Thursday morning federal headlines - Sept. 8

Thursday - 9/8/2011, 8:40am EDT

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.

  • The Homeland Security Department is spending the week both celebrating its post-9/11 role and promising to do a better job of managing itself. Staff members, from Secretary Janet Napolitano on down, are testifying at House and Senate hearings and participating in forums and conferences throughout Washington. DHS has, since it's inception, provided fulltime work for at least one other agency — the Government Accountability Office. GAO has made 1,500 recommendations over the eight-year history of DHS. Yesterday, the GAO released its latest report. True to form, auditors found both progress and areas needing improvement. (Federal News Radio)

  • When it comes to managing agency finances, many federal beancounters still wear green eyeshades. Maybe not literally, but a new survey by the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform shows lots of manual data-entry taking place in systems for accounting, contracts and grants. That report was issued by Chairman Darrell Issa. He found that 21 of 26 departments and agencies surveyed still use manual processes. Interior is the worst, using ledger books and keyboarding in nearly every step of its financial processes. Both the Bush and Obama administrations have struggled to modernize executive branch finance systems. (Federal News Radio)

  • The government is getting organized about keeping counterfeit products out of its supply chain. Victoria Espinel, the White House coordinator for intellectual property enforcement, is heading an interagency working group looking into the matter. It plans to make recommendations to the president later this year. The group will consider at legislation, new procurement regulations, and better training. Espinel said counterfeit products are produced by highly organized criminal groups, which have found their way into the supply chains of both civilian and defense agencies. (Federal News Radio)

  • Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson traveled to Cuba, seeking the release of an American government subcontractor. The subcontractor, Alan Gross, was sentenced to 15 years in prison for bringing communications equipment into Cuba. A State Department spokeswoman said the administration is aware of Richardson's trip and supports his efforts. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been unable to convince the Castro regime to release Gross. Gross, a Maryland native, was distributing satellite phones to Jewish groups in Cuba under a USAID grant. His jailing has further chilled relations between the United States and Cuba. (Federal News Radio)

  • Government auditors reported hundreds of millions of dollars in stimulus money going unspent at the Energy Department. Nearly $880 million remains of the $2.7 billion given to help boost energy efficiency and create jobs. Energy's Inspector General said the unspent money undermines the purpose of the stimulus law — to promptly stimulate the economy. The Recovery Act money was given more than two years ago. The IG recommended returning the money to Treasury if recipients fail to spent the cash. The Energy Department said it had a slow start but is ramping up its outreach to local and state governments to boost spending on projects and grants. (Federal News Radio)

  • The Obama Administration is guaranteeing loans for a massive military solar energy project. The Energy Department said it's helping to finance plans to place solar panels on 160,000 homes across 124 military bases in 33 states. Energy Secretary Steven Chu called it the largest domestic residential rooftop solar project in history. Chu also said he expects the project to create hundreds of jobs and provide clean, renewable power to military families. The first military base project is already under way at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii. When done, about 2,000 military homes will be powered by solar at that one base alone. (Federal News Radio)

  • Twenty-three remain in the 2011 fiscal year, and lawmakers are not optimistic about passing a 2012 budget. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said there's "zero" chance of passing a full appropriations bill for 2012, Federal Times reports. McKeon said Congress will have to pass a continuing resolution if it wants to keep federal agencies funded past Sept. 30th. Congress used seven continuing resolutions last year before passing a 2011 spending bill more than seven months into the fiscal year. That pattern looks poised to repeat itself, McKeon said. (Federal Times)