Wednesday federal headlines – July 3, 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.

  • For the seventh year in a row, agencies failed to award at least 23 percent of their prime contracts to small businesses. New figures from the Small Business Administration show agencies ended with 22.25 percent of their prime contracts going to small businesses in 2012. That’s up from a year earlier, but total dollars going to small business were down. The Office of Federal Procurement Policy says all contracting fell by 4.5 percent in 2012. That means the total dollars available for set-asides also fell. (Federal News Radio)
  • Another member of President Barack Obama’s Cabinet has officially joined his second-term team. Anthony Foxx was sworn in as Transportation Secretary during a private ceremony yesterday. Foxx previously served as the mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina, and as a Justice Department attorney. He’s replacing former Republican Congressman Ray LaHood. Foxx says being prepared for severe weather and maintaining transportation safety is one of his top priorities. (Associated Press)
  • The embattled Deputy Inspector General at the Homeland Security Department is fighting allegations of misconduct. Charles Edwards issues a statement Tuesday denying claims against him, calling them “completely without merit.” The statement came while Edwards was vacationing with his family in India. The Senate Homeland Security Financial and Contracting Oversight Committee has been looking into claims by whistleblowers that Edwards engaged in nepotism by hiring his wife to a key job in the IG’s office. They also say he used government cars for personal business and threatened retaliation against employees. (Associated Press)
  • An Air Force training commander who helped to fight against sexual abuse says he’ll be retiring soon. General Edward Rice is the head of the Education and Training Command in San Antonio. Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark Welsh credits Rice for acting fast when allegations of abuse by lower level officers surfaced last year. 33 basic training instructors have been implicated and several convicted. Rice replaced nearly the entire cadre of instructors. He’ll be succeeded by Lieutenant General Robin Rand, now commander of the 12th Air Force. No date yet for Rice’s departure. (Associated Press)
  • Are you only as popular as the number of fans you have on Facebook? That’s what one State Department bureau seemed to think. A report from the inspector general’s office says the Bureau of International Information Programs spent about $630,000 over two years on Facebook advertising campaigns to increase its social media presence. The bureau’s number of fans increased from about 100,000 to 2 million on its 4 pages. The report says many at the bureau complained the department simply bought Facebook fans and the users weren’t actively engaging with the content on any of the pages. (State Department)
  • The National Institute of Standards and Technology has released draft guidelines on critical infrastructure protection. The agency was given this job in President Obama’s February executive order on cybersecurity. NIST describes the document as a voluntary framework for the private sector. It’s now online and open to public comments. NIST says the framework is designed to help business leaders prepare their organizations to better deal with cyber threats that could cripple them or shut them down. Lead author Adam Sedgewisk says the framework covers policies and investments needed to improve risk management. (NIST)
  • Director of National Intelligence James Clapper apologized after he found himself in a bit of a sticky situation for claiming the National Security Agency did not collect data on millions of Americans. He says he was wrong in a letter to Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein. Clapper first denied that the NSA gathered information on Americans during a Senate hearing in March. Clapper says he misunderstood the original question and thought senators were asking him if the NSA collected the content of emails not phone record metadata. (Associated Press)
  • U.S. predator drones could soon get a few upgrades. Customs and Border Protection says it has plans to add what it calls “non-lethal weapons designed to immobilize targets of interest.” That’s according to a 2010 agency document obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. A fact sheet detailing the capabilities of U.S. drones shows they aren’t currently equipped with non-lethal weapons. (Nextgov)
  • More travelers are packing … and not just their clothes. The Transportation Security Administration isn’t sure why more passengers are entering airport security lines with guns this year. But screeners found 894 firearms in the first six months of 2013. That’s a 30 percent increase in the number of guns found this year than during the same time period in 2012. The TSA says it’s a trend that’s been steadily on the rise during the past few years. (Associated Press)
  • Sequestration has reduced the capabilities of the two departments with firefighting crews. Between them, the Interior and Agriculture departments have about 13,000 firefighters. That’s down from a year earlier. Interior officials say the Forest Service’s ranks have fallen by about 500 firefighters. And they have 50 fewer fire trucks. Officials tell a Senate committee, overall spending on firefighting has dropped 5 percent, or more than $37 million. So far this season, more than 22,000 wildfires have burned some 1.5 million acres across the country. That’s according to the government’s National Interagency Coordination Center in Boise, Idaho. (Associated Press)
  • When you slap burgers on the grill for your 4th of July cookout tomorrow, think about this. Animal protection groups are suing the Agriculture Department. They hope to block the revival of domestic horse slaughter in the United States. Congress banned it in 2007 but allowed it to resume in 2011. Yesterday, the USDA approved of horse slaughter at a plant in Iowa. Approval of horse processing in Missouri, Tennessee and Oklahoma is pending. The Humane Society was joined by several other groups in the lawsuit. The issue could become moot if Congress pulls funding for plant inspections.
  • Many troops are still hesitant to admit mental health problems. USA Today obtained a confidential survey of troops in Afghanistan last year. About half of the Army troops surveyed believed they would be seen as weak if they asked for help in coping with mental illness. 60 percent of Marines surveyed said the same.
  • Some of the nation’s biggest commercial ports have few defense mechanisms against cyber attacks, according to a new study from Coast Guard Commander Joseph Kramek. Kramek studied with the Brookings Institution for one year and looked at ports in Los Angeles, Baltimore, Houston, and Vicksburg, Mississippi, among others. He says few ports have specific cyber attack response plans in place. Kramek suggests the Coast Guard should be in charge of enforcing all cybersecurity standards at ports.