The Morning Federal Newscast is a daily compilation of the stories you hear how civilian agencies spend part of their appropriated dollars. The Wall Street Journal reports, the administration wants agencies to identify ways to save $25 billion, then use half the savings for deficit reduction. The other half would be reprogrammed to other initiatives. Under current law, agencies operate under spend-it-or-lose-it, and aren’t allowed to reprogram. A similar savings plan has been ordered for the Pentagon.
Boeing plans to announce today it will enter the bidding to build a fleet of presidential helicopters. That adds a major new player to a project the Pentagon has been trying to revive after President Obama criticized it last year as contracting “gone amok.” Boeing officials tell the New York Times, the company will buy the rights to build a midsize helicopter from the European company AgustaWestland. Boeing says that by building the helicopters itself, it hopes to avoid some of the problems that hampered previous contractors. And there are signs that the Pentagon might ease up on some of the requirements that caused the projected cost of the helicopters to double, to $13 billion for just 28 helicopters. The Pentagon’s looking for preliminary information now from potential bidders this month.
$500 million: That’s the cost of upgrading the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba since 9/11. Annual operating costs run about $150 million, according to the Washington Post. Among the items for which taxpayer dollars have been spent: $188,800 for a new airport sign; $249,00 for a go-cart track; and $3.5 million for mostly vacant playgrounds. The Pentagon also spent $683,000 to renovate a cafe that sells ice cream and Starbucks coffee.
The State Department has a new master plan to create a Foreign Affairs Security Training Center in Centreville, Maryland. The massive project will take up more than 1,200 acres in Queen Anne’s County, and will use $70-million dollars in stimulus funds. The Washington Business Journal reports that the project consolidates diplomatic training that’s now being done at 19 different facilities. It will feature a mixture of classroom and office space, firing ranges, driving tracks and an explosives testing area. It will include a 450-bed dormatory and will handle 10,000 students a year. The project will take at least three to five years to build and is expected to create roughly 400 jobs in the construction phases.
The research arm of MedStar Health has been awarded a $7.3 million contract from the National Institutes of Health. MedStar Health Research Institute will conduct research on aging and age-associated diseases. The contract is under Bethesda-based NIH’s National Institute on Aging’s Intramural Research Program. The Washington Business Journal reports the contract includes translational research, which applies basic scientific research into the medical setting.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is telling insurance companies not to raise premiums or co-payments for seniors. Her warning comes on the day Medicare Advantage plans submit their 2011 bids. A fight between the insurance industry and the Obama administration is expected. Meanwhile, the New York Times reports, the administration is embarking on a national public relations campaign to sell the public on health care reform. The president heads to Wheaton Maryland today in the first public appearance related to the PR program.
A fight is looming between the administration and Congress over the president’s pick for the next Director of National Intelligence. Former Air Force Lieutenant General James R. Clapper has the qualifications, all sides agree. But some Senators want a non-military person. Kit Bond, ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, called Clapper “a good guy, but the wrong guy.” If confirmed, Clapper would succeed Dennis Blair. The job oversees 16 intelligence agencies, but doesn’t control their budgets.
There are more drone flights on the Texas-Mexico border, thanks to the urging of Texas lawmakers. The Homeland Security Department has increased the use of high tech Predator B unmanned planes to support Customs and Border Protection’s anti-drug smuggling efforts, Congress Daily reports. Five Predators have flown more than 1,500 hours so far, helping the seizure of more than 15,000 pounds of marijuana and the capture of 4,000 illegal immigrants.
President Obama wants U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by July 2011, but a new audit may make it tough to meet that deadline. A report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction says a NATO-led rating system of Afghan forces has inflated their abilities. For example, the report says one unit was given 12 trucks — and even though only 3 of its 12 drivers were trained, the unit was reported as having the highest capability rating. The Financial Times reports there is a new system that measures troops in terms of operational effectiveness, though auditors say the changes are inadequate.
The Coast Guard warns of a long oil battle in the Gulf Coast. Admiral Thad Allen tells TV Sunday talk shows, if the spill is eventually stopped this summer, dealing with the oil slick would last at least into the fall. Over the weekend, the spill was reduced by 10,000 barrels a day thanks to a cap put in place over the wellhead. But total stoppage will require relief wells, and drilling those will take months, according to the NY Times.
Dolphins are dying in the Gulf of Mexico and the deaths happened before the oil spill. NOAA is trying to figure out why. A marine mammal biologist with NOAA’s Marine Fisheries Service tells USA Today that there have been 62 deaths from Louisiana to the Florida panhandle. That was just in the month of March. The average is 18. NOAA says this is the highest number of recorded dolphin deaths in seven years, and they’ve ordered a panel of specialists to investigate.
The General Services Administration is tracking down paintings. The agency is searching for paintings, drawings and sculptures produced by artists paid by the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration. The Washington Post reports that GSA is on the lookout for any WPA art that was misplaced, given away, or stolen when the program ended. GSA’s inspector general got involved in 2001 when some of the art started showing up on eBay and at auction houses. So far they’ve recovered at least 55 pieces. The various pieces of art are valued at $3 dollars up to $250,000 dollars.
** Do you participate in the TSP? Many feds do — but one report shows participation rates are lower among minorities and women. Why? And what can be done?
** And we talk about in-sourcing. Well, the Defense Department has been using what are called High Performing Organizations to ensure that the work is, in fact, performing. GAO has a new assessment — and we’ll talk to them about it.