Friday morning federal headlines – March 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.

  • Republicans want to ground Attorney General Eric Holder. The Government Accountability Office found the Justice Department spent $11.4 million on jet flights for three executives. That includes Holder, his predecessor Michael Mukasey and FBI director Robert Mueller. Law requires the attorney general and FBI director to use government planes for all travel. The officials have to reimburse the government for pleasure trips at commercial rates. That means Holder had to pay $420 for a trip to New York. But it was on a Gulfstream, meaning it cost the government nearly $16,000. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) requested the GAO report. (GAO)
  • President Barack Obama will designate Edith Ramirez chairwoman of the Federal Trade Commission Monday. Ramirez has been an FTC commissioner since 2010. The Commission says Ramirez has focused on promoting competition in the tech and health care sectors and consumer privacy. She’s a lawyer and, like the president, was editor of the Harvard Law Review. She’ll replace Jon Leibowitz. He is resigning after four years leading the watchdog agency. His departure could present problems because it would leave a split panel with two Democrats and two Republicans. (FTC)
  • Union members at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission say the agency is hiding its sequestration plans. The American Federation of Government Employees accuses the EEOC of refusing to negotiate in pre-decisional talks. The union is worried about furloughs. It said the EEOC instead should “scrub its budget for savings, create efficiencies and give up its sacred cows.” That includes managers’ travel, training conferences and new contracts. The agency says it is working on a plan and will reveal details Monday. (AFGE)
  • Two more agency heads weighed in with warnings about sequestration. FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg estimated 2,100 fewer food inspections would occur this year. But the agency won’t have to resort to furloughs. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said sequestration would slow down the cleanup of nuclear waste dumps. A department spokesman couldn’t say whether that includes the Hanford, Wash., site. Rusting tanks there are leaking a thousand gallons of radioactive slop every year. A Democratic staff report from the House Appropriations Committee says one thousand workers at Hanford could be furloughed. Most of them are contractors. A third agency, the National Archives, also says it has no plans to furlough employees. (Federal News Radio)
  • Two big agencies are struggling to avoid furloughs from sequester budget cuts, but only one might succeed. The Social Security Administration said it expects to skip furloughs. Acting commissioner Carolyn Colvin said the agency will meet its budget targets thanks to a hiring freeze, a ban on overtime and a curb on non-mission activities. IRS acting commissioner Steven Miller said he might have to furlough people. Employees would lose one day per pay period, but not until after this year’s tax filing season. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Senate Intelligence Committee plans to vote early next week on John Brennan’s nomination to be CIA director. Democrats wanted the vote yesterday. But Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) said it was delayed until the White House delivers documents about the attack on the State Department in Benghazi, Libya. Committee Chairman Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) said she expect the White House to make good on the documents, and for the vote on Brennan to take place Tuesday. Brennan is currently President Obama’s counterterrorism advisor. (Federal News Radio)
  • Congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) is putting herself on furlough to show solidarity with federal employees. She said she would donate one day’s pay for each day feds are forced to take off. Some of the money will help avoid furloughs of her staff. The rest will go to the Federal Employee Education and Assistance Fund. The group provides small emergency loans to federal workers. It expects to be facing a financial squeeze just as demand increases. Federal employees are the biggest individual donors. (Federal News Radio)
  • The White House says automatic spending cuts may kick in just before midnight. The president has summoned leaders from both parties to the White House for last-minute negotiations to avoid sequestration. Barring that, the $85 billion in cuts are supposed to begin. President Barack Obama will have to authorize them by issuing an order. (Federal News Radio)