Wednesday federal headlines – July 24, 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.

  • President Barack Obama’s pick to be second in command at the Homeland Security Department is in trouble with the department’s inspector general. Alejandro Mayorkas is director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The IG is looking at his role in helping obtain a visa for a foreign national whose application had been rejected. The person involved works for a company run by Anthony Rodham, a brother of former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. The allegations involve the EB-5 program. It allows foreigners who invest at least a $0.5 million in U.S. companies get a visa and a fast track to a green card and citizenship. (Federal News Radio)
  • The General Services Administration needs a quicker way to get rid of excess federal property. Congress has been sitting on a bill to conduct closures and realignments similar to those used by the Pentagon. Plan B is to use public-private partnerships. At a congressional roundtable, GSA Administrator Dan Tangherlini said the partnerships could help the government fix outdated or shabby buildings the government owns. They could also move federal offices into new digs without the high, no-equity rents the government usually pays. The White House has been trying to stop the growth in federal office-space under its Freeze the Footprint initiative. (Federal News Radio)
  • The General Services Administration has hired some help to speed up the government’s move to cloud computing. That help will come from the American Association for Laboratory Accreditation. The association will take over the job of koshering the organizations that, in turn, certify that cloud computing providers are safe to use. It’s all part of GSA’s FedRamp program for pre- approving cloud providers. The goal is to let agencies skip having check cloud providers individually. That pre-approval is done by so-called Third Party Assessment Organizations. Now the lab association, instead of GSA, will make sure the assessment organizations are doing their jobs correctly. GSA will still get the final say. So far, eight cloud computing providers have been certified under the FedRamp program. The latest is AT&T. (General Services Administration)
  • The Office of Personnel Management has released new rules on political activity, which would soften the penalties for violating the Hatch Act. Before, federal employees would face either termination or a suspension of less than 30 days. The proposed rules add options that fall in between those two extremes. OPM is accepting public comments on the rule for 60 days. Congress updated the Hatch Act last year. The new law also lets some state and local government workers run for elected office. That frees up the Office of Special Counsel’s time to focus on federal workers who break the law. (Federal Register)
  • A House panel will debate today a new bill to help the Postal Service. It would phase out Saturday mail delivery and let the agency forgo past payments to its retiree health care benefits fund. The Postal Service would also be able to fire employees in Reduction-in-Force programs, regardless of collective bargaining agreements. At the same meeting, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will take on more bills affecting federal employees. One would let agencies place employees under investigation for certain offenses on unpaid leave. Another would make customers’ feedback a factor in personnel reviews. (House Oversight and Government Reform Committee)
  • House deliberations on a 2014 Defense appropriations bill started off with a few fireworks. Members rejected a Democratic move to eliminate a missile shield for the East Coast favored by Republicans. The Republican-controlled House also approved money for 14 new West Coast missile interceptors, Defense News reports. Democrats opposed those, too, saying they don’t work. They say the last successful test took place back in 2008. On a voice vote, House members approved an amendment offered by Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) to freeze the numbers of flag or general officers at current levels. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has said he wants to shrink Pentagon and combatant command staffs by 20 percent. (Defense News)
  • Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz wants to reorganize his department’s management setup. He tells lawmakers he plans to consolidate support and environmental management functions. They’ll operate under a new undersecretary for management and performance. Moniz also wants to expand the duties of the undersecretary for science so that it includes energy-related missions. He tells Energy employees about the plan in a memo. Deputy Secretary Daniel Poneman will detail them today when he appears before the House Energy and Commerce Committee. (House)
  • Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda is mixed up in a medical mystery. A patient given a kidney at the hospital back in 2011 has died of rabies. Turns out the kidney came from an Air Force recruit who liked to trap raccoons. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reveals that the donor might have infected others. Three more patients received his heart, liver and second kidney. All three are considered at risk and have received anti-rabies treatment. The report’s authors say a uniform donor questionnaire might have let doctors spot the risk. (Federal News Radio)
  • The government’s largest supplier seems to be escaping sequestration unscathed. Lockheed Martin is reporting a 10 percent increase in earnings for the second quarter of this year. That number exceeds expectations by a landslide, according to the Washington Business Journal. The defense contractor had predicted it would lose $825 million in revenue this year because of the federal budget cuts. Company officials say the Defense Department largely has protected Lockheed programs. But furloughs of federal employees are delaying critical steps like flight tests in some programs. They warn that the pain of sequestration could be down the road. (Lockheed Martin/Washington Business Journal)
  • Better pay more attention to cybersecurity at the nation’s ports. The Brookings Institution says port facilities have aging computer networks, making them an easy target. It calls on the government to set cybersecurity standards for ports and to let the Coast Guard enforce those standards. It says the Homeland Security Department should restructure a grant program to encourage ports to upgrade their cyber infrastructure. (Brookings Institution)
  • The White House is launching a salvo in its war on Asian carp in the Great Lakes. The new plan calls for testing emerging technology like water guns and synthetic fish hormones, while strengthening existing measures. Officials say electric barriers are keeping carp at bay. The Army Corps of Engineers is studying how dams or other barriers near Chicago might help. Carp is an invasive species; scientists say their encroachment into the Great Lakes could severely disrupt the $7 billion fishing industry. (Associated Press)
  • Sometimes the federal government just has to interfere with nature. The National Park Service has approved construction of a 100-foot Verizon cell phone tower in Yellowstone National Park. The tower will be near Fishing Bridge and serve a developed area. The Park Service says the tower will be invisible from trails and villages. The Fish and Wildlife Service plans to slaughter barred owls living in the Pacific Northwest. It wants to free up habitat and food for spotted owls, which are on the verge of extinction. That plan has drawn sharp criticism from both the forestry industry and the Audubon Society. (Federal News Radio)