Tuesday morning federal headlines – Jan. 29, 2013

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 FederalNewsRadio.com users more information about the stories you hear on the air.

  • Housing and Urban Development gets the biggest chunk of cash under the hurricane relief bill headed to President Obama’s desk. The $50.5 billion package includes $16 billion for HUD community block grants. Another $11 billion goes to FEMA’s disaster relief fund and $10 billion will help fix New Jersey and New York transit systems. Not all of the housing money is for Sandy victims. The bill provides money for disasters throughout the nation since 2011. President Obama said he’ll sign the bill as soon as it reaches his desk. (Federal News Radio)
  • One congressman has proposed making military TRICARE mental health practitioners available to veterans. Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) says that would speed up veterans’ access to care. Miller, who is chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, says TRICARE would double the number of psychiatrists and psychologists available to veterans. The VA has committed to hiring another 1,900 mental health practitioners. In the meantime, VA’s inspector general says some veterans have had to wait nearly two months for an evaluation. (Federal News Radio)
  • Financial analysts at The Street have downgraded Lockheed Martin stock from buy to hold. The move comes even as the defense contractor says it will build on a solid 2012 with higher earnings this year. But The Street says the company is taking on higher debt management risk and is weak on operating cash flow. Lockheed is the government’s number-one contractor. Company officials last week said they were looking for new opportunities abroad, given the uncertainty over the federal budget. The Wall Street Journal reports Lockheed is courting Asia and the Middle East. (Federal News Radio)
  • Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue told employees he’s leaving next month when his six-year term expires. Astrue is the third longest-serving commissioner. He takes credit for reducing the time to get a disability hearing from 540 days to 360 days, and with establishing a brand new data center scheduled to go online next year. Astrue’s career includes appointments at Health and Human Services and the Food and Drug Administration. He was associate counsel in the Reagan White House and ethics officer for George H. W. Bush. He also worked in the bio-technology industry in Massachusetts for 14 years. A published poet, Astrue is a three-time winner of the Sonnet Award. (SSA)
  • The Office of Personnel Management is rearranging its offices to focus on long-term workforce needs. Associate Director of Employee Services Angela Bailey said a new division will forecast trends in federal employment, support interagency strategies to meet governmentwide HR goals and encourage innovation. OPM’s human capital officers will stop acting as liaisons with specific agencies. Rather, they will work on pilot programs that test key initiatives. Bailey said that could include methods to close critical skills gaps and restructure the workforce. (CHCOC)
  • The Veterans Affairs Department says it has improved the online benefits portal it runs with the Defense Department. Officials say veterans should have an easier time now using eBenefits to navigate the complex disability-claim process. They have modeled it on tax-preparation software with interview-style questions and drop-down menus. Veterans also can see the processing times for each phase of their application. The department is trying to build up eBenefits as it works on cutting its disability-claims backlog. Another new feature lets vets see the name of the service representative that can field questions about their claim. And there’s a new link to Google Maps, so they can go in person. (Veterans Affairs)