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News briefs: Week of Sept. 30

Sep. 29, 2013 - 02:36PM   |  
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Contract spending ramps up at DoD as year ends

The end-of-year spending rush is in full effect across the Defense Department.

In its Sept. 26 contract announcements, DoD organizations awarded nearly 90 contracts, ranging from about $7 million to more than $4 billion. The latter was a $4.1 billion Army contract for communications and transmissions systems.

“Given the tight fiscal situation, no one wants to leave anything on the table,” said Trey Hodgkins, a senior vice president at TechAmerica. Hodgkins doesn’t believe the potential government shutdown is the driving force behind the flurry of contracts but rather the typical end-of-year rush to spend remaining funds.

DoD contracts awarded last week ranged in type and included firm-fixed-price, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity and contract modifications. The Army, by far, had the most contract awards at 35. The Navy awarded 25, and the Defense Logistics Agency awarded 10 contracts.

USPS says own healthcare plan would save money

Letting the U.S. Postal Service create its own employee healthcare plan is key to return the struggling agency to long-term financial solvency, Postmaster General Pat Donahoe said at a congressional hearing last week.

“We are effectively buying insurance we don’t need, and we’re overpaying for it,” Donahoe told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Under the Postal Service’s proposal, Medicare would replace the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program as the primary insurer for USPS retirees, a step that Donahoe said would save $8 billion annually through 2016.

While the Postal Service and its retirees have paid billions of dollars into Medicare, he said, many retirees “don’t draw the benefits they’re entitled to.” Postal unions oppose the proposal.

Justice eyes UAS policies for law enforcement

A Justice Department working group will explore whether new policies are needed to govern the use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies, following a recommendation by the department’s inspector general.

In a newly released report, the inspector general found that four DOJ components — the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Marshals Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives — have used or tested UASs, although only the FBI has put them to work on actual missions. Because of privacy concerns, the inspector general urged DOJ officials to consider whether a department-wide policy is needed for deployment of unmanned systems.

In response, the department last month decided to convene the working group to address any issues related to the use of UAS for surveillance purposes, according to a DOJ memo attached to the inspector general’s report.

Justice officials will let the IG know once they reach a conclusion, according to the memo from Senior Counsel Trisha Anderson.

Lawmakers debate NSA surveillance changes

Federal lawmakers are debating how the government’s disputed surveillance authority should be changed after a series of unauthorized disclosures by a former National Security Agency contractor raised questions about secret intelligence programs, including the collection of millions of Americans’ phone records.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., opening a new round of public hearings on the matter, said that while she believed the programs are “lawful and effective,” she was nevertheless preparing a legislative proposal that would limit access to the NSA’s massive phone record database.

The proposal also would likely cut the time that the records could be stored, which now stands at five years.

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