelines and is part of a government effort to reduce childhood obesity. That rankled lawmakers from meat-and-potato states. They said USDA’s new position gives schools more flexibility. (Senate)
  • The Veterans Affairs Department is battling Legionnaire’s Disease at two hospitals in Pennsylvania. The VA confirmed five cases of the bacterial disease at its Oakland facility in Pittsburgh over the past month. One patient died. The Pittsburgh Post Gazette reports the victim’s family has sued the VA. Now the bacteria has been found in the water supply of a building at the Butler, Pa., VA hospital, just north of Pittsburgh. A local TV station reports, the hospital director has ordered the water shut off there. The American Federation of Government Employees is calling for headquarters to launch an investigation. (Pittsburgh Post Gazette/AFGE)
  • Money-counters paid for with federal dollars sit idle at Kabul’s airport. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction said those machines are just one sign that the State and Homeland Security departments’ efforts to stop money laundering in that country are not working. DHS said it has trained Afghan customs officials to use the machines. The U.S. Embassy in Kabul said the issue should be addressed at the interagency level, and officials will continue to raise it with Afghan leaders. (SIGAR)
  • It’s hard to confuse New York City with New Jersey. Now there’s a new point of difference between the two, thanks to the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. New Jersey is accepting temporary housing from FEMA in the form of 400-square-foot mobile homes. New York City is not. The Wall Street Journal reports, New York City officials have not requested FEMA trailers and don’t plan to. Mayor Michael Bloomberg remembers formaldehyde in FEMA trailers after Hurricane Katrina. New Jersey officials are looking for vacancies in trailer parks to place the FEMA units. (The Wall Street Journal)
  • The Interior Department said it’s solved a nagging problem: what to do with that “drum major” quote on the new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. It will remove the quote rather than replace it. The Park Service will carve scratch marks over the lettering so it blends in with other parts of the sculpture. Secretary Ken Salazar says the decision comes after consultations with a range of stakeholders. Critics had complained that the paraphrased quote made King sound arrogant and missed the full meaning of his speech. The King family wanted the full quote used, but the sculptor said that could weaken the structure. Work begins in February. (Interior)
  • President Barack Obama has created an interagency council to help contractors sell their products overseas. A new executive order names 15 agencies to the council, which will be led by the Commerce Department. By working together and in closer cooperation with foreign counterparts, the council will help all U.S. companies compete for international contracts. It also will spread the word about new foreign procurement opportunities to U.S. Businesses. (Federal Register)
  • The Defense Department has awarded an $18 million grant to the Maryland Department of Transportation to improve access to the Walter Reed Medical Center. The money will go toward the Connecticut Avenue and Jones Bridge Road intersection improvement project. It’s part of an overall package of $129 million DoD announced Tuesday to support infrastructure improvements related to Base Realignments and Closures nationwide. (Rep. Chris Van Hollen)