Tuesday morning federal headlines – Feb. 26, 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.

  • Senators will vote on two controversial cabinet nominations this week. A full Senate vote on Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense could take place as early as today. Republicans signaled they won’t delay the Hagel vote any longer. Hagel appears to have the needed votes, although just barely. The Senate Finance Committee will vote today or tomorrow on the nomination of Jack Lew, now the president’s chief of staff, to become the next Treasury secretary. Lew faced criticism for his lavish salary and questionable performance during a short stint Citibank. (Federal News Radio)
  • One senator is telling the Office of Management and Budget to freeze federal hiring to help avoid furloughs. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) says agencies should not fill low-priority positions. Instead it should use the money to keep critical employees on the job. Coburn names several open jobs he thinks could wait. Among them are a phone-answering staff assistant at the State Department that pays up to $81,000, and a director of Air Force History and Museums Policies and Programs, paying up to $165,000. (Federal News Radio)
  • Immigration and Customs Enforcement is cutting costs by freeing some detainees. Headquarters has told field offices to review the numbers of detained immigrants in their jails and to stay within their budgets. It puts the released detainees on more cost-effective forms of supervision. An agency spokeswoman cautions that it will still pursue cases in court and deport illegal immigrants where necessary. ICE would not give exact numbers of released detainees, but the majority are thought to be in California, Texas, Florida and New Jersey. (Federal News Radio)
  • Cantaloupe growers, the Food and Drug Administration is watching you. The agency is sending inspectors to packing houses this season. FDA says they’ll assess current practices and look for anything unsanitary. Two recent outbreaks of foodborne illness have been traced to cantaloupe. More than 400 people became ill; 36 died. Despite efforts immediately following those outbreaks, the FDA says it remains concerned. It says it is also testing imported cantaloupes at the border. (Federal News Radio)
  • House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) says he’s concerned the Department of Veterans Affairs is not fixing its disability awards process. He told Secretary Eric Shinseki the claims backlog remains “alarmingly” high despite four years’ of transformation efforts. Boehner is demanding an update on the VA’s transition to paperless processing, its efforts to reduce error rates and on whether it still thinks it can eliminate its backlog within two years. The speaker said in his home state of Ohio, a much-anticipated VA pilot project has yielded lackluster results. In fact, that center’s disability claims processing time is about two months longer than the nation’s average. (John Boehner)
  • Even Smokey Bear could feel the effects of sequestration. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar drew a picture of overflowing trash cans, locked restrooms and disappearing rangers in national parks. That is, if people could get into the parks during reduced hours. Salazar warned, it could all happen under sequestration. He said $112 million in cuts to the Park Service would be draconian. He said large areas of the nation’s nearly 400 parks would be blocked off to the public. (Federal News Radio)