Thursday Morning Federal Newscast – May 27th

Minorities less likely to participate in the TSP, Senior exec education costs questioned, Google readies federal cloud, USDA considers e-coli food safety change

The Morning Federal Newscast is a daily compilation of the stories you hear awareness about the TSP.

  • Is $18,000 for a course at Harvard too much? An influential lawmaker thinks so, and says the government might be spending more than it should, on education for members of the Senior Executive Service. Senator Charles Grassley, Republican of Iowa, has asked OPM director John Berry for more data on total costs of senior career training and education, GovExec reports. In a letter to Berry, Grassley says he is alarmed by what he calls excessive prices, citing a four-week Federal Executive Institute session at Harvard’s Kennedy School.
  • The House could vote today on whether to allow gays to serve openly in the military. The proposal by Pennsylvania Democrat Congressman Patrick Murphy would repeal the 1993 “dont ask don’t tell” law. It’s a compromise bill that would give the Pentagon as much time as it wants before lifting the ban. The Senate Armed Services Committee is set to work on an identical measure later today.
  • A $726-billion dollar defense spending bill for next year will have little impact on the total federal deficit. That’s according to the latest Congressional Budget Office score, which pegs total outlays from the 2011 Defense Authorization Act at $749 billion dollars between 2010 and 2015. CBO says the measure would raise costs by an average of $4.5 billion dollars per year during that period. But on balance over the next 10 years, direct spending from the bill would have a small impact on the deficit.
  • The Small Business Administration is out of money for certain types of loans. The Washington Business Journal reports that the economic stimulus bill increased the government guarantee on the SBA’s flagship 7(a) loans, and reduced fees on 7(a) and 504 loans. Those are the loans that are usually used for real estate. But the funds are now gone, and the SBA has reactivated its waiting list for borrowers. Now SBA is waiting to see if Congress will provide funds for another extension. If they do, SBA would have enough money to provide the loans through the end of this year. However, it isn’t clear that Congress will take action before the weeklong Memorial Day break.
  • The Federal Aviation Administration has awarded contracts worth $4.4 billion to three companies to help rebuild the nation’s air traffic control system. Boeing, General Dynamics and ITT will participate in a project called System Engineering 2020, according to NextGov. Speaking at an FAA technical meeting, administrator Randy Babbitt called SE-2020 the foundation for the agency’s eventual move to geographic positioning, instead of ground radars, for controlling aircraft.
  • A huge computer in Texas is mapping the oil spill in the Gulf. The National Science Foundation has made an emergency allocation of a million compute-hours on a supercomputer at the University of Texas to create 3-D models of the spill. Network World reports that the models created by the Texas Advanced Computing Center can forecast how the oil will spread, and where it might interact with marshes, vegetation, and currents. It also will try to predict what might happen if a hurricane carries the oil inland.
  • Google is putting the finishing touches on its cloud computing services, just for federal agencies. The process is taking longer than most people thought. But Google Enterprise President Dave Girouard tells InformationWeek that they’re already meeting with potential customers. More than 100 federal agencies are already customers of Google’s other products, including Google Earth, Google Maps, and Google Enterprise Search. Google is one of the launch vendors for FedRAMP. That’s a process that will allow vendors to certify their services for government use one time, and then do business with agencies.
  • The Navy is getting help on its integrated electronic security systems. A $9.5 million dollar contract went to Mandex of Fairfax, Virginia. Systems Applications and Solutions of Charleston, SC, landed another $9.5 million dollar deal. The Washington Business Journal reports that both companies were initially awarded a little more than $12,000 dollars. They can compete against each other for task orders to upgrade existing systems, building new security or surveillance systems, and automated fuel systems. Each deal is for one year with four additional one-year options, for a total combined potential value of $47.7 million over the next five years.
  • E. Coli has been the arch nemesis of food regulators for decades. But it turns out, officials have been focusing on just one strain of the bacterium, while six rarer strains have been largely ignored. One of those new strains infected romaine lettuce in April and sickened at least 26 people in five states. The Department of Agriculture is considering whether to make it illegal to sell ground beef tainted with the six lesser-known strains. The New York Times reports few food companies even test for the strains and only 5 percent of medical labs are equipped to diagnose them in patients. The issue will be one of the first faced by President Obama’s nominee to head the department’s food safety division, Dr. Elisabeth Hagen, who is scheduled to testify Thursday in her Senate confirmation hearing.
  • Amtrak passengers will see more police at stations and on trains from New Hampshire to Virginia Thursday. It’s all part of a drill to test counterterrorism and incident response capabilities. The nation’s railroad says the drill is not a response to any particular threat. Amtrak says passengers can expect heightened patrols, increased security on trains, explosive-sniffing dogs and random bag inspections. The drill will take place during morning and afternoon rush hours.
  • More than 250,000 flags are being placed before graves at Arlington National Cemetery in honor of Memorial Day. Soldiers from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, the army’s ceremonial unit, will begin placing the flags on Thursday after funerals are complete. They will be removed on Tuesday before the cemetery opens to the public.

  • More news links

    Document says number of attempted attacks on U.S. is at all-time high (CNN)

    Obama to add homegrown terror to security strategy

    Maker of recalled Army helmets stops production (CNN)

    Businesses could use US cyber monitoring system

    Facebook adjusts privacy controls after complaints

    Feds and fidos make a pact for better fitness

    Big Foot rumors grow in Spotsylvania County

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