Tuesday Morning Federal Newscast – May 4th, 2010

IG: Pentagon feds double dipping on transit, Transportation neglected hazmat safety checks, FDA and DISA execs announce departures, Obama honors Navy football

The Morning Federal Newscast is a daily compilation of the stories you hear before the market plunged in September of 2008.

  • Hundreds of workers at the Pentagon are double dipping on their transit subsidies according to a new report from the office of the Inspector General. The increasingly generous subsidy pays workers to take mass transit or join van pools. The Washington Times reports that with the passage of the economic stimulus package last year, area federal workers across government saw their maximum transit subsidy rise from $120 per month to $230 per month. The Pentagon IG report shows that hundreds of workers appeared to be double dipping by collecting public transit subsidies for bus or train fares at the same time they received parking benefits. And records for more than 30,000 workers in the transit-subsidy program were incomplete or inaccurate, according to the review.
  • When companies transport hazardous materials by road, rail, water and air, the U.S. Transportation Department is supposed to do safety checks before granting permits. But they failed to check up to 30,000 companies. Some of the companies even had serious hazmat accidents and safety violations. DOT officials testified to Congress the department has suffered years of neglect. USA Today reports all the companies must now file new permit applications and undergo a “fitness review.”
  • An outside assessment of federal agencies’ transparency plans gives them a “C”, reports NextGov. The plans, covering how agencies will use technology to help create a culture of transparency, were turned in last month under the administration’s Open Government Directive. Last week, the Office of Management and Budget gave slightly better grades in its official assessment of transparency plans. The coalition of good-government groups gave its highest grades to NASA, the lowest to OMB itself. US CTO Aneesh Chopra told Federal News Radio the best ideas, or “leading practices” will be put together for all agencies to draw from.
  • A recently released Gallup Index shows significantly more hiring within the federal government than in the private sector. Both show a substantially more positive picture than state and local governments, where firing far eclipses hiring. Gallup’s Job Creation Index is based on the percentage of American workers who say their employers are hiring minus the percentage who say their employers are letting workers go. By almost a 2-to-1 margin, federal employees say their employer is hiring rather than firing, giving the federal government a relatively robust +18 Job Creation Index for April.
  • The Navy is too reliant on multibillion dollar ships and submarines, and must learn to live on less expensive, unmanned platforms. That’s from Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who delivered a tough speech to yesterday’s annual Navy exposition at National Harbor, Maryland. He said the Navy’s procurement budget wouldn’t rise in the foreseeable future, and that the service will have to more closely tailor its strategy for asymmetric warfare. Gates added that in terms of submarines and missiles, the Navy is already big enough.
  • Two experienced federal executives have announced their departures. Stephen Sundlof, director of food safety at the Food and Drug Administration, will leave after 16 years. A veterinarian by training, the Wall Street Journal reports Sundlof will join the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine. The deputy director of regulatory affairs, Michael Landa, will become acting food safety chief. And John J. Garing, the director for strategic planning an information at the Defense Information Systems Agency, has announced his retirement, according to DefenseSystems.com. No replacement has been named.
  • Flooding in Nashville, Tennessee has forced the Defense Information Systems Agency to cancel its annual Customer Partnership Conference. Extreme rainfall has overwhelmed the city and forced the closure of the Gaylord Opryland Resort, where the four-day conference was scheduled to begin today. The conference attracts military customers of DISA’s network and communication services. DefenseSystems.com says an estimated 5,000 people had been scheduled to attend.
  • Just a few days into their deployment, six census workers have been killed in automobile accidents across the country. At a news briefing following start of the house-by-house count, Census Director Robert Groves said the bureau is concerned about safety of its 630,000 temporary workers. The workers will be in the field until mid-July. Three of the recent deaths occurred in Texas, the others in California, Florida and South Carolina.
  • The Minerals Management Service which regulates the Nation’s offshore oil and gas industry is now being questioned for its handling of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf. Congressman Darrell Issa of California and Republicans on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee say they will investigate whether the MMS has pushed for regulations to ensure the safety of offshore operators. In a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, ISSA cites concerns that the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, which caught fire and sank in April, didn’t have a remote-control shut-off switch used in two other major oil-producing nations as a last-resort protection against underwater spills. The absent switch was first reported in the Wall Street Journal.
  • Alphonso Jackson, who resigned as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President George W. Bush is no longer the target of a Federal Investigation. Jackson resigned in March 2008 under allegations that he steered business to friends. The department’s inspector general was then looking a whether Jackson improperly sought to punish the Philadelphia Housing Authority for refusing to turn over a $2 million property to a Jackson friend. A federal grand jury also began investigating Jackson after a speech in which the former Secretary said he arranged the firing of a contractor who told him, “I don’t like President Bush.” Jackson later said he had concocted the anecdote as a joke. HUD’s inspector general concluded that Jackson had not exercised improper influence over contracts.
  • First lady Michelle Obama tells middle and high school science teams that math and science are important for the nation’s economic future, and she hopes subjects energize all kids. Mrs. Obama visited the Department of Energy’s National Science Bowl Monday, reading bonus questions in the middle school championship match. Afterward she joked that she had to study just to properly read the questions.
  • President Obama congratulated the 2009 Naval Academy football team on Monday for winning its seventh consecutive Commander in Chief trophy. The president welcomed the Midshipmen to the East Room of the White House for the trophy presentation. The award is given out annually to the winner of a competition between teams for the Army, Navy and Air Force. And a reminder, you can catch all the games next season on Federal News Radio, 1500 and 820 AM and on FederalNewsRadio.com

  • More news links

    Man held in NYC car bomb attack to appear in court

    Report: Philadelphia VA hospital lacked review

    DOD: 3 more states want federal Guard mobilization

    Army captain who stole $690,000 gets 30 months


    Coming up today on The Daily Debrief:

    ** The Defense Department is working on insourcing. One industry group says the plan to insource some critical functions is off track — and we’ll talk to the Professional Services Council.

    ** And open government advocates have conducted an audit of agency open government plans. How did you do? We’ll talk to Open-the-government-dot-org.

    Join us from 3 to 7 pm on 1500 AM or on your computer.

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