Monday morning federal headlines – April 15, 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 Commerce Department is full of holes, and at least one congressman wants them filled. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) sent a letter to Acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank. He told her to urge the White House to appoint people to fill some top jobs at Commerce agencies. The Census Bureau, Patent and Trademark Office and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration lack leaders. Wolf also noted, there’s no chief financial officer. Blank herself is leaving this summer to become chancellor of the University of Wisconsin. On a copy of the letter Wolf’s office released to the press, he wrote in all capital letters, “This Is Important.” (Rep. Frank Wolf)
  • A congressional investigation suggests the Food and Drug Administration could not have prevented a meningitis outbreak last year because states weren’t tracking critical data. The House Democrats’ report shows most states do not monitor or routinely inspect the type of pharmacy that made the contaminated drug that caused people to get sick and some to die. FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg testifies on Capitol Hill tomorrow. Democrats want the FDA to have direct authority over compounding pharmacies. (Federal News Radio)
  • It might be a while before the Labor Department has a new secretary. No senator has put a hold on the nomination of Deputy Attorney General Thomas Perez. But he’s sparked a bitter fight on Capitol Hill in both the Senate and House. Republicans released a tough report Sunday criticizing a deal Perez made with Saint Paul, Minn. The city dropped a Supreme Court housing case, and the Justice agreed not to back two whistle-blowers. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said Perez may have violated his duty of loyalty. Democrats defended Perez. They say he acted in the best interest of the nation. Perez’s confirmation hearings take place this week. (Federal News Radio)
  • Congress has repealed a new law that, if enacted, critics said could have made thousands of feds vulnerable to cyber crime. Lawmakers voted Friday to cancel the part of the so-called STOCK Act that pertains to 28,000 federal career executives and congressional staffers. The law would have forced them to expose their financial data on a public website. That could provide cyber thieves or blackmailers with a powerful tool, according to a congressionally-mandated report. The law still applies to Congress, the president and vice-president, and political appointees. (Federal News Radio)
  • Senior defense officials have again lowered their estimate of how many days civilian employees will be furloughed. The latest guess is seven days. Earlier they said 22 days, then cut that to 14 days. The officials told the Associated Press, it’s possible no furloughs will be required because of sequestration. That’s because the 2013 spending bill enacted in March gives the Defense Department the flexibility it needs to avoid them. The Navy was the first of the armed services to say it would try to skip furloughs entirely. But the Pentagon wants any furloughs to fall equally across all defense components. (Federal News Radio)
  • The National Treasury Employees Union has slammed a bill aimed at federal employees who don’t pay their taxes. Union President Colleen Kelley is urging House members to vote “no” on the bill. It’s sponsored by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah). It would require feds who fall behind on taxes to be fired. Kelly said the bill unfairly targets federal workers by exempting Hill staff and members of Congress. She said federal managers already have ways to to deal with employees in arrears, including dismissal. (NTEU)
  • The House has approved a bill that could freeze a small agency in its tracks. The bill would prevent the National Labor Relations Board from taking action until the Senate confirms new members. The measure passed the House along party lines. The Senate is not expected to vote on it. But it sends a clear message: Republicans will fight any decisions the board makes right now. A federal appeals panel threw the board into legal limbo in January. It said the president should not have appointed members while lawmakers were on break last year. The White House is appealing the decision to the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, three nominees await Senate confirmation. (Federal News Radio)