Wednesday morning federal headlines – March 20, 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.

  • The Agriculture Department is teaming up with Maryland and Virginia in a data-sharing program to wipe out food-stamp fraud. The department will share its data-mining expertise with the state agencies to help them find people who manipulate the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — or SNAP — system. Virginia officials told the Richmond Times Dispatch they’ll look at the data for patterns of usage. USDA says it will use the data that Maryland and Virginia collect to develop better monitoring tools for all states. Nationwide, food-stamp fraud has fallen to about 1 cent on the dollar. That’s still a lot of money in an $80 billion program. (USDA/Richmond Times Dispatch)
  • House lawmakers tangled with agency budget officials at a tense hearing yesterday. Executives from Agriculture, Commerce and the FCC said they are using or asking for authority to reprogram money to help ease the effects of sequestration. Republican members of a House Oversight subcommittee asked them why they waited until now, knowing sequestration has been on the books for more than a year and a half. Democrats pointed out, detailed sequestration plans aren’t even due until April 1. (Federal News Radio)
  • What looked like fast passage of a government funding bill is getting bogged down in politics. Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) held up a vote on a bipartisan continuing resolution bill. Moran insists on a vote to restore FAA money to keep dozens of small airport control towers open. The budget bill, which has a companion in the House, would avoid a government shutdown next week when the current CR expires. Majority Leader Harry Reid (R-Nev.) promises to keep the Senate in session all weekend to get the bill finished. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Energy Department is announcing layoffs of nearly 250 contract workers at the nation’s most contaminated nuclear site. Nearly 2,500 others face furloughs because of sequestration. All told, that represents nearly a third of the workers at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington. State and federal officials are still analyzing the impact those moves could have on cleanup efforts. But local business leaders fear it could delay work and push the cost higher. The federal government spends $2 billion a year on cleanup at Hanford. It’s roughly a third of the entire budget for nuclear cleanup nationally. Hanford produced plutonium for nuclear weapons arsenals from World War II through the Cold War. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Statue of Liberty will reopen by July 4th, nine months after hurricane damage forced the Park Service to close it. While October’s Superstorm Sandy spared the statue, it flooded nearly three-fourths of Liberty Island. The Park Service says the electric, water, sewer, phone, security and radio systems on Liberty Island were destroyed. The Transportation Department is helping with funds to repair to the docks that visitors use. The statue attracted 3.7 million tourists in 2011 and poured millions into the local economy. Meanwhile, nearby Ellis Island remains closed because of storm damage. (Federal News Radio)
  • A trade group is calling for more changes to a proposed bill to reform federal IT procurement. Just last week, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform issued a revised draft of the bill. The new draft reflected many changes sought by TechAmerica member companies. But now the group is asking for another hearing and another round of changes. In a letter to the committee, Tech America doesn’t specify what changes it still wants. But it cites new language it hadn’t seen before, and some issues left over from the first draft. (TechAmerica)