Wednesday morning federal headlines - Nov. 16, 2011

Wednesday - 11/16/2011, 8:11am EST

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 Postal Service says it lost $5.1 billion last year. It's less than the $10 billion in losses previously estimated. But that's only because an annual payment of $5.5 billion the post office owed the federal government was deferred. It's now due this Friday, and postal leaders say they may still not be able to make the payment. A weak economy and increased use of the Internet has driven down mail volume. Postal officials called the financial situation "dire." Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe has warned of a postal shutdown next year unless there is congressional action to help the agency's long-term money problems. (Federal News Radio)

  • Energy spends too much money operating more than a dozen far-flung laboratories. That's what Energy's Inspector General finds in a new report. The IG is calling for a wholesale restructuring of how the labs are run. The report finds $13 billion was spent on the 16 labs, but 49 percent of that cash went to overhead instead of research. The IG wants energy to create an independent panel to consolidate the labs. The IG also warns Energy workers to brace themselves for painful staff reductions that are certain to come with deep federal budget cuts from Congress. (Energy.gov)

  • The Defense Department's top bargain hunter is promising a revolution in how the Pentagon deals with industry. Shay Assad, director of Defense pricing, says DOD is doing more than increasing the size of its acquisition workforce. It's also giving buyers training and tools to better understand business deals. He's moving all the administrative contracting officers, or ACOs, back together under one roof. Assad is launching integrated analysis teams to assist contracting officers. The changes will all center on the Defense Contract Management Agency. (Federal News Radio)

  • The administration is claiming an $18 billion reduction in improper payments in fiscal 2011. That took the rate of improper payments down to 4.7 percent, compared to 5.3 percent a year earlier. Most of the savings came in the Medicare, Medicaid, Pell Grants and food assistance programs. The White House also unveiled new steps to prevent the government from paying money to the wrong people. It's asking agencies to appoint a senior official responsible for contractor suspensions and debarments. The goal is to make sure the government does business only with reputable companies. (Federal News Radio)

  • The Government Accountability Office is throwing ice water on the administration's claims of savings through contracting reforms. The White House reported savings of $15 billion last year. It says they came from using fewer time-and-material and cost-plus contracts. But GAO says those savings can't be verified. It reports, much of the claimed reduction can be traced to budget cuts at the Defense Department, not better contracting. Procurement chief Dan Gordon disputes GAO's findings. He says auditors took too narrow a view of how to calculate contract savings. (Federal News Radio)

  • The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and Surface Transportation Board top the list of best places to work in the federal government. The Partnership for Public Service released this year's rankings, based on responses from the Office of Personnel Management's Employee Viewpoint Survey. The rankings reflect feds' perception of leadership, work/life balance and teamwork. (Federal News Radio)

  • The space shuttle program may be over, but that hasn't stopped astronauts from traveling to the International Space Station, the Associated Press reported. The Soyuz TMA-22 with NASA astronaut Dan Burbank and two Russian cosmonauts onboard docked with the station several minutes ahead of schedule. The mission's launch had been delayed for two months because of the crash of an unmanned cargo ship in August. American Michael Fossum, along with one Russian and a Japanese astronaut have been onboard since June and should return to Earth next week. (Associated Press)

  • Federal Chief Human Capital Officers will hold speed dating sessions to match experienced HR people with newbies. Kathryn Medina is executive director of the CHCO Council. She says the mentor-protege matching technique has already worked once in a session hosted by Treasury and NASA. Now the council wants to hold four of them next year. In the matchmaking rounds, the mentors meet with potential proteges for a few minutes. Each side gets to meet a dozen people before deciding who to team up with. Medina says it's all aimed at building a better HR workforce through mentoring. (Federal News Radio)