Wednesday Morning Federal Newscast – May 18th

The Morning Federal Newscast is a daily compilation of the stories you hear Federal Drive hosts Tom Temin and Amy Morris discuss throughout the show each day. The Newscast is designed to give FederalNewsRadio.com users more information about the stories you hear on the air.

  • One lawmaker suggests the next step in the debt ceiling crisis could be a delay in pay checks for federal employees. The Treasury Department is already tapping federal retirement funds and delaying investments into those funds – to stay off the federal debt limit until August 2nd. Senator John Kyl of Arizona tells the National Journal, the government will not default on it’s debt. If the U.S. passes the August deadline without raising the debt ceiling, Kyl says the money could delay pay checks to federal employees and members of Congress.
  • The Smithsonian Institution is offering buyouts to its federal employees for the second time in two years. The Smithsonian says budget pressures led to the buyout offer. The museum complex will offer lump-sum payments capped at $25,000 to those who voluntarily resign or retire. They must decide by July 22. 144 federal employees took buyouts from the Smithsonian in 2009. The National Zoo is laying off 7 employees, saying federal funds haven’t kept up with rising costs for animal care. One of those employees shared her situation with President Obama during a televised town hall meeting last week.
  • Delaware Senator Tom Carper has reintroduced a bill to help the U.S. Postal Service back to solvency. The bill would grant USPS more flexibility over its mail delivery schedule. And it would allow reductions in payments to the employee retirement pension funds. The Postal Service reported losses of $2.6 billion for the first six months of the current fiscal year. It expects to lose $8 billion for the year unless it can make changes. Managers want to end Saturday mail delivery. And they say they are forced by law to over-fund the retirement system.
  • The Postal Service needs to start thinking outside the mailbox. The agency spent a billion dollars to service and fuel its vehicles. The Government Accountability Office says that most of the vehicles are approaching the end of their operational lives. GAO auditors say that because the Postal Service is broke, there’s no way they can afford to replace or refurbish the current fleet. The next step, they say, belongs to Congress…which has to come up with a plan to move the postal service back to black.
  • Some veterans are waiting 400 days to have their disability claims processed as they muster out of the Defense Department. In some cases, their lives are on hold while they wait for their status to change from soldier to veteran. At issue is the Integrated Disability Evaluation System. It started as a pilot in 2007, and now is in place at 80 military locations. It’s designed to speed up disability processing by consolidating DOD and VA processes. But the system is meeting its nine-month goal for only 15 percent of active-duty cases. That’s according to documents obtained by the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee and shared with The Associated Press.
  • Nine big agency inspector general positions are vacant, and some on Capitol Hill want the administration to get on the stick and fill them. Federal Times reports a bi-partisan group of eight lawmakers are urging President Obama to find some new IGs. Vacancies are at State, Justice, Homeland Security, Labor and Housing and Urban Development. Some of the slots have been empty for years. Also missing are special IGs for the Troubled Asset Relief Program and Afghanistan Reconstruction. There’s no IG for the Intelligence Community, either. A letter to the president is signed by Senators Joe Lieberman, Susan Collins, Claire McCaskill, and Rob Portman. Signing from the house are representatives Darrell Issa, Elijah Cummings, Jason Chaffetz, and John Tierney.
  • Several pro-immigrant groups have sued the Homeland Security Department over information about a controversial fingerprinting program. NextGov reports plaintiffs filed the Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to get electronic files relating to the Secure Communities Program. Under Secure Communities, local law enforcement checks fingerprints of people booked against a national database. Dangerous aliens are then deported. Critics say the federal government lacks the power to force sharing of fingerprints. DHS has released e-mails and statistical information about the program, but it is trying to block release of file labeling and formatting information, so-called metadata.
  • The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is launching a pilot health care program. CMS is accepting applications from health care institutions to participate in the Pioneer Accountable Care Organization Model program. The Baltimore Business Journal reports that hospital systems and other health care groups have until June 10th to submit letters of interest. CMS says it expects about 30 organizations to participate in the pilot. The coordinated care program is part of the health reform law which passed last year.
  • The Air Force is on the hunt for a new kind of detector – but it’s not for what you might expect. Wired.com reports the device has to be rugged, withstand extreme desert conditions and high winds. It’s target: To detect the Mojave ground squirrel. The little critters live on military property and bombing ranges. The Air Force wants to use the detectors to find the animals and move them to safety. The squirrel is just one of 300 endangered or threatened plant and animal species that call that region home. The Air Force is calling for research proposals to help them develop acoustic technology to make tracking the animals easier.
  • Scientists at the National Zoo say they have detected a rise in hormone levels in the female giant panda. That could mean Mei Xiang is pregnant. Or, it might not mean anything. Zoo veterinarians are conducting ultrasounds twice a week, but haven’t found a fetus yet. A Chinese panda breeding expert helped zoo scientists artificially inseminate Mei Xiang in January. Their only cub, Tai Shan, was born in 2005.

More news links

Hungary tests warning plan with Lord of the Rings (AP via Forbes)

THIS AFTERNOON ON FEDERAL NEWS RADIO

Coming up today on In Depth with Francis Rose:

–Social Security Administrator Michael Astrue on what his agency needs for 2012 and beyond.

–IT management challenges continue at the VA. The Government Accountability Office’s recommendations might keep you off the high-risk list.

–Succeeding at failure is not an oxymoron. Former OFPP Administrator Steve Kelman will tell you why you need to be good at flopping.

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

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