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News Digest: Feb. 20

Feb. 19, 2012 - 01:13PM   |  
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Don't expect a 2013 pay raise, Hoyer warns

The proposed 2013 pay raise for federal employees is already dead, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., warned Feb. 17.

President Obama earlier last week proposed a 0.5 percent increase to General Schedule pay scales. This would break the current two-year pay freeze, but it would be the smallest pay raise in the GS system's six-decade history.

Republicans are not going to pass a 2013 raise, Hoyer said during House floor debate on the bill to extend the payroll tax cut. That bill includes a provision, which passed the House and Senate on Feb. 17, raising new and rehired feds' retirement contributions.

"This Congress is on the path to be the most anti-federal worker Congress I have served in," Hoyer said.

Execs oppose proposed financial disclosures

The Senior Executives Association is urging Senate leaders to kill a legislative provision that would require online posting of Senior Executive Service members' personal financial disclosure reports.

The proposal, contained in the House-passed version of the STOCK Act, "appears to be a solution in search of a problem," SEA President Carol Bonosaro and General Counsel William Bransford wrote in a letter last week to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

While the original impetus for the legislation was to prevent insider stock trading by members of Congress, the House version would require SES members to report any trades or other financial transactions to the Office of Government Ethics within 30 days, according to the letter. The legislation would also mandate that the annual financial disclosure reports filed with the ethics office be posted on a public website. Those reports now are publicly available only through written request.

Senators to offer reorganization bill

Sens. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and Mark Warner, D-Va., plan to sponsor a bill that would give the Obama administration so-called "fast track" authority to pursue government restructuring.

The administration wants the authority to proceed with a consolidation of agencies handling export and trade functions. Under legislation the White House sent Congress last week, lawmakers would still have the last word on any proposed executive branch reorganization but would have to vote it up or down without amendments.

In a letter to lawmakers accompanying the bill, acting White House budget director Jeffrey Zients said the legislation requires any reorganization to reduce the number of agencies or save money.

Agencies to identify IT systems for sharing

Agencies have until March 1 to identify two information technology services that can be shared departmentwide by year's end.

At the Department of Homeland Security, a board comprising agency leaders and subject-matter experts is working to reduce 124 human resource systems, Chief Information Officer Richard Spires said at a House subcommittee hearing last week. "These methods can and should support implementation of the Shared First initiative," he said.

But Spires said contract language has prevented DHS from expanding the use of some systems beyond the agency that awarded the contract. He is working with contracting officers and the CIO Council to write language that enables sharing.

FCC rejects LightSquared 4G network

The Federal Communications Commission last week rejected plans by wireless broadband firm LightSquared to build a 4G network on spectrum adjacent to Global Positioning System signals.

FCC's decision comes after tests by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and others warned of the harm LightSquared's proposed network would pose to GPS services critical for first responders, the airline industry and others.

In a letter to FCC, NTIA Administrator Lawrence Strickling said his agency's tests show "LightSquared's proposed mobile broadband network will impact GPS services," and there is "no practical way to mitigate the potential interference at this time."

FCC spokeswoman Tammy Sun said FCC may suspend a conditional waiver it granted the company in January 2011 and would issue a public notice seeking comment on NTIA's findings.

In a statement, LightSquared said "it remains committed to finding a resolution with the federal government and the GPS industry to resolve all remaining concerns."

President signs four-year FAA reauthorization

President Obama last week signed a four-year reauthorization of Federal Aviation Administration programs, allowing almost $16 billion in annual spending through fiscal 2015, including money for a next-generation air traffic control system.

The law marks the end of a series of short-term funding extensions dating back to 2007. Last summer, more than 3,700 FAA employees were furloughed for two weeks after Congress let one such extension expire without immediately approving a replacement.

"We're obviously very happy that the bill passed," said Doug Church, a spokesman for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. The bill restores employees' collective bargaining rights, he said, after the agency in 2006 "unilaterally" imposed pay cuts and changes in working conditions.

Justice named least open agency

The Justice Department has earned the Rosemary Award, a dubious distinction for worst open-government performance in 2011 given by the nonprofit National Security Archive.

Justice selectively and abusively prosecuted whistle-blowers, argued for greater secrecy during litigation and proposed regulations that would allow the government to lie in court about the existence of records sought under the Freedom of Information Act, according to the archive, an independent research institute and library at The George Washington University.

The award is named after President Nixon's secretary Rose Mary Woods, who erased 18 minutes of a crucial Watergate tape.

Lab employees complain of micromanagement

A "broken relationship" between the Energy Department's National Nuclear Security Administration and three of its national security laboratories threatens to harm the quality of the scientific research conducted there, according to a new report by the independent National Research Council.

Employees at Los Alamos National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories believe NNSA or its contractors are micromanaging the labs and sometimes over-ruling researchers' scientific judgments, according to the report, released last week.

As a result, researchers are becoming risk averse and potentially biased against experimental research, the report found.

One employee complained that it took a half-page written justification and the approval of at least three people to take a laptop home from work, and the approval of five people to attend a meeting.

NNSA has not responded to the report.

The study, authorized in the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act and sponsored by the Energy Department, also found that the transition of management of the Los Alamos and Livermore labs to contract-ors in 2004 had no impact on the quality of research.

IG: Too many at NASA approve their own travel

Forty-two NASA employees "an inappropriately high number" are allowed to authorize their own travel and approve their own travel reimbursement claims, NASA's inspector general said in a new report. The 42 employees include several associate and assistant administrators at NASA headquarters.

In contrast, only two employees at the Justice Department, which has six times more employees than NASA, have authority to approve their own travel vouchers, the report said.

The 42 NASA employees charged $552,000 to their travel cards between Oct. 1, 2009, and Dec. 31, 2010, with no review from a higher-level official to ensure the costs were reasonable or allowable, the IG found.

NASA officials said they would reduce the number of people authorized to approve their own trips and expenses, and conduct more audits on the trips that those employees take.

Parcels of former Rosie Roads on auction block

An online auction began Feb. 13 for more than 2,000 acres overlooking the Caribbean that was once part of Puerto Rico's bustling Naval Station Roosevelt Roads.

The minimum bid was $10 million for one parcel of nearly 500 acres and $30 million for another parcel of more than 1,500 acres. The two tracts, which make up what was the residential area of a base, are zoned for residential and commercial development.

Puerto Rico's government has acquired more than 6,500 acres of former Navy property around the two parcels and has a develop-ment plan that includes a cruise ship port, hotels and a casino. The Navy attempted to auction the residential parcels in 2008 but did not receive qualified bids.

Air Force flight crews to get iPads

The Air Force's Air Mobility Command may trade 30- to 40-pound manuals for 1-pound iPads for its cargo plane crews.

The popular lightweight computers would replace thousands of pages of instructions, navigation charts, checklists, technical orders, regulations and other documents carried aboard aircraft, said Capt. Kathleen Ferrero, a spokeswoman for the command at Scott Air Force Base, Ill. Called electronic flight bags, the technology would literally put information at a pilot's fingertips, she said.

The Air Force has asked for bids for as many as 18,000 of the Apple tablets or equivalent devices, according to a notice on the FedBizOps website.

"Moving from a paper-based system to an electronically based system" could save the Defense Department time and money, Ferrero said in an email. Each of AMC's aircraft burns through an estimated 70 pounds of paper a month just on updated flight charts.

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