Tuesday morning federal headlines - Feb. 12, 2013

Tuesday - 2/12/2013, 8:21am EST

The Morning Federal Newscast is a daily compilation of the stories you hear Federal Drive hosts Tom Temin and Emily Kopp 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.

  • Secretary of State John Kerry is about to hit the road. The former Massachusetts senator was sworn in Feb. 1. He's spent his first couple of weeks inside Foggy Bottom, getting to know his way around and meeting staff. Now, diplomats say he is ready to visit Europe and the Middle East. He might depart as early as the end of February. His itinerary isn't final yet, but he is expected to visit several European capitals, Israel and Palestinian territories. He might also visit Egypt. Plus, the latest nuclear bomb test in North Korea might present a new diplomatic challenge to the U.S. (Federal News Radio)

  • A hired union gun says the government could avoid employee furloughs by cutting spending on service contracts. The American Federation of Government Employees hired a University of Baltimore Law School professor to do the study. Charles Tiefer's analysis details legal ways the government can void or reduce its contract obligations to make up for sequestration budget cuts. Civilian agencies face some $40 billion in cuts. The government spends about $300 billion each year on service contracts. (Federal News Radio)

  • Public health service officers are trying to amend a Senate bill so that they get paid during a government shutdown. GovExec reports, the Commissioned Officers Association of the U.S. Public Health Service is behind the move. At issue is a bill introduced by Sens. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kans.). It would ensure military personnel and supporting civilians are always paid. The association wants the bill expanded to include all seven uniformed services. As written, it leaves out the U.S. Public Health Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (GovExec)

  • The leader of the House Oversight Committee is vowing "zero tolerance" on government contractors acting badly. Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) has released a draft of the "Suspend Act." It would centralize suspension-and-debarment activities under a new board within the General Services Administration. It would disband the suspension and debarment offices at civilian agencies. Critics of today's decentralized system say it's inconsistent. Each agency treats contractors suspected of fraud, waste or abuse differently. (Federal News Radio)

  • The White House isn't satisfied with millions simply watching tonight's State of the Union speech on television. It's expanding a long roster of follow-up, online efforts to keep the glow alive. A White House blog says staff is creating a week jam-packed with opportunities to respond to the speech. Among the events, during the speech itself, people watching online will see a sidebar full of charts and figures. Afterwards, a panel of aides is taking questions from selected citizens. A new tool called Citizen Response let's people highlight parts of the speech and put them on social media. Later the president, or at least his avatar, will join in what the White House calls virtual fireside hangouts. (White House)