Federal News Digest

A selection of some of the top stories in the news concerning federal agencies and executive branch politics, published every weekday.

Subscribe via RSS or by email:

Your name
Your email

You send any comments about this service to us here.

Federal News Digest — October 5, 2011

Washington Post

President Obama goes on the attack, to Democrats’ delight [President Obama, bipartisanship, politics] – David Nakamura and Paul Kane report that despite President Obama’s low approval rating — even few Democrats believe he has a good chance of re-election — members of Obama’s party do like his new stauncher stance on issues and views

Bernanke tells Congress to cut out the brinkmanship over budget [Federal Reserve, bipartistanship, tax policy, budget deficit] – Neil Irwin and Lori Montgomery report that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has told Congress to stop the battle over tax and spending policy and slash budget deficits more than planned — but slowly enough as to not undermine economic growth

Obama: ‘That’s right — I care’ [President Obama, health-care, Presidential approval] – David Nakamura reports that President Obama has finally come up with a comeback for rivals who derisively refer to his 2009 health-care law as “Obamacare”

Still waiting for air safety improvements [FAA, Transportation Department] – Al Kamen outlines how slowly some regulatory measures tend to move through Washington — highlighting the snail’s pace that air safety regulations are forming after a 2009 airplane crash and lofty promises of change

Spending measure gives Postal Service 6 more weeks to pay [Postal Service, budget] – Ed O’Keefe reports that the House approved a measure that will keep the federal government running through November 18, also giving the Postal Service time to come up with the cash needed to make the annual payments required to prefund the future retirements of its workers

New York Times

A closed-mouth policy even on open secrets [President Obama, open government, C.I.A., drone attacks] – Scott Shane discusses the phenomenon of government information that is public, yet classified — citing the way in which President Obama discussed the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki without mentioning “drone” or “C.I.A.”

G.O.P. accuses Holder of misleading Congress [Attorney General, Operation Fast and Furious] – Charlie Savage reports that some Republican lawmakers are pressing for an investigation of Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., accusing him of misleading Congress during testimony about the investigation into Operation Fast and Furious

Wall Street Journal

Partisan fight flares over new bank fees [President Obama, Dodd-Frank, banking policy] – Victoria McGrane reports that Republicans and banking industry members are blaming increased regulation for the increase in banking fees, just a day after President Obama criticized the increases — this comes after Bank of America announced its plan to add a $5 monthly fee for debit card users to recoup revenue lost undera provision of the 2010 Dodd-Frank law

GOP pushes for jobs-bill vote [American Jobs Act, bipartisanship] – Carol E. Lee and Janet Hook report that congressional Republicans are calling for an immediate vote on President Obama’s American Jobs Act, hoping to expose the limits of the bill’s support within the Democratic party

Phone-subsidy system faces overhaul [FCC, telecommunications] – Amy Schatz reports that the FCC plans to overhaul the Universal Service Fund, an $8 billion federal program which subsidizes phone service in rural areas and to schools, libraries and low-income Americans

Federal News Digest — October 4, 2011

Washington Post

Top federal watchdogs faces budget cuts [Government Accountability Office, federal budget, budget cuts] – Ed O’Keefe reports that the Government Accountability Office — an investigative arm of Congress that uncovers wasteful spending in government — may have its budget cut significantly

Four Loko to relabel cans to show alcohol content [Federal Trade Commission, Food and Drug Administration, food labeling] – Dina ElBoghdady reports that under pressure from the Federal Trade Commission, the manufacturer of the malt drink Four Loko will disclose that one large can contains the same amount of alcohol as four to five cans of beer; the FTC and the Food and Drug Administration have been cracking down on manufacturers of energy drinks popular with teenagers to disclose their alcohol and caffeine content following at least one related death

State Department fiscal 2012 spending bill warrants a closer look [State Dept., Defense Dept., federal budget, foreign policy] – Walter Pincus says that the current budget-cutting environment is a good time to look critically at the State Dept.’s programs, notably the budget for security in connection with aid programs as well as direct support for foreign governments’ military, the largest recipients being Israel and Egypt; the State Dept. claims that foreign assistance gives the U.S. leverage with recipient countries

Obama was advised against visiting Solyndra after financial warnings [Energy Dept., green technologies] – Carol D. Leonnig and Joe Stephens report on emails that reveal the internal White House debate about the wisdom of the president’s personal endorsement of Solyndra, the now bankrupt solar panel manufacturer that received $535 million in loan guarantees from an Energy Dept. program; the authors also look at the broader issue of the government as a business investor

Amanda Knox monitored by State Dept. from the start [State Dept.] – Ed O’Keefe reports that the State Dept. monitored the case of the American college student acquitted of murder in Italy after four years in prison just as it does all Americans incarcerated abroad

New York Times

Report on Medicare cites prescription drug abuse [Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Medicare Part D prescription drug program] – Robert Pear reports that according to the Government Accountability Office, Medicare beneficiaries are able to obtain multiple prescriptions for additive drugs such as OxyContin and Percocet from different physicians, and that Medicare has been slow to investigate the abuse

Foreign aid set to take a hit in U.S. budget crisis [State Dept., President Obama, foreign aid, federal budget] – Steven Lee Myers reports that the budget crisis at home is spurring congressional proposals to cut foreign aid for the first time in about 20 years, even though the number of humanitarian crises have grown; cuts in foreign aid fly in the face of the administration’s “smart power” policy, which emphasizes diplomacy and development as a means of exerting influence overseas

The cronyism behind a pipeline for crude [State Dept., President Obama, government transparency, Keystone pipeline] – Bill McKibben, a scholar and opponent of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, argues that recently released emails between the oil company and a State Department official reveal that back-door politics is alive and well despite President Obama’s pledge that it would not occur on his watch as it had during the Bush administration

Hooray for federal loans! [Energy Dept., federal loans, green technologies] – Joe Nocera of The Times defends the Energy Dept. loan guarantee program now being vilified because of one loan recipient’s – Solyndra’s – collapse; he argues that the federal government is correct in investing in businesses that have already attracted private capital because the private financial sector is mostly sitting on its hands

Wall Street Journal

Panetta moves to jump-start Israel, Palestinian talks [Defense Secretary Panetta, Mideast] – Julian E. Barnes reports that the Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, is in the Middle East meeting with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in the latest U.S. effort to restart peace talks

Arctic Ocean drilling approved [Interior Dept., environment, oil-drilling] – Tennille Tracy reports that the Interior Dept. will uphold the approximately 500 leases to drill oil off the coast of Alaska that were granted during the Bush administration despite  opposition by environmentalists

Trade pacts set for heated fight [President Obama, international trade] – Elizabeth Williamson reports that the president has submitted trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama to Congress for its approval; the agreements are seen as boosting agricultural exports but is controversial because it could lead to a decline in other industries, which is why the package includes a Trade Adjustment Assistance program for displaced American workers

Federal News Digest — October 3, 2011

Washington Post

Keystone pipeline emails show friendly exchanges [State Dept., environment, Keystone pipeline] – Juliet Eilperin and Steven Mufson report on emails that suggest the State Dept. official overseeing energy issues at the U.S. Embassy in Canada was biased in favor of the Keystone pipeline that would run from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico; the State Dept. has not yet given its final recommendation on the project, which is opposed by environmental groups

To boost flagging economy, U.S. wants to import more shoppers [Commerce Dept., tourism, U.S. economy] – Yian Q. Mui reports that both federal and state governments are enticing tourists from China and Brazil, whose economies are strong, to visit the U.S. to make up for the decline in domestic consumer spending

Supreme Court term will include cases highlighting extent of federal power [Supreme Court, Federal Communications Commission, Affordable Care Act, immigration] – Robert Barnes reports that the cases selected for the Supreme Court’s review this year include several that challenge the federal government’s reach in areas such as healthcare, immigration, and broadcasting, and that the outcomes will be scrutinized for their political implications

Homeland Security tries to shore up nation’s cyber defenses [Homeland Security, National Security Agency, cybersecurity] – Ellen Nakashima reports on the efforts of the Department of Homeland and the CIA to monitor and guard against a cyber attack on U.S. infrastructure as systems that affect supplies of food, fuel, and other basic services are increasingly digitally interconnected

Salmonella stays with chickens, from birth to kitchen [Agriculture Dept., food safety] – Jeffrey Benzing, Esther French, and Judah Ari Gross report on the ease with which the potentially deadly salmonella bacteria can be carried by poultry all the way to market, yet the Agriculture Department’s Food Safety and Inspection Service is not permitted to test for salmonella at its source, a reflection of the lapses in the food safety system in the U.S.

New York Times

New state rules raising hurdles at voting booth [Justice Dept., Voting Rights Act] – Michael Cooper reports that some fear new state voting procedures – such as requiring photo identification – could depress voter turnout to the detriment of traditionally Democratic voters

A broader G.I. bill [Veterans Administration, G.I. bill] – The Times applauds the expansion of education programs covered by the G.I. bill for veterans, but urges Congress to keep an eye on the non-degree institutions and programs that may see the increased benefits as a way to make money without delivering on services

Success battling terrorists, but scant glory for it [President Obama, terrorism, economy, presidential approval rating] – Jackie Calmes describes how President Obama’s success in battling terrorism has been overshadowed by his inability to fight American unemployment

Wall Street Journal

FDIC’s latest closing: its own offices [Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.] – Victoria McGrane reports that the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., which oversees bank closures, is shutting two of the three offices it set up since 2008 to handle the wave of bank closures following the financial collapse

Home-health firms blasted [Justice Dept., Medicare fraud] – John Carreyrou reports that a Senate Finance Committee report found that the three largest home-health care companies tailored their services to Medicare reimbursement rules in order to maximize profits; one of the companies, LHC Group, recently agreed to a $65 million settlement with the Justice Dept. related to the company’s billing for unnecessary services

Airlines want satellite-aided airport approaches [Federal Aviation Administration] – Andy Pazstor reports that an FAA advisory committee recommends interim upgrades of air-traffic control systems that would allow airlines to use on-board satellite navigation systems – which would reduce fuel use – as a short-term fix to the navigation and traffic control system rather than hold out for a system-wide conversion from ground-navigation to satellite-based navigation

Federal News Digest — September 30, 2011

Washington Post

Obama administration widens challenges to state immigration laws [Dept. of Justice, immigration, state rights] – Jerry Markon reports that despite a ruling upholding an Alabama law that allows the use of school records to ferret out illegal immigrants – a measure challenged by the Justice Dept.– the Dept. is considering challenging several other state immigration laws on the basis that they undermine federal immigration policy

Chu takes responsibility for a loan deal that put more taxpayer money at risk in Solyndra [Dept. of Energy, Energy Secretary Chu, federal loan guarantees, green technology] – Carol D. Leonnig and Joe Stevens report that Energy Secretary Steven Chu approved a restructuring agreement for the now bankrupt solar panel manufacturing company, Solyndra under which the company continued to receive federal funds even after it was “technically” in default on loans under an Energy Dept. program designed to spur growth in the clean technology sector

LightSquared, FCC face criticism from Republican lawmakers [Federal Communications Commission, National Telecommunications and Information Administration] – Cecelia Kang reports that the FCC’s approval of a satellite-based cellphone network is under fire from some in Congress who claim the government may have to spend billions to retrofit Global Positioning Satellite equipment used by federal agencies and the military in order for LightSquared’s network to operate interference-free, although the company estimates the cost to the federal government at $50 million

State, local pensions continue to recover [Census Bureau, pensions] – Michael A. Fletcher reports that according to the Census Bureau, pension funds have gained ground since the financial collapse of 2008, attributable to gains in investments and tougher state and local laws governing pension funds

New York Times

Some common ground for legal adversaries on Health Care [Dept. of Justice, Medicare, Affordable Care Act] – Adam Liptak reports that there are areas of agreement between the Justice Dept. and states, which are asking the Supreme Court to decide the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act; the key point of disagreement is the constitutionality of the Act’s requirement that everyone purchase health insurance

Cash-short, U.S. weighs asset sales [Federal Communications Commission, Pentagon, U.S. Postal Service, NASA, federal deficit] – Edward Wyatt reports that the administration is planning to sell everything from its real estate holdings – including airfields and an island used for military testing – to broadcast licenses, to bring in an estimated $22 billion over the next decade and help pay down the deficit, and that the proposal has rare bipartisan support

Wall Street Journal

Fed’s twist may prompt bigger turn [Federal Reserve] – Matt Phillips reports that the Federal Reserve’s plan to purchase long-term Treasury bonds with money from the sale of its short-term bonds, known as  “Operation Twist” – the Fed’s latest effort to spur borrowing and economic growth – may have a greater, more positive impact than initially thought

FAA to boost co-pilot training [Federal Aviation Administration, Transportation Dept., Office of Management and Budget] – Andy Pazstor reports that the Federal Aviation Administration plans to raise the number of hours required for a co-pilot, but not as much as Congress would like

Washington’s quiet disaster [Dept. of Education, Congressional Budget Office student loans] – The Journal argues that creative accounting hides the real cost of student loans and that it is greater than the 8% default rate suggests

Federal News Digest — September 29, 2011

Washington Post

EPA needed more data before ruling on greenhouse gas emissions, report says [EPA, climate change, environmental regulation] – Juliet Eilperin reports that the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Inspector General found that the agency should have conducted a more detailed scientific review before making its decision two years ago that greenhouse-gas emissions pose a threat to public health and welfare

Loosing the reins on ‘No Child Left Behind’: Tending grandsons, and schools [President Obama, No Child Left Behind, education] – Jay Mathews likens President Obama’s decision to issue waivers to schools for the No Child Left Behind law to looking after his grandchildren; Mathews says his (and Obama’s supposedly) laissez-faire method allows for greater creativity and creates less paperwork

Justice Dept. asks Supreme Court to review health-care law [Justice Department, President Obama, health-care] – Robert Barnes reports that the Obama administration is pushing the Supreme Court to make a ruling on the constitutionality of the newest health-care law, which means that the ruling is likely to be handed down in the midst of the 2012 Presidential race

A bogus chart on Obama and the debt gets a new lease on life [President Obama, national debt] – Glenn Kessler dissects a factually incorrect, Obama-postiive bar graph on the national debt

Solyndra violated loan terms in 2010 but got more federal money, DOE confirms [Department of Energy, green energy, federal funds] – Carol D. Leonnig reports that after it was known that Solyndra was violating terms of its federal loan, the Department of Energy modified the loan terms so that the energy company could still receive taxpayer funds

New York Times

U.S. backs new loans for projects on energy [Department of Energy, solar energy, government loans and grants] – Matthew L. Wald reports that in the wake of the massively expensive Solyndra loan problem, the Energy Department has issued $1.07 billion in loan guarantees to two solar energy production plants, with plans to announce another $156 million in grants for high-risk but potentially high-reward research projects

Rape definition too narrow in federal statistics, critics say [government standards, sexual assault definition] – Erica Goode reports that the federal definition of rape is narrow enough to exclude thousands of sexual assaults each year; too-rigid standards leads to underreporting and less government attention being paid to the issue

Wall Street Journal

Jobless claims tumble [unemployment] – Jeff Bater and Jamila Trindle reports that the number of new unemployment claims fell sharply last week, though it did little to change the overall picture of the economy for that period

Catholics fight health rules [HHS, healthcare, religious views] – Kris Maher reports that Catholic organizations are protesting the healthcare mandate that health insurance cover contraceptives, saying that the rule might force them to drop coverage; the Department of Health and Human Services has already exempted caregivers from providing services that conflict with their religious beliefs

White House, Pentagon jostle over extent of Pakistan-Militant ties [White House, Pakistan, international relations] – Adam Entous and Julian E. Barnes report that the White House stated that Pakistan must work to cut ties with militant groups, but were reluctant to definitively answer if they saw the situation the same way as U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen

Free ride ends for Marshals [U.S. Marshals, government-owned vehicles] – Devlin Barrett reports that U.S. Marshals will no longer use the 152 “take home” government-owned sport-utility vehicles assigned to its Arlington, Va. headquarters, which employees were using for their commutes into work

Bernanke: Fed prepared to act [Federal Reserve, economy] – Luca Di Leo reports that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is ready to take further unconventional steps should the U.S. economy remain weak

Federal News Digest — September 28, 2011

Washington Post

Postal Service employees rallying nationwide to support reform bill (United States Postal Service, labor unions, jobs) – Ed O’Keefe reports that postal workers across the country are rallying in hopes of gaining support for Democratic-backed legislation supported by their labor unions that they think would best fix the Postal Service’s financial problems

Federal Diary: Health insurance costs rise at lower rate, but they still rise (health insurance, federal workers) – Joe Davidson reports that health insurance costs for non-postal federal employees will raise an average of 3.8% in 2012 — the lowest increase in years, but still an increase

Obama causing backlog in clemency positions, report says (President Obama, criminal pardons) – Ed O’Keefe reports that a Justice Department audit has found a growing backlog of requests for clemency, as President Obama has infrequently used his power to pardon

Promoting jobs bill in Denver, Obama highlights $60 billion for schools (President Obama, American Jobs Act, education) – David Nakamura reports that President Obama’s largest allowance in the American Jobs Act is $60 billion for schools — $30 billion for renovating high schools and community colleges, $30 billion for better teacher retention

New York Times

Deaths from cantaloupe listeria rise (food safety) – William Neuman reports that at least 13 people in the U.S. have died as a result of eating Colorado cantaloupe contaminated with listeria

Health insurers push premiums sharply higher (President Obama, Affordable Care Act, healthcare, health insurance costs) – Reed Abelson and Nina Bernstein report that American health insurance costs have risen sharply this year, in the wake of the passing of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act; some say that insurers are rising rates before the mandate in 2012 where they must then justify cost increases

Even those cleared of crimes can stay on F.B.I.’s watch list (F.B.I., terrorism) – Charlie Savage reports that the F.B.I. is permitted to keep people on the government’s watch list even if they have been acquitted of terrorism-related offenses or have had their charges dropped

Wall Street Journal

Fed officials hit road to defend latest push (Federal Reserve, Treasury, economy) – Michael S. Derby reports that Federal Reserve officials are hitting the public speaking circuit to promote their latest move to boost the economy, selling $400 billion of its U.S. Treasury securities maturing in the next three years, to be replaced with longer-term bonds

Coast Guard, Transocean look into Gulf oil sheen (Coast Guard, environment, Gulf of Mexico oil spill) – Ben Lefebvre reports that the U.S. Coast Guard and Transocean Ltd. are working together to figure out if the oil sheens currently popping up in the Gulf of Mexico are the result of last year’s Deepwater Horizon rig explosion

Federal News Digest — September 27, 2011

Washington Post

Senate leaders announce bipartisan agreement to avert government shutdown (Federal Emergency Management Agency, federal budget) – Paul Kane and Rosalind S. Helderman report that the Senate and House agreed to a compromise that provides additional disaster relief funds for FEMA at the lower level desired by House Republicans and will fund the government until November 18

Some clean energy firms found U.S. loan-guarantee program a bad bet (Energy Dept., Office of Management and Budget, Treasury Dept., green technology) – Steven Mufson and Carol D. Leonnig examine the Energy Dept.’s loan guarantee program that left the government on the hook for $535 million due to the collapse of solar panel manufacturer Solyndra; the authors find  that the program has been hampered by too much bureaucracy, understaffed and underfunded, without enough flexibility to respond to changing a marketplace

Decision on health-care law means Supreme Court will likely determine constitutionality next summer (Justice Dept., American Care Act, healthcare) – Robert Barnes reports that by deciding not to appeal a ruling by justices of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals that the Affordable Care Act was unconstitutional, the department’s next step would be an appeal to the Supreme Court; appellate courts are split on the constitutionality of the law

Gulf oil spill could cause lasting damage to fish populations, study finds (National Science Foundation, oil spill) – Juliet Eilperin reports that a study of the ecological impact of the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico last spring, funded in part by the National Science Foundation, found that “killfish” have cellular abnormalities

Alaska ‘bridge to nowhere,’ the Knik Arm Crossing Project, still on the table (federal budget, earmarks) – Steven Mufson reports that the $4 billion bridge project connecting Anchorage to a nearby peninsula, which became emblematic of government waste in the 2008 presidential election, is still being pursued

New York Times

Pakistanis tied to 2007 border ambush on Americans (Pentagon, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Pakistan, Afghanistan) – Carolotta Gall reports on a 2007 Pakistani assault on U.S. service personnel in Afghanistan by Pakistani militants and possibly members of the Pakistani intelligence service that was kept quiet in order to maintain the delicate partnership between the U.S. and Pakistan

S.&P. target of inquiry in securities (Securities and Exchange Commission, ratings agencies) – Louise Story reports that for the first time, the Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating the ratings agency Standard and Poor’s in connection with its evaluation of Delphinus, one of many “collateralized debt obligations” that bundled mortgage bonds, including high risk mortgage loans, which contributed to the housing market collapse

The Pentagon and the budget deficit (Penatgon, federal budget) – The Times argues that the government needs to reform military pay, pensions and retiree health care benefits, which rose 50% in the last ten years

Wall Street Journal

Freddie faulted on mortgage reviews (Federal Housing Finance Agency, Freddie Mac, mortgage default) – Nick Timiraos reports that according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency’s inspector general, Freddie Mac could have recouped billions from Bank of America in its settlement over mortgage foreclosures through loan buy-backs

U.S. probes Motorola Solutions (Dept. of Justice, Securities and Exchange Commission, Foreign Corrupt Practices Act) – Joseph Palazzolo reports that the Justice Dept. and the Securities and Exchange Commission are investigating whether Motorola Solutions Inc. violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act by bribing European officials to win business

Federal News Digest — September 26, 2011

Washington Post

Military spearheads clean-energy drive (Defense Dept., green technology) – Juliet Eilperin reports on the Defense Dept.’s utilization of biofuels and solar power in its effort to lead the way in the use of sustainable energy resources, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and cut energy costs; some question whether the Pentagon, as opposed to the private sector, should be financing green technologies

Amid new guidelines, Va. woman’s deportation case comes down to last minute (Immigration and Customs Enforcement, immigration, deportation) – Eli Saslow examines how the Obama administration’s new deportation policy, which focuses on deporting illegal immigrants with criminal backgrounds, delays but does not waive deportation for law-abiding immigrants with strong ties to the U.S.

Pentagon may cap executive pay reimbursement at $694,000 (Pentagon, Defense Contract Audit Agency, Office of Management and Budget, government contracts) – Brian Friel reports that Defense Dept. authorization bills in Congress would further limit government reimbursement of defense contractors’ salary and benefits; a bill passed by the House imposes limitations on all defense contractor employees, whereas a Senate version would only cap compensation for managers and executives

New York Times

Flood victims getting fed up with Congress (Federal Emergency Management Agency, disaster relief) – Robert Pear reports that flood victims in northeastern Pennsylvania are disgusted with the bickering and threats of a budget shutdown over disaster relief; a series of natural disasters in recent months that have diminished FEMA’s disaster relief fund

Sentencing shifts gives new leverage to prosecutors (criminal justice) – Richard A. Oppel investigates the impact of tougher sentencing guidelines and greater prosecutorial discretion on the criminal justice system: a significant reduction in the number of felony cases that go to trail; but it has some worried that they also effectively limit an accused person’s right to a trial

Wall Street Journal

New tool in skin-cancer fight (Food and Drug Administration, cancer) – Thomas M. Burton reports that after seven years, Mela Sciences is winning the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of its skin-cancer detection system

Inside the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) – The Journal argues that the EPA’s air quality regulations and its promotion of green technology undermine the nation’s electric power grid, and that there are critics of EPA’s rules within the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which oversees the grid

Obama presses education plan (President Obama, No Child Left Behind, education) – Jared A. Favole reports that President Obama used his weekly radio address to tout the administration’s decision to grant waivers to states from the too-rigid requirements of No Child Left Behind; the Republican response was criticism of what it views as over-regulation by the administration

The economy needs a regulation time-out (FDA, EPA, government regulation) – Sen. Susan Collins (R-Me.) argues that government regulations are hurting small businesses and costing jobs

Federal News Digest — September 23, 2011

Washington Post

Pakistan backed attacks on American targets, U.S. says (Joint Chiefs of Staff, Defense Secretary Panetta, Pakistan) – Karen DeYoung reports on the congressional testimony of Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that Pakistan’s intelligence service was involved in the Taliban’s attack on the U.S. Embassy and NATO compound; Defense Secretary Panetta who also testified, would not say how the U.S. planned to respond; meanwhile Pakistan denies complicity in the attack

Dead federal retirees paid $120 million yearly, report says (Office of Personnel Management, federal budget) – Ed O’Keefe reports that according to the Office of Personnel Management’s inspector general, the federal government made payments of $601 million to dead federal retirees between 2005 and 2008 and OPM is taking steps to recover the funds; overall the federal government paid $125 billion in improper payments to contractors and beneficiaries in 2010

Obama to issue No Child Left Behind waivers to states (Dept. of Education, President Obama, No Child Left Behind) – Lyndsey Layton reports that as many as 45 states may take advantage of waivers from No Child Left Behind that the administration will make available to states that adopt “rigorous” programs to improve student performance; under No Child, large numbers of schools would be penalized for failing to meet proficiency standards in math and reading by 2014

TransCanada pipeline lobbyist works all the angles with former colleagues (Secretary of State, Keystone pipeline, lobbyists) – Juliet Eilperin and Steven Mufson report that according to email records, a former deputy campaign manager for Secretary of State Clinton’s presidential bid is calling on former colleagues in the Secretary’s inner circle to win a positive environmental assessment from the department for the 1,700 mile Keystone pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico

Former SEC official denies Madoff ‘conflict’ (Securities and Exchange Commission, Bernard Madoff) – David S. Hilzenrath reports that at a congressional hearing, former SEC general counsel, David M. Becker responded to the agency’s inspector general’s allegations that he improperly participated in decisions affecting victims of Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme – including Becker’s mother’s estate – saying he consulted the agency’s ethics officer about his conflict

NASA hedges satellite-crash predictions (NASA, space junk) – Joel Achenbach discusses NASA’s struggle to predict the path of the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite, which is currently headed toward earth

New York Times

House passes new version of stopgap spending measure (Federal Emergency Management Agency, disaster relief, federal budget) – Robert Pear reports that the House passed a measure to fund the government beyond October 1, averting a government shutdown; the measure rescinds Energy Dept. funds designated for Solyndra, the now bankrupt solar panel manufacturing company, but it does not increase the amount for Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster relief fund as Senate Democrats had wanted

In rush to assist Solyndra, U.S. missed warning signs (Energy Dept., green technology) – Eric Lipton and John M. Broder investigate the rise and fall of a company touted by the president as an example of job growth through green technology, which was granted $535 million in loan guarantees and is now bankrupt and the subject of investigations by Department of Energy’s inspector general and the Department of Justice; they report on  the company’s White House connections and its expensive lobbying campaign to win the loan guarantees

The Fed defies the G.O.P. (Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke) – The Times calls Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s latest plan to boost the economy – purchasing $400 billion worth of long-term Treasury bonds with the proceeds of the sale of short-term bonds – courageous in the face of withering criticism and a request by the Republican leadership to refrain from bond purchasing

Wall Street Journal

Reports fault regulator of Fannie, Freddie (Federal Housing Finance Agency, Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, home mortgages) – Nick Timiraos reports that according to the inspector general of the Federal Housing Finance Agency that oversees mortgage loan giants Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, the agency lacked the resources – specifically the necessary number of examiners – to oversee them; the IG also concluded that the agency failed to follow up on risk management deficiencies in Fannie cited by FHFA in 2006, which could have averted abuses in the foreclosure process

EPA to enforce earlier standard on ozone levels (Environmental Protection Agency, air pollution, ozone standards) – Tennille Tracy reports that the Environmental Protection Agency’s Administrator Lisa Jackson announced that the agency will enforce an ozone standard adopted three years ago in light of the administration’s withdrawal of a proposed tougher standard; the 2008 standard is more stringent that its predecessor, adopted in 1997

Long-term care program in doubt (Health and Human Services, American Care Act) – Janet Adamy reports that due to fiscal constraints, the Department of Health and Human Services said the administration may not pursue a long-term health program known as the Class Act, which helps with basic needs of those too old or too sick to care for themselves and was part of the healthcare overhaul law

Federal News Digest — September 22, 2011

Washington Post

Markets tumble after Fed says it will buy longer-term bonds to try to boost economy (Federal Reserve, economy, Treasury bonds) – Neil Irwin reports that the stock market plunged following the Federal Reserve’s announcement of “Operation Twist,” under which the Fed will purchase $400 billion in long-term Treasury bonds with the proceeds of its sale of short-term bonds; the stock market reacted to the Fed’s gloomy economic outlook

Obama prepares to revamp ‘No Child Left Behind’ (Dept. of Education, No Child Left Behind, education reform) – Lyndsey Layton reports that Education Secretary Duncan will announce guidelines for broad waivers of the much-criticized law that bases teacher firings and school closings on test scores; the new guidelines will change the program considerably and some legislators say the Secretary is circumventing the legislative process

Young adults gain health insurance under new law (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Care Act, health insurance, young people) – N.C. Aizenman reports that according to the Centers for Disease Control, about a million more young adults are covered by health insurance as a result of the 2010 healthcare law that requires health insurance coverage be extended to the children of insured until they reach 26

Solyndra employees: Company suffered from mismanagement, heavy spending (Energy Dept., green energy, Solyndra) – Carol D. Leonnig and Joe Stephens report that according to employees of the bankrupt solar panel manufacturer, the company spent lavishly and expanded unnecessarily after the Energy Dept. awarded it $535 million in loan guarantees

At Medal of Honor event, the story left untold (Pentagon, Medal of Honor, Afghanistan) – David Nakamura reports on the backstory of the ambush in Afghanistan that led to the awarding of a Medal of Honor to former Marine Dakota Meyer, including the bravery of other Marines, one of whom is belatedly being considered for the Medal; an internal investigation was critical of the decision to withhold air strikes, which the Marines believe led to the deaths of their fellow soldiers

Court allows challenge of U.S. surveillance law (Justice Dept., Patriot Act, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) – Ellen Nakashima reports that a divided federal court ruled that a challenge to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act by civil liberties and human rights groups may go forward

New York Times

Public said to be misled on use of the Patriot Act (Justice Dept., FBI, Patriot Act, wiretap) – Charlie Savage reports on Senators’ claims that the Justice Dept. has made incorrect statements about the provision of the Patriot Act that empowers a secret national security court to grant government requests for wiretaps

Obama rebuffed as Palestinians pursue U.S. seat (President Obama) – Helene Cooper and Steven Lee Myers report on President Obama’s speech to the U.N. opposing Palestinian statehood through the international body, and the opposition to the president’s stance; the authors report that the tide is shifting away from the U.S. playing the central role in Mideast peace efforts

Judge rejects challenge to voting rights law by county in Alabama (Justice Dept., voting rights) – Campbell Robertson reports that a federal judge rejected a lawsuit by Shelby County, Alabama seeking to overturn the requirement that it obtain “preclearance” from the Justice Dept. or a panel of judges for any changes to its voting procedures based on its past discrimination; preclearance is required under the Voting Rights Act, which was extended in 2006 for another 25 years

Wall Street Journal

‘Stingray’ phone tracker fuels constitutional clash (FBI, warrantless search, computer hacking) – Jennifer Valentino-Devries reports on a case challenging the use of a secret device used to track a computer hacker that that FBI claims is an essential tool but must remain secret, as privacy laws try to keep pace with advances in technology

FDA reviews heart rhythm drug (Food and Drug Administration) – Thomas M. Burton reports on pressure on the FDA to reconsider Multaq, a drug approved for the treatment of atrial fibrillation, a common form of abnormal heartbeat; doctors say the drug is dangerous

Organ Donor to be screened for infections by new test (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) – Laura Landro reports that the CDC has proposed that organ donors be screened for infectious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C and B; the recommendation is subject to a 60-day public comment period