Tuesday morning federal headlines – March 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.

  • The General Services Administration has canceled two training conferences. It cited sequestration budget cuts and low attendee registrations. The 13th annual Fed Forum was to have started July 15 in New Orleans. It was to train federal employees how to manage vehicle fleets and real estate. The 15th annual Smart-Pay conference had been scheduled to start Aug. 6 in Chicago. It was to train federal employees in proper use of government credit cards. A spokesman said Smart-Pay only logged 151 registrants. Last year at this time, several thousand had already signed up. Earlier, GSA canceled its 2013 Expo conference set for Orlando in May. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Senate votes today on a mostly bipartisan bill to fund the government for the rest of fiscal 2013. A continuing resolution expires March 27. If passed, the bill would head to the House, where it is also expected to pass and head to the president’s desk later this week. The bill keeps sequestration cuts mostly in place. But it reallocates funds so that the Pentagon gets some of its operations and maintenance funds back. It shifts $55 million to food inspection operations at the Agriculture Department. Beef and chicken industry lobbyists say that money will keep thousands of inspection stations open. (Federal News Radio)
  • Employees at a Veterans Affairs hospital in Mississippi are blowing the whistle on sloppy, sometimes deadly, mistakes. In letters to the White House and Congress, the Office of Special Counsel detailed the allegations, including failure to sterilize scalpels and bone cutters and doctors missing signs of fatal illnesses. The OSC has referred the case to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki for investigation. Veterans Affairs looked into similar allegations four years ago. At the time, the hospital said it fixed the problems. But the OSC said the hospital misled its employees, veterans and congressional staff. (Federal News Radio)
  • Two Arlington, Va., executives pleaded guilty to fraudulently obtaining federal contracts under the 8(a) program. The Justice Department says Keith Hedman and Dawn Hamilton could face up to 10 years in prison for abuse of a program intended to help small and minority owned businesses. They obtained contracts for security services worth $31 million. Hedman claimed his company was minority owned and controlled, DoJ says. The pair forfeited a total of nearly $8 million. An investigation was originally launched by the NASA inspector general. (Justice)
  • Tomorrow is transparency day for the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. It is scheduled to mark up 10 bills related to government information, according to the Sunlight Foundation. Among the bills the committee will edit are the Federal Advisory Committee Reform Act and the Presidential Library Donation Reform Act. Members will also work on a bill to overhaul the Freedom of Information Act. The FOIA Oversight and Implementation Act has the bipartisan backing of committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.). (Sunlight Foundation)
  • President Barack Obama has another cabinet opening. Acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank is stepping down to become chancellor of the University of Wisconsin at Madison. She has been at the Commerce Department for four years, serving as economic adviser and deputy secretary. Blank told staff she expects to welcome a new secretary before she leaves. Possible replacements include top Obama fundraiser Penny Pritzker, General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt and Ron Kirk. He stepped down as the U.S. Trade Representative last week. (Federal News Radio)
  • Federal employees in our area gave $61.6 million to charity through last year’s Combined Federal Campaign, falling just short of the goal of $62 million. The CFC of the National Capital Area is calling the drive a success and a testament to the spirit of federal workers despite economic pressures. The departments of Defense and Health and Human Services were the biggest donor groups. Together they account for a third of the money raised. (Charity.org)
  • A Chinese national under investigation for multiple violations of the Arms Control Act was arrested Saturday while trying to leave the country. Bo Jiang, a NASA contractor, had purchased a one-way ticket to China. He was charged Monday with lying to federal agents after he allegedly did not disclose all of the computers and memory sticks he had with him. He was already under investigation for bringing classified information with him to China previously. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) called attention to the case earlier this month after getting a report from whistleblowers. (Federal News Radio)