Friday federal headlines – December 27, 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.

  • Just before the final weekend of 2013, President Barack Obama signs two big bills. From his vacation in Hawaii, the President approves a budget authorization deal that sets spending limits for 2014 and 2015. And he signs the 2014 Defense Authorization bill. The budget plan does away with much of the sequestration cuts, but adds airline ticket fees and trims benefits for new federal hires. The DoD bill includes a crackdown on sexual assaults. The next big fight comes in late February or March. That’s when the Treasury Department says the government will reach its borrowing limit. (Associated Press)
  • The White House has finalized an overhaul on how federal agencies make and manage grants. The final rule is two years in the making. It was published yesterday in the Federal Register. It supercedes and rewrites rules found in eight separate Office of Management and Budget Circulars. A presidentially-appointed Interagency Council on Financial Assistance Reform (COFAR) did the grunt work. The goals are greater transparency of the grant process, and more assurance that grant recipients do what they’re supposed to. The federal government spends around $700 billion a year on grants. OMB Deputy Director Beth Cobert describes the changes in a Webinar. (Federal Register)
  • The governor of Okinawa has signed off on a plan to relocate the U.S. military base there. Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima approves the Japanese military’s application to reclaim land for a new base. The facilities would move away from the crowded inland and relocate to Nago, on the coast. Some troops would move to Guam. The plan is controversial on Okinawa. Some residents want all U.S. military presence to end there. The U.S. has about 50,000 troops in Japan. Half are in Okinawa. The relocation plan dates back to 1996. Even so, it’s still not a done deal. The head of the Nago assembly vowed the use of force to stop construction of the new base. (Associated Press)
  • The federal government is a major culprit in the global collapse of honey bee populations. That’s according to environmental groups who are suing the EPA. The Quartz reports, The Center for Food Safety and others believe an insecticide approved by the EPA is killing bees. The substance, sulfoxaflor, has been banned for two years in the European Union. The plaintiffs says the approval of the insecticide violates the Endangered Species Act. They say other insects, such as certain types of butterflies, are also harmed by sulfoxaflor. (GovExec)
  • The Social Security Administration plans to tighten its grip on 1,500 administrative law judges. The Wall Street Journal reports SSA wants to make sure disability applications are handled consistently and free of fraud. Starting this weekend, the agency will issue new job descriptions for judges. The words “complete individual independence” have been stricken. The new rules will allow officials to more easily crack down on judges who may be awarding disability payments wrongly. The ranks of people receiving disability payments has ballooned in recent years to 11 million. The trust fund supporting the disability program could dry up in 2016. (Wall Street Journal)