Tuesday morning federal headlines – Feb. 19, 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.

  • Former Sen. Chuck Hagel’s bid to become defense secretary will probably come to an up-or-down vote in the Senate soon. Republican opponents have been sending signals that it will happen, unless more information damaging to the nominee — and the White House — surfaces. Critics maintain the decorated Vietnam combat veteran is unqualified to lead the U.S. military. A top White House official expressed “grave concern” over the delayed confirmation vote, adding that there’s nothing to worry about in any disclosures that may yet come. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said on “Meet the Press” that he doesn’t believe Hagel is qualified. But he also doesn’t believe Republicans should hold up his nomination further. (Federal News Radio)
  • Coast Guard and National Transportation Safety Board investigators will return to the United States to continue their investigation into an engine fire that damaged a Carnival cruise ship. The Bahamas is leading the probe, but the U.S. agencies are helping and watching out for U.S. interests. Officials have interviewed passengers and examined the ship. The Triumph was in international waters when the fire occurred. The Coast Guard said a leak in a pressurized oil supply line led to the fire. Cmdr. Teresa Hatfield praised the cruise ship’s crew for quickly extinguishing it. She said the Coast Guard and NTSB will likely spend six months finishing the investigation. (Federal News Radio)
  • Younger veterans are struggling to find employment after their military career ends. The unemployment rate for veterans between 18 and 24 was more than 20 percent last year. And in double digits for those 25-34. Both rates are higher than their non-veteran job seekers, despite a wide range of private and public efforts to help veterans find work. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Hiring Our Heroes program, two things younger veterans can do to help themselves is do a better job explaining to employers how the skills they learned in the military translate to the private sector and move to where the jobs are. (Federal News Radio)
  • Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, the bipartisan pair who co-chaired a White House deficit reduction commission in 2010, are at it again. The pair will propose a new plan for rewriting the tax code and cutting federal spending. The Wall Street Journal reports, Simpson and Bowles hope to break a congressional deadlock before the March 1 sequester. They said their new plan would reduce the deficit by $2.4 trillion over 10 years. Their 2010 plan was commissioned by the Obama administration, which, along with Congress, ignored it. Simpson is a former Republican senator. Democrat Bowles was a chief of staff for President Bill Clinton. (The Wall Street Journal)
  • Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) is crying foul over a delay in new food safety regulations. The Food and Drug Administration announced Friday it will delay closing the comment period on long-awaited new rules. DeLauro helped write the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act, which required the new rules. The Hill newspaper reports, once it goes into effect, it will be the largest expansion of federal food oversight in decades. DeLauro accused the FDA of caving to special interest groups. Interested parties now have until May 16 to submit a comment. (The Hill)
  • A one-two punch for furloughed feds. Not only would their take home pay be affected, but their retirement contributions could be reduced as well. According to TSP guidance, if you contribute a percentage of your salary to your retirement funds, the percentage invested will be the actual pay or pay after furloughs. This lower investment amount also ends up lowering employer contributions. National Treasury Employees Union president Colleen Kelley told The Washington Post if furloughs happen, feds living paycheck to paycheck may have to dip into their TSP just to make ends meet. (The Washington Post)
  • The Homeland Security Department is moving ahead with plans to deploy domestic, public safety drones. InfoWars.com reports, DHS says it received excellent responses from a July solicitation for ideas. Vendors sent in more than 70 white papers. Now DHS is prepared to conduct more tests. Secretary Janet Napolitano says the drones will eventually be used to give emergency personnel situational awareness during disasters. DHS is looking at small drones that can be equipped with military-grade surveillance cameras. But the FAA still has to develop a plan for safely operating drones in U.S. Airspace. (InfoWars.com)
  • Veterans Affairs says its Manhattan hospital will re-open to outpatients in March. The Daily News reports, the hospital will accept in-patient and emergency cases by July 1. The building, located at E. 23rd Street and First Avenue, was heavily damaged by flooding after Hurricane Sandy in October. Since the facility closed, some 1,000 veterans have had to trek to the Bronx, Brooklyn or Queens to get medical care. A comment on the VA website says vets refer to one of the locations as the Bronx Zoo because of crowding. A mobile clinic in Manhattan has been dispensing flu shots and blood tests. (The Daily News)