Friday morning federal headlines – Feb. 1, 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 users more information about the stories you hear on the air.

  • Chuck Hagel appears poised to become the next defense secretary despite a lackluster performance at yesterday’s Senate confirmation hearing. Members grilled the former Nebraska senator for nearly eight hours. At the end, it appeared no lawmaker had shifted their position. Hagel said his experience as an Army sergeant during the Vietnam War would inform his decisions as secretary. He promised to support gay service members and their families, and he promised to continue opening up combat jobs to women and fighting sexual assault in the military. He stressed the importance of special operations and spy technologies to fighting terrorists, and he pledged to work with international partners to confront cyber threats. The committee could vote as early as next Thursday. (Federal News Radio)
  • No government shutdown for now. Following a Senate vote, Congress sent President Obama legislation raising the debt ceiling. The House passed its version last week. The bill lets the government keep borrowing until May 18. The current debt ceiling is $16.4 trillion. The new bill would add another $450 billion. Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) says the bill averts a financial panic. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) says federal spending is out of control. A provision in the bill suspends congressional pay unless the Senate passes a budget resolution, something it hasn’t done in years. (Federal News Radio)
  • With a Senate immigration reform proposal calling for greater border security, the next big question is exactly what a secure border is. That’s what the bipartisan group of senators is now grappling with. The Senators propose setting up a commission of border-state legislators and citizens to make recommendations on how to measure border security. The Homeland Security secretary would have final say. In fiscal 2012, Border Patrol agents arrested more than 350,000 would-be crossers along the Mexican border. That’s up about 10 percent from 2011 levels. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Environmental Protection Agency and a federal court are at loggerheads over biofuels. Just days ago, a federal appeals court tossed out the Obama administration’s 2012 quotas for biofuel production. The court said they were unrealistic. Now the EPA has doubled its production estimate for 2013. New EPA standards require production of 14 million gallons of fuel made from grass and wood. Last year’s quota was 8.7 million gallons, but in reality the industry produced nearly zero. An oil industry spokesman says the administration is thumbing its nose at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Small Business Administration and the American Federation of Government Employees have reached agreement on a new three-year contract. It covers more than 2,000 employees. Local AFGE council president Elaine Powell-Belnavis says the agreement shows a positive shift in the relationship between SBA and the union. Under the new contract, employees can work four days a week for 10 hours. And they’ll have an easier time signing up for telework. It also creates a bonus system for people who come up with ways to improve the agency or save money. (Federal News Radio)
  • FEMA’s new national alert system for missing children seemed like a good idea. Short text messages quickly tell mobile phone users about an abduction in their area. But the system is showing how difficult it can be to make use of mobile technology. The alerts are automatic and can take users by surprise. They don’t contain a lot of information but ask users to check local media. FEMA officials tell the Associated Press: they are working on improvements. They aim to strike a balance between giving people enough information and inundating them with too much. They are trying to determine whether alerts should be sent in the middle of the night and what information they should provide. (Federal News Radio)