Marci Greenstein’s Articles

Federal News Digest — October 24, 2011

Washington Post

Obama’s effort to aid home owners, boost housing market fall short of goals [President Obama, Treasury Secretary Geithner, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Donovan, economy, housing market] – Zachary A. Goldfarb interviews scores of former and current administration officials and housing experts to find out why the administration’s initiatives aimed at rescuing the housing market have not worked; he finds some consensus that they were not bold enough and underestimated the mortgage crisis and its long-term effect on the economy

Clinton warns Iran not to ‘miscalculate’ U.S. resolve as troops leave Iraq [Secretary of State, Iran, Iraq] – N.C. Aizenman reports on Secretary of State Clinton’s efforts to tamp down concerns about Iran’s influence in Iraq after the U.S. withdraws troops from Iraq, saying that the U.S. will remain engaged in the region

Bidding wars heat up at VA under new chief buyer’s centralized strategy [Dept. of Veterans Affairs, government contracts] – Kathleen Miller of Bloomberg Government reports how Retired Army Col. Jan Frye — the new Veterans Affairs official responsible for acquisitions described as a “change agent” — is streamlining and cutting costs in the department’s acquisition process

SBA proposes tougher penalties for companies that misrepresent their size [Small Business Administration] – Marjorie Censer reports that the Small Business Administration has proposed rules requiring contractors that are later found ineligible for small business set-asides based on their size to forfeit payment even if they already provided services; in the past, contractors have successfully argued that they should be compensated for work performed

FDA inspectors not keeping pace with food imports [Food and Drug Administration, food safety] – Brad Racino reports that the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t have nearly enough food inspectors to monitor imported food, which increases yearly

State Department’s police training program in Iraq lacks planning, report says [State Dept., Iraq] – Ed O’Keefe previews a report by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction that questions the spending – $8 billion since 2003 – to train the Iraqi police force; its audit found that the State Dept., which is now responsible for the training, is spending only 12% of funds on advising the police force, with the remainder going toward security

New York Times

Panetta’s Pentagon, without the blank check [Defense Secretary Panetta, federal budget] – Peter Baker reports on the challenges for the Secretary of Defense in transforming the military into a lean operation while maintaining military readiness and limiting the economic impact of the budget cuts; the author examines Panetta’s successful role in Congress and as head of government agencies, which will come in handy in making $450 billion in Pentagon cuts over 10 years ordered by Congress

Jobs plan stalled, Obama to try new economic drive [President Obama, jobs] – Jackie Calmes reports that on the heels of Republicans’ refusal to bring President Obama’s jobs bill to a vote, and instead of waiting for Congress to act on any of his initiatives, Obama will use executive tools such as modifying federal regulations to address issues such as housing, education, healthcare, and aid to small businesses

Nuclear talks with North Korea begin in Geneva [State Dept., Pentagon, North Korea, nuclear weapons] – Nick Cumming-Bruce reports that the U.S. and North Korea met for the first round of talks on nuclear arms reduction since 2008

Wall Street Journal

Home lending revamp planned [Federal Housing Finance Agency, home mortgages] – Nick Timiraos previews the administration’s plan to loosen refinancing restrictions for homeowners whose mortgages are “underwater,” or  greater than the value of their home

U.S. withdraws ambassador to Syria [State Dept., Syria] – Nour Malas reports that the U.S. has recalled its ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, because of concerns about his personal safety; Ford had clashed with the Assad government for traveling within Syria to monitor the ongoing rebellion against Assad’s rule and meeting with opposition leaders

Panetta assures on U.S. in Asia [Defense Secretary Panetta] – Adam Entous reports that Secretary of Defense Panetta told the Association of Southeast Asian Nations meeting in Indonesia that with the U.S. reducing its military presence in Iraq, it will expand its diplomatic and military presence in the Pacific; he took a notably conciliatory tone toward China

So much for the Volcker ruleThe Journal mocks the 298 page draft of the Volcker Rule – a part of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law which was intended to “limit risk-taking at financial firms backed by taxpayers” that the paper says contains more questions than answers

Federal News Digest — October 21, 2011

Washington Post

President Obama points to value of ‘collective action’ in Libya [President Obama, Libya, Gaddafi] – Scott Wilson and Karen DeYoung consider the president’s “back seat” role for the U.S. in bringing down Moammar Gaddafi a reflection of his foreign policy of using the U.S. military strategically and in concert with allies, which they contend contrasts with George W. Bush’s costly invasion of Iraq that ended Sadam Hussein’s reign

ACLU says FBI uses profiling against Muslims, other minorities [FBI, racial profiling] – Jerry Markon reports that FBI internal memos obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union reveal that the FBI uses Census data to target areas where large populations of certain racial and ethnic groups, such as Muslims reside; the FBI defends its tactics as standard crime fighting procedures, and notes that Muslim extremists recruit from Muslim populations so that monitoring communities in which there is a high concentration of Muslims such as in the Detroit area just makes sense

Educational tax credit mistakenly claimed by millions [IRS, tax credits] – Ed O’Keefe reports that according to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, 1.7 million Americans mistakenly claimed $2.6 billion in education tax credits last year

Clinton warns Pakistan on insurgent havens [Secretary of State, Pakistan, terrorism] – Joby Warrick and Karin Brulliard report that Secretary of State Clinton threatened Pakistan’s leaders with costly recriminations if they didn’t act to curtail attacks on Afghanistan from within Pakistan, specifically by the Haqqani network, a Pakistan-based Afghan militant group with ties to Pakistan’s military; CIA Director David H. Petraeus and Gen. Martin Dempsey, the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff accompanied Clinton to Pakistan to drive home the message

U.S. shutters northern headquarters in Iraq [Defense Dept., State Dept., Iraq] – Dan Zak reports on the continued consolidation of U.S. forces in Iraq as the hand-off of security responsibilities to the Iraqi government continues, although with a significant amount of U.S. weaponry

New York Times

E.P.A. to tighten rules on wastewater disposal [Environmental Protection Agency, clean water] – Robbie Brown reports that the Environmental Protection Agency announced it would set stricter standards for disposal of wastewater resulting from hydrofracking, a process used to extract natural gas from shale or coal

Label plan offered to rate food nutrition [Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Agriculture, Institute of Medicine, food labeling] – William Neuman reports that a government-sponsored report by experts at the Institute of Medicine is recommending that food packages contain simple symbols that would quickly tell consumers if food is nutritional based on its sugar, sodium, and fat content; Margaret Hamburg, the F.D.A. commissioner who supports front-of-package labeling said the agency would study the proposal

Obama’s jobs plan is blocked again by Senate Republicans [American Jobs Act, President Obama, the economy] — Robert Pear reports that the Senate has again, for the second time in 10 days, blocked the Democratic effort to pass President Obama’s jobs bill; the vote was 50-50, with 10 more votes needed to overcome a Republican filibuster

Wall Street Journal

Fed is poised for more easing [Federal Reserve Board] – Jon Hilsenrath reports that Federal Reserve officials are laying the groundwork for another round of the Fed purchasing mortgage-backed securities – known as “quantitative easing” – to kick-start the moribund housing market, but those opposed worry that it could spark inflation

Battle over snowmobiles in Yellowstone roars on [National Park Service] – Stephanie Simon reports that after twelve years of trying to limit snowmobile use in Yellowstone — and satisfying neither businesses that oppose restrictions nor environmentalists that want tough restrictions — the National Park Service is going back to the drawing board

Senate confirms Bryson as Commerce Secretary [Secretary of Commerce] – Siobhan Hughes reports that after holding up his nomination, the Senate confirmed John Bryson, a founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council and a former chairman of utility company Edison International as Commerce Secretary

Obama: End of ‘painful chapter’ [President Obama, Libya, Moammar Gadhafi] – Jared A. Favole covers President Obama’s remarks following the death of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi

Federal News Digest — October 20, 2011

Washington Post

Clinton chides Pakistan on insurgent havens [Secretary of State, Pakistan] – Joby Warrick reports that en route to Pakistan following her meeting with President Karzai in Afghanistan, Secretary of State Clinton previewed the tough talk she was about to give to Pakistani leaders demanding that they stop tolerating, and some say supporting, terrorist organizations and instead go after them

In Egypt, corruption cases had an American root [U.S. Agency for International Development, Egypt] – James V. Grimaldi and Robert O’Harrow Jr. report that the U.S. Agency for International Development funded an Egyptian think tank in order to promote a capitalist economy in Egypt but was used by the think tank — whose members were Mubarak cronies — to enrich themselves and squander Egyptian resources; they report that the matter raises questions about the “transparency and effectiveness of the more than $70 billion in military and economic assistance” to Egypt during the decades-long Mubarak regime

GAO: Executives’ seats on Fed boards as firms benefit give appearance of conflict [Government Accountability Office, Federal Reserve] – Zachary A. Goldfarb reports that a Government Accountability Office found that at least 18 members of the Federal Reserve Board’s regional banks held those posts while serving on boards of companies that benefitted from the Fed’s policies; while GAO found no improper action by any board member, it recommended that their dual roles be explained and urged greater transparency in general by the Fed; GAO also recommended the Fed “do more to diversify its boards racially and include more people from labor and community”

Citigroup has agreed to pay $285M to investors in negligence suit, SEC says [Securities and Exchange Commission] – David S. Hilzenrath reports that Citigroup is the latest large investment firm to settle with the government in connection with the housing/financial collapse in 2007; the SEC charged that Citigroup misled investors when it sold a $1 billion investment tied to subprime mortgages and then profited by $160 million from betting against the investment; only one Citigroup employee was charged with negligence, but not fraud

Unsanitary packing probably led to cantaloupe outbreak [Food and Drug Administration, food safety] – Dina ElBoghdady reports that the Food and Drug Administration zeroed in on the Jensen Farms’ packing facility in Colorado as the source of the Listeria bacteria that made its way into cantaloupe that killed over two dozen people, the deadliest food-borne outbreak in 25 years; the FDA is demanding the farm present a plan for preventing a future outbreak before it is allowed to reopen

New York Times

U.S. benefits to retirees to rise 3.6% next year [Social Security Administration, benefits] – Robert Pear reports that retires will see an increase in their benefits beginning in 2012; there have been no cost-of living payments in the last two years

Obama unveils business partnership to boost military hiring [Obama, military veterans] — Mark Lander reports that President Obama has partnered with 270 private companies in order to employ 25,000 veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan and military spouses within two years

Wall Street Journal

Fed official discusses securities purchases [Federal Reserve Bank] – Luca DiLeo and Jon Hilsenrath report that the president of the Federal Reserve Bank in Boston is urging the Fed to purchase more securities if the economy gets any weaker; an internal Fed report showed the economy picking up in recent weeks

Consumer Bureau adds to its roster [Consumer Financial Protection Bureau] – Maya Jackson Randall reports that Hubert H. “Skip” Humphrey III, former Governor of Minnesota and the son of former vice-president Humphrey, will head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Office of Older Americans, which will focus on seniors, who are often the target of deceptive financial practices, and that Holly Petraeus, wife of CIA Director David Petraeus, will head a Bureau office looking out for military families

Prices rise 0.3%, prompting boost in government benefits [government assistance, cost of living] — Damian Paletta and Sara Murray explain that Americans receiving government assistance will get a raise this year because consume prices rose by 3.9% in the last 12 months

Obama nominates official to lead Federal Housing Administration [FHA] — Alan Zibel reports that President Obama will nominate Carol Galante to head the Federal Housing Administration

Federal News Digest — October 18, 2011

Washington Post

Clinton arrives in Libya bearing aid and encouragement [Secretary of State. Libya, foreign aid] – Joby Warrick reports that Secretary of State Clinton is in Libya to reset U.S. relations with the country following the ouster of Moammar Gaddafi; she will meet with the transitional government leaders, deliver additional aid, and promise long-term support, including help locating Gaddafi’s stockpile of missiles now scattered throughout the country

U.S. cyberweapons had been considered to disrupt Gaddafi’s air defenses [Pentagon Libya, cyberattack] – Ellen Nakashima reports that the U.S. considered cyber attacks rather than air strikes to disable Gaddafi’s air defense, a measure of the military’s cyber warfare capabilities

Clapper: ‘Double-digit’ cuts coming for intel budget [Office of the Director of National Intelligence, federal budget] – Walter Pincus reports that  James R. Clapper, Jr., the director of national intelligence said that the intelligence community would reduce its $80.1 billion annual budget over ten years by eliminating redundancy in computer operations of the 16 intelligence agencies and curtailing use of private contractors

Cloud computing contract with ties to Microsoft and Google needs changes, GAO says [Government Accountability Office, General Services Administration, government contracts] – Ed O’Keefe and Marjorie Censer report that the Government Accountability Office has found the “cloud computing” (web-based computing) contracts awarded by the General Services Administration unnecessarily limited contractors to those who base their computing centers in certain countries, such as Afghanistan where war is raging, but prohibit use of tech-developing countries such as Brazil, India, and South Africa

New York Times

Accounting board criticizes Deloitte’s auditing system [Public Company Accounting Oversight Board] – Floyd Norris reports that in 2008, the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board – established by the Sarbanes-Oxley law after the massive financial fraud by Enron and WorldCom – issued the first report critical of a major accounting firm, including finding that Deloitte often took the word of management rather than make independent determinations as to whether companies’ accounting decisions were in line with accepted accounting principles

Farmers facing loss of subsidy may get new one [Agriculture Dept., farm subsidies] – William Neuman reports that a farm subsidy by any other name is still a farm subsidy – as Congress gets ready to swap one benefit for another; he also reports that most subsidies go to large farms and that many decry the subsidies – currently $5 billion a year – because they go to agriculture sectors that are thriving

Wall Street Journal

Senate passes pipeline-safety bill [gas pipeline explosions] – Ryan Tracy reports that the Senate voted unanimously to approve pipeline safety regulations requiring older pipes operating at high pressures to be tested and establishing fines of $250,000 to $2.5 million for violations; the impetus for the bill was a deadly natural gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno, California

Panel faults virus test to spot cervical cancer [Dept. of Health and Human Services, U.S. Preventive Services Task Force] – Thomas M. Burton previews the latest recommendation by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force – which advises the Dept. of Health and Human Services and guides Medicare cost reimbursement decisions – that HPV screening tests for women over 30 be abandoned in favor of the pap smear as the primary method for detecting cervical cancer

A new spending record [Congressional Budget Office, federal budget] – The Journal wonders why, with all the chest-beating about federal spending, the government spent $3.6 trillion in fiscal 2011 according to the Congressional Budget Office, up from $3.52 trillion in 2009

Federal News Digest — October 17, 2011

Washington Post

Obama’s allies’ interests collide over Keystone pipeline [State Dept., Environmental Protection Agency NASA, environment, Keystone pipeline] – Juliet Eilperin and Steven Mufson report that President Obama’s constituency – environmentalists and unions, as well as Democrats – are split on whether the administration should approve the Keystone transcontinental pipeline from Canada to the Gulf Coast

Veterans’ unemployment outpaces civilian rate [Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment, veterans] – Michael A. Fletcher reports that according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in the last decade have an unemployment rate of 11.7 % as compared to 9.1% for civilians, despite government programs to help them – like financial incentives to businesses that hire veterans – because there is a disconnect in translating military skills to the private sector

Some states seek flexibility to push health-care overhaul further [Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Affordable Care Act] – Sarah Kliff reports that states are seeking waivers from the Affordable Care Act to implement more aggressive health care systems but are finding roadblocks in the law

A memorial for Iran-Contra figure Clair George, CIA’s colleagues’ loyalty endures [CIA, Cold War] – Ian Shapiro reports on the memorial service for a CIA official still admired by his colleagues despite his lying to Congress to protect the agency’s clandestine operations; the colleagues’ reflections offer a window into the mindset of the spy agency during the Cold War

New York Times

A dedication to King, and the work yet to do [Interior Dept. MLK Memorial] – Sabrina Tavernise and Helene Cooper cover the dedication of the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial and national park on the Washington Mall, including President Obama’s address to thousands in attendance

Pleas unheeded as students’ U.S. jobs soured [State Dept., student cultural exchange] – Julia Preston looks at the decades-old State Dept.’s student cultural exchange program, which came under fire this summer when students working arduous jobs for the Hershey company for little money walked off their jobs in protest; she reports that the program’s contractors, in particular the Council for Educational Travel, USA, have a history of exploiting exchange students

Safety regulators don’t add costs.  They decide who pays them. [Consumer Product Safety Commission] – Robert S. Adler, an official on the Consumer Product Safety Commission, pushes back against legislators’ calls for curtailing safety regulations based on their claim that regulations increase the cost of doing business and kill jobs

Wall Street Journal

U.S. will inspect Cuban rig [Cuba, oil exploration] – Russell Gold reports on the challenges for the administration to ensure that oil exploration by Cuba in the Gulf of Mexico 60 miles off the Florida coast will not jeopardize coastal waters like the Deepwater Horizon spill; U.S. regulators will be able to inspect the drilling rig before it enters Cuban waters because it is manufactured by a Chinese company that does business with the U.S.

U.S. widens rocket field [Pentagon, NASA, space satellites] – Andy Pazstor reports the Pentagon and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration have agreed to a plan for assessing risks of small commercial companies bidding for government contracts to launch space satellites, including spy satellites; the administration’s move to include smaller private firms is intended to lower government costs and would end the monopolies of Boeing and Lockheed Martin

Plan for high-speed rail just inching along [Transportation Dept.] – Josh Mitchell reports that the administration’s plans for high-speed rail systems, which was backed by $10.5 billion in stimulus funds is facing setbacks due to state budget constraints, reflected in California’s scaled back plan

Federal News Digest — October 14, 2011

Washington Post

U.S. launches effort to track down Libyan missiles [State Dept., Libya] – Mary Beth Sheridan reports that the U.S. is sending government contractors with military backgrounds – but not U.S. troops – to Libya to find and secure Moammar Gaddafi’s stockpiles of weapons, primarily surface-to-air missiles that could shoot down airplanes, which are now in the hands of the rebels

Solyndra investor asked for White House publicity as firm sought federal funds [Energy Dept., White House, green technologies, Solyndra] – Carol D. Leonnig and Joe Stephens report that an adviser to the White House on renewable energy – a venture capitalist whose firm had a stake in Solyndra – pressed the Energy Dept. for loan guarantees for the now-bankrupt solar-panel manufacturer and pressed the White House to showcase the company and help it raise private funds; they also report that other contributors to President Obama’s campaign were prodding the administration on Solyndra

Army to phase out animal nerve-gas testing [Defense Dept., Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense] – Brian Vastag reports that the Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense will no longer inject monkeys with nerve-gas in order to train health care professionals to treat victims of chemical attacks; they will use computer simulators instead

Raj Rajaratnam, hedge-fund billionaire, gets 11-year sentence for insider trading [Justice Dept., insider trading] – David S. Hilsenrath reports that the head of Galleon Management who was convicted of insider trading received the longest sentence ever imposed for such offense – 11 years – and that his prosecution reflects the Justice Dept.’s get-tough approach to insider trading

New York Times

Obama says facts support accusation of Iranian plot [President Obama, State Dept. Iran] – Helene Cooper reports that in his first remarks about the plot to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the U.S., President Obama said there was ample proof that Iran was behind it and that international sanctions against Iran were being considered; the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. formally lodged a protest with her Iranian counterpart

U.S. allowing BP to bid on leases in the Gulf [Interior Dept., Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, Gulf oil spill] – Clifford Krauss reports that on the heels of the Interior Dept.’s citing BP for safety and environmental violations related to the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and massive oil spill in the Gulf, the head of the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement told a congressional hearing that the government was issuing licenses to BP for future drilling in the Gulf; meanwhile, the Justice Dept. is still weighing whether to file criminal charges against BP or others responsible for the Deepwater Horizon disaster

Retail sales rose strongly in September on autos [Commerce Dept., consumer spending] – AP reports that according to the Commerce Dept., retail sales increased 1.1% in September, buoyed by an increase of 3.6% in auto sales

Wall Street Journal

Plan floated to spread risk in mortgage bonds [Federal Housing Finance Agency,  Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac] – Alan Zibel reports that the administration is considering a pilot program to attract private investors to purchase bonds from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac under which investors would forgo the federal guarantee but could earn a higher interest rate than current mortgage securities; absent legislation to restructure Fannie and Freddie, the administration is seeking ways to reduce the government’s involvement in the home mortgage industry following the collapse of the housing market; the  government has spent $141 billion so far to keep Fannie and Freddie afloat

Drugs and terror mix in case [Drug Enforcement Administration, FBI, terrorism] – Devlin Barrett and Evan Perez delve into the DEA’s role in the pursuit of terrorists, highlighted by the exposed Iranian plot to hire a hit-man from a Mexican drug cartel to assassinate the Saudi ambassador

Shipbuilders batten hatches as Navy weighs cuts [Pentagon, Navy, federal budget] – Nathan Hodge reports that Navy shipbuilding is slowing due to budget constraints

Federal News Digest — October 13, 2011

Washington Post

SEC reviews proposal regulating derivatives called ‘swaps’ [Securities and Exchange Commission, financial regulatory reform, derivatives] – David S. Hilzenrath reports that the SEC’s proposed plan for regulating derivative swaps – which contributed to the 2008 financial collapse – requires security-based swap dealers to register with the SEC and requires officers of the firms to self-certify that they have the “operational, financial and compliance capabilities” to conduct such transactions

‘Super PAC’ American Crossroads seeks permission to feature candidates in ads [Federal Election Commission, campaign finance] – T.W. Farnam reports that a “super” political action committee which is allowed to use unlimited funds for issue advertisements is asking the Federal Election Commission to allow it to include photos of federal candidates and incumbents in ads, citing a loophole that allowed Democrats to use an incumbent Senator’s photo in a prior election ad

The Postal Service isn’t owed a big refund, GAO says [U.S. Postal Service, Government Accountability Office] – Ed O’Keefe previews a report by the Government Accountability Office that disagrees with the Postal Service and Democratic legislators who claim that incorrect pension calculations resulted in up to $75 billion in over-payments to federal retirement accounts since the 1970s when the Postal Service became a semi-independent federal agency and started paying into the Civil Service Retirement System

Tax preparers brace for new IRS fees, rules [IRS, taxes] – Patrick Temple West of Reuters reports on the impact of new certification requirements and fees in the works for tax preparers aimed at weeding out fraud, but which some worry may squeeze out small firms and benefit behemoths like H&R Block; the IRS is working to limit the impact of the new regulatory requirements on small businesses before it finalizes the rules

New York Times

U.S. acts to fine BP and top contractors for Gulf Oil spill [Interior Dept., Gulf oil spill] – John M. Broder reports that the Interior Dept. issued citations for violating safety and environmental regulations against the oil company and oil rig operator Transocean and contractor Halliburton in connection with the massive oil spill by the Deepwater Horizon well into the Gulf last spring; the citations, which the companies may appeal, could amount to millions of dollars in fines

House panel issues subpoena for records on gun program [Justice Dept., Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, “Fast and Furious” ] – Bloomberg News reports that in the wake of questions about what the Attorney General knew about Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives program known as “Fast and Furious,” which allowed guns to cross into Mexico in order to track drug smugglers, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is demanding documents related to the program

Denied veterans benefits over same-sex marriage, ex-sailor challenges law [Veterans Administration, Defense of Marriage Act, veterans benefits] – James Dao reports that a disabled sailor is appealing the Veterans Administration’s denial of increased benefits due to her after her after marriage because she married a woman; her appeal to the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims will challenge the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act “that prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage”

Congress ends 5-year standoff on trade deals in rare accord [free-trade, foreign policy] – Binyamin Applebaum and Jennifer Steinhauer report on Congress’s passage of three trade agreements – with South Korea, Colombia and Panama – in a rare moment of cooperation between the White House and Congress

Wall Street Journal

Accusation against Iran fleshed out [State Department, Treasury Dept., Drug Enforcement Agency, Iran, assassination plot] – Siobhan Gorman, Devlin Barrett, and Stephanie Simon cover the back story of how the U.S. uncovered a plot by Iran to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the U.S.

U.S. military probe: no command error before copter crash [Defense Dept.] – Julian E. Barnes reports that an internal investigation into the downing of a U.S. Chinook helicopter in Afghanistan that killed 30, including 22 Navy SEALs concluded that it was just a bad-luck rocket-propelled grenade strike against the helicopter that caused the crash, not faulty equipment or pilot error

Federal News Digest — October 10, 2011

Washington Post

Conservation funding sparks political battle [Interior Dept., environmental conservation, federal budget] – Juliet Eilperin reports that Congress is proposing to sharply cut a little-known Interior Dept. program with a large legacy – the Land and Water Conservation Fund – which finances the government’s acquisition of land in order to preserve it in its natural state and provides grants to state and local governments for parks and recreation areas

Small vendor acquisitions soar in hunt for coveted U.S. contracts [Small Business Administration, government contracts] – Nishad Majmudar reports that the number of large vendors buying small companies with long-term government contracts skyrocketed in the last year despite a Small Business Administration rule enacted in 2007 that was designed to limit the purchase of small businesses for the purpose of cashing in on small business set-asides

New York Times

Recession officially over, U.S. incomes keep falling [U.S. economy, jobs] – Robert Pear takes stock of income, unemployment, and attitudes about the economy as Congress begins to debate the president’s job bill; a report finds that income dropped more in the two years since 2009 when the recession was technically over than during the two years of the recession, and that income declined the most for those at the lower end of the income spectrum

Scientists’ analysis disputes F.B.I. closing of anthrax case [FBI, National Academy of Sciences, Government Accountability Office, anthrax investigation] – William J. Broad and Scott Shane report that scientists are questioning the FBI’s finding that an Army bio-defense expert, Bruce E. Ivins, who committed suicide in 2008, sent anthrax through the mail ten years ago that killed five; the Government Accountability Office is currently conducting its own investigation of the case

Secret U.S. memo made legal case to kill a citizen [Justice Dept., CIA, terrorism] – Charlie Savage reports that the administration grappled with the legality of killing Anwar al-Awlaki, the American citizen who became a leader of al-Qaeda and recruited others to commit terrorist attacks against the U.S – a 50-page memo was prepared by the Justice Dept.’s Office of Legal Counsel to justify the drown attack on al-Awlaki in Yemen before it occurred; civil liberties groups have raised concerns about the killing citing a law that prohibits killing Americans abroad and other policies against assassination

Wall Street Journal

White House aims to lure more foreign investment [State Dept., Commerce Dept., President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness] – Sudeep Reddy previews recommendations by the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, including a plan to attract $1 trillion in foreign investment in the U.S. and reports that State, Commerce, and other cabinet-level departments will become more engaged in efforts to attract foreign investment

Secret orders target email [Justice Dept., Electronic Communications Privacy Act, WikiLeaks] – Julia Angwin reports that under the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act, the Justice Dept. obtained a secret court order directing Google and Inc., a small Internet Provider, to reveal email information about a particular WikiLeaks volunteer; courts have recently rejected the government’s collection of electronic information that would not be permitted if the communications were by  telephone or regular mail, and Congress is considering amending the law, which predates most Internet capabilities

GOP lawmaker questions loan guarantees to 3 firms [Energy Dept., loan guarantees, green technologies] – Jared A. Favole reports that on the heels of the Solyndra debacle, Rep. Darrell Issa of California, chairman of the House oversight committee, is questioning the Energy Dept.’s loan guarantees to three other alternative energy companies

Federal News Digest — October 7, 2011

Washington Post

White House order to establish new cybersecurity policies [Pentagon, national security, cybersecurity] – Ellen Nakashima reports that following the embarrassing release of classified information by WikiLeaks and after months of study, the White House announced revised cybersecurity policies to protect federal government computer networks, including the establishment of an interagency task force overseen by the attorney general and the director of national intelligence to detect and prevent leaks by government employees

Healthy men don’t need PSA testing for prostate cancer, panel says [HHS, cancer-screening] – Rob Stein reports that the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force – an independent panel commissioned by the Dept. of Health and Human Services whose recommendations form the basis of what preventative care Medicare and private insurers will pay for – recommends that men should not routinely get the PSA blood test for prostate cancer because it causes unnecessary anxiety and leads to unnecessary procedures; the panel caused considerable anger when in 2009 it recommended against routine mammograms for women

TSA investing in new ID scanners [Transportation Security Administration, airport screening] – Ashley Halsey III reports that the Transportation Security Administration is purchasing Credential Authentication Technology-Boarding Pass Scanning Systems (CAT-BSS) – scanning equipment designed to detect fraudulent boarding passes and identification cards

New air traffic control system at risk of costly delays, feds say [Transportation Dept., Federal Aviation Administration, Government Accountability Office, air-traffic control] – Ashley Halsey III reports that even though there is rare bipartisan agreement on the need for the Next Generation Air Transportation System, a GPS-based air traffic control method, Congress is debating the feasibility of moving forward given current budget constraints; NextGen will cost the government between $20 billion and $27 billion and cost airlines about $40 billion

Amid Solyndra controversy, head of federal loan program resigns [Dept. of Energy, green technologies, Solyndra] – Carol D. Leonnig and Juliet Eilperin report that the head of the Energy Dept.’s loan program that awarded $535 million in loan guarantees to the now-bankrupt solar panel manufacturer is stepping down; meanwhile, the president defends the program that grants loans to green technology companies

Earlier ATF gun operation ‘Wide Receiver’ used same tactics as ‘Fast and Furious’ [Justice Dept., Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, “Fast and Furious”]  – Sari Horwitz reports that an ATF program operating during the Bush administration allowed guns to cross the border into Mexico in a similar fashion as the now-vilified “Fast and Furious” ATF program

New York Times

U.S. adds 103,000 jobs; rate holds steady at 9.1% [Labor Dept. unemployment] – Mototko Rich reports on the employment figures for September just released by the Labor Dept.; the number is slightly better than expected and tamps down, at least for now, concerns about the country slipping into another recession

Some unemployed find fault in extension of jobless benefits [Department of Labor, Census Bureau, unemployment benefits] – Shaila Dewan reports on the debate over extending unemployment benefits as more people are unemployed for long periods of time

Treasury Secretary urges quick action on jobs plan [Treasury Secretary, American Jobs Act] – Binyamin Appelbaum reports that Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner told Congress that quick legislative action was needed to buttress the economy

Wall Street Journal

The multibillion-dollar leak [Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., Federal Reserve Board,  Government Accountability Office financial regulatory reform, Volcker Rule ] – Scott Patterson and Victoria McGrane report that Wall Street is abuzz and studying a leaked, 205-page draft of regulations implementing the “Volker rule,” a controversial provision of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law that would prohibit banks from using customers’ money to engage in trading to benefit themselves, so-called proprietary trading, which supporters of the rule argue led the banks to take undue risks; the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. is scheduled to consider the draft proposal next week

Obama pushes for jobs bill [President Obama, jobs] – Carol E. Lee and Janet Hook cover the president’s press conference during which he urged Congress to pass his $447 billion jobs bill

Federal News Digest — October 6, 2011

Washington Post

‘Calm down’ about Fast and Furious gun sting, ATF acting director says [Justice Dept., Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Fast and Furious] – Sari Horwitz reports that the acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives – which came under fire for its “Fast and Furious” operation that allowed guns to be smuggled into Mexico that were later used to kill a U.S. Border Patrol agent – announced a shake-up of personnel in the agency; the reorganization isn’t stopping congressional calls for a special prosecutor and questions about the Attorney General Holder’s candor in the matter

E-mails show Energy Department was moving toward second loan for Solyndra [Energy Dept., green technologies, Solyndra] – Carol D. Leonnig and Joe Stephens report that the latest emails released by the Energy Dept. show that it was considering a second loan to the ailing solar panel manufacturing company that eventually went bankrupt; they also report that White House staff were closely monitoring the troubled company

Despite death of Awlaki, U.S.-Yemen relations strained [CIA, counterterrorism, Yemen] – Sudarsan Raghavan and Karen DeYoung report that although they have a common enemy in terrorists trained in Yemen, there are tensions in the U.S.-Yemen relationship because the U.S. is focused solely on groups that threaten Americans, not the Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (or AQAP) which supports the ouster of President Saleh; the administration wants to avoid becoming embroiled in Yemen’s domestic rebellion

In a switch for U.S., Panetta praises NATO [Defense Secretary Panetta, NATO] – Craig Whitlock reports that on his visit to NATO headquarters in Brussels, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta praised NATO’s leadership in Libya, where air strikes greatly helped rebels gain control of the country – a sharp contrast to the criticism of NATO’s inaction leveled by former Defense Secretary Gates

New York Times

E.P.A. panel issues plan for Gulf Coast restoration [Environmental Protection Agency, Gulf Coast] – Campbell Robertson reports that the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, a federal-state working group commissioned after the BP oil spill in the Gulf, proposed short-term and long-term fixes to restore and protect the environment along the Gulf Coast; after public comment on the report, it will go to the President

Budget presses Obama aide into political fight [White House Chief of Staff, federal budget] – Mark Landler reports that the Obama administration’s new strategy of attacking Republican positions rather than seeking common ground puts the White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley, who hails form the business community and is more comfortable in the role of negotiator, in an awkward position

Obama says he would accept a surtax on high incomes [President Obama, economy, taxes] – Helene Cooper reports that President Obama is “comfortable” with the Senate proposal that his jobs bill be paid for with a tax surcharge on incomes above $1 million

Wall Street Journal

Nearly half of U.S. lives in household receiving government benefit [Census Bureau] – Sara Murray reports on the Census Bureau’s finding that in the first quarter of 2010, 48% of the population lived in a household receiving a government benefit such as food stamps, subsidized housing, cash welfare or Medicaid – up from 44.4% at the end of 2008; and due to high unemployment, 46% of households will not pay federal income tax this year – up from 39.9% in 2007

Task force urges haste on nuclear-safety measures [U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission] – Rebecca Smith reports that a Nuclear Regulatory Commission task force is recommending that U.S. nuclear plants move quickly to improve safety conditions, especially in plants similar in design to the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan that did not withstand the earthquake and tsunami there; the NRC is scheduled to take up the recommendations next week

NLRB delays employer requirement to post union rights [National Labor Relations Board] – Melanie Trottman reports that the National Relations Labor Board postponed from November to January a rule staunchly opposed by the business community that requires businesses to post information about workers’ right to unionize; the delay is intended to provide more time to educate small and medium sized business about the requirement

Post Office’s rescue plan: junk mail [U.S. Postal Service, Postal Regulatory Commission] – Jennifer Levitz reports that what consumers call junk mail is an important source of revenue for the financially ailing Postal Service, and it is encouraging businesses to advertise via the mail

Obama: Jobs ‘Brave enough to think differently’ [President Obama, information technology] – Jared Favole covers President’s Obama’s remarks on the death of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs; the president heralded Jobs as an example of American ingenuity