Thursday Morning Federal Newscast - January 13th

Thursday - 1/13/2011, 9:36am 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.

  • Customs and Border Protection is planning to reduce the ranks of IT contractors by half. The agency says it's part of an effort to reduce over-reliance on contractors and save $40 million. Last year, CBP had about 3,400 contractors. The agency also plans to hire five hundred new federal employees in 2011.

  • Senate documents say the Pentagon is holding back information on its cyber operations. The Associated Press has obtained a written exchange between the Senate Armed Services Committee and Michael Vickers, the Pentagon's assistant secretary for special operations. The concerns surround a classified report to Congress on secret military activities. That report is missing details about some of DOD's cyber activities. Experts speculate the operations may have involved offensives against insurgents in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somolia. Vickers suggests that disclosing emerging high-tech operations is not required by law.

  • Twenty IRS contractors owe more than $5 million in back taxes and penalties. That's the main finding from a check of 135 contractors conducted by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. Federal Times reports, six of the companies owed back taxes when the IRS awarded them contracts. The IG said contractors to the IRS should be held to the same ethical standard as IRS employees. The audit was completed in September and only came out this week. In the meantime, according to the IG office, 18 of the 20 contractors resolved their tax balances.

  • Today is launch day for a Treasury program to deliver tax refunds on debit cards, instead of checks. The program will reduce the government's cost of issuing refunds. And it will make life easier for low income people without bank accounts. The Wall Street Journal reports, Treasury will notify 600,000 people to activate a debit card that can receive direct deposits.

  • The Small Business Administration is giving grants to big business. SBA will award up to $5 million in grants under its new Small Business Teaming Pilot program. GovExec reports, the grants are to be used by national companies and non-profits to mentor small businesses. The big guys can help the small fry by enlisting them as subcontractors or forming joint ventures with them. The small companies will receive training in customer relations and quality assurance. The program was established by the 2010 Small Business Jobs Act. Grants can be as large as $500,000. SBA will make up to 20 of them in fiscal 2011.

  • A federal judge from southern California has been appointed to the case against the man accused of shooting Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, a federal judge and other federal employees. The appointment of Judge Larry A. Burns came Wednesday after all federal judges in Arizona recused themselves. The recusal order says the Arizona judges' impartiality could be questioned because U.S. District Judge John Roll was killed during the rampage. Roll was the chief federal judge for Arizona.

  • The Food and Drug Administration has a mission related to keeping people alive and healthy. But it helped two states obtain a critical ingredient in executions by lethal injection. The Washington Post reports, the FDA helped Arizona and California officials obtain sodium thiopental, used to put inmates to sleep before they are executed. The drug has been in short supply because of manufacturing problems at its sole U.S. supplier. The FDA intervened to bring in a supply from Great Britain so planned death sentences could be carried out.

  • The Agriculture Department has proposed new federal standards for school lunches. It is the first major nutritional overhaul of school meals in fifteen years. The Associated Press obtained a copy of the guidelines, which require schools to cut sodium by more than half, use more whole grains and serve low fat milk. They also would limit kids to only one cup of starchy vegetables a week.Today's announcement is a proposal. It could be several years before schools would have to make changes.

  • Now that the federal government is legally obligated to foot the bill for its share of stormwater drainage fees, local governments are learning what that's going to mean for them. Maryland Senator Ben Cardin is holding a round-table discussion with state and federal officials today to discuss the bill that was signed into law last week. The law affects jurisdictions nationwide, but will have the greatest impact in D.C, where the feds owe two-point-four million dollars in fees. The feds had argued that the bill is a tax, from which they're exempt. But this legislation removes any ambiguity, prevents the feds from considering the bill a tax, and requires agencies to pay their share.