Thursday morning federal headlines – June 21, 2012

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 Veterans Affairs Department wants to cut veterans’ suicide risk by using teleconferencing for psychiatric visits. Eighteen veterans from among all the nation’s wars commit suicide every day. Secretary Eric Shinseki said video conferencing would make psychiatric visits more convenient. It would build on veterans’ apparent acceptance of online chats and text messaging. Shinseki said the eventual merging of soldiers’ and veterans’ electronic health records would also help suicide prevention. The merger would ensure early markers for suicide remain in a soldier’s record as it forwards to VA. (Federal News Radio)
  • National Weather Service employees may be able to work through hurricane season after all. In a first sign of sympathy from Capitol Hill, two key senators have approved emergency funds for the agency. Sens. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-Texas) still want answers, however. They are asking the Government Accountability Office and the Justice Department to look into why the Weather Service moved dedicated funds between programs without Congress’ approval. The National Weather Service said without replacement money — $36 million more — it would furlough staff. Agency leaders will testify today before a House panel. (Sen. Barbara Mikulski)
  • A new Government Accountability Office report said the government’s database of real estate was full of errors and omissions. That hinders agencies’ ability to get rid of excess property, an administration priority. Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) said the government was operating with one hand tied behind its back. GAO looked at the real estate portfolios of five departments that account for 25 percent of the government’s square footage. It found a consistent lack of sound data collection practices. Auditors said some of the blame lies with the Office of Management and Budget. OMB chairs the Federal Real Property Council. (Federal News Radio)
  • House Republican leaders said they were willing to talk with the White House in hopes of heading off a contempt vote against Attorney General Eric Holder, but they were planning the vote for next week. They said they would call it off only if the White House produced certain documents related to the botched gun-tracking program known as Operation Fast and Furious. The decision was now in their hands. The House Oversight Committee voted yesterday to hold Holder in contempt. It was a bitterly partisan meeting, with Democrats likening it to a “kangaroo court.” The White House asserted executive privilege to prevent the Justice Department from turning over the documents. (Federal News Radio)
  • The full House is taking up a spending bill that contains no federal pay raise. But it doesn’t include a freeze, either. The Appropriations Committee already passed the bill for financial services and general government appropriations. It mirrored the Senate version in silence about federal pay. The president has recommended a 0.5 percent raise. In the House, a pay freeze has popped up in several department-specific bills. The latest bill cuts governmentwide spending by $2 billion compared to administration requests. (Federal News Radio)
  • The plan to close nearly 50 mail processing plants has hit yet another roadblock. The Postal Service planned to close the plants in July and August. But in order to that, it’s required to obtain a non-binding advisory opinion from the Postal Regulatory Commission. And, as the Federal Times reported, the commission doesn’t plan to issue its opinion until September. The Postal Service reportedly wants to close the plants anyway, but the American Postal Workers Union has filed a complaint. The commission will rule on the union complaint by July 1. (Federal Times)
  • The Office of Special Counsel is warning agency leaders not to monitor employees’ emails to see if they are reporting wrongdoing to the special counsel or inspector general. In a new memo, the whistleblower agency reminded officials that federal workers have to disclose waste, fraud, abuse and corruption. It said agencies needed to encourage that. It was urging them to review their policies. Six Food and Drug Administration workers sued the FDA last year, alleging that it monitored their personal email accounts to see what they were reporting to watchdogs. (OSC)