On today’s program Monday April 9th, 2012:
- Using social media to track down bad guys… We told you about the TAG Challenge a few weeks ago. It was made possible by a State Department grant. The challenge was to use a network to track down five fictitious thieves. We’re going to talk to the leader of the team that won ahead.
- Can twitter be used to track illnesses? The Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response thinks so. They’ve just launched their Health in my Community Challenge. You’ll learn about that from the woman in charge.
- Women in technology — what are the biggest challenges and successes? You learn from the women who are making a difference in government.
We start with the stories that impact your life… your government world in 120-seconds…
- A marine could be dismissed from the Service after posting comments criticizing President Obama on Facebook and other social networking sites. The Associated Press says Sgt. Gary Stein, who served in Iraq, is accused of superimposing Obama’s image onto movie posters from Jackass and The Incredibles. Sgt. Stein is facing an “other than honorable discharge” for alleged misconduct that Marine lawyers argued was “prejudicial to good order and discipline.” Slate says the military policy limits the free-speech rights of active duty service members. The restrictions include criticism of the president, and participation in many forms of public political advocacy.
- Still no compromise on the 2013 budget. The House has defeated a bipartisan budget plan modeled on the deficit reduction blueprint by the White House commission. The New York Times says, as the vote approached washington’s conservative and liberal influence machines swung into action to defeat the bill. Within hours, Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform joined the Heritage Foundation and assorted conservative bloggers in coming out hard against the plan as an unacceptable tax increase. On the left, the A.F.L.-C.I.O., the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, and research groups like the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities denounced the effort as a sham, disguised as the Bowles-Simpson commission report but tilted to the right.
- The Justice Department is looking into allegations that some of the Federal Highway and Transportation that are part of the recovery spending are being misused. Fiscal Times says $48 billion of the $825 billion authorized by Congress and the administration under the 2009 American Recovery & Reinvestment Act went to support existing highway and transit infrastructure projects. About 88 percent of those funds have been spent, and nearly 80 percent of the projects have been completed as part of the government’s efforts to create new jobs. But federal investigators have uncovered widespread financial management problems with many of the projects. As of early March, federal authorities were investigating 66 cases of alleged false statements, bid rigging, fraud and embezzlement, according to a report by the Transportation Department’s inspector general. Justice Department lawyers are scouring 47 of those cases for potential prosecution, according to Scovel.
- The Office of Personnel Management is reporting a drop in its retirement backlog despite a larger-than-expected number of new retirees. OPM has received 35,000 claims this year and processed 31,000. But the Federal Times says OPM still has a backlog of 52,000 claims. Retirees wait an average of five months for their annuities. OPM promised to cut that time in half with a new, low-tech strategy.
- The White House appears to have dropped its effort to force government contractors to disclose political donations. The Hill reports that the White House composed a draft executive order that would have forced potential government contractors to reveal their political spending as a condition of submitting bids. But about 12 months later, no final order has been issued, and supporters and critics alike say they’ve seen no signs such a change is forthcoming. The rule would have applied to both companies and the individuals running them.”
- Lobbyists are fighting limits on their ability to host federal employees. The New York Times reports that lobbyists are fighting against tough new limits proposed on the way groups could court executive branch officials at events like conferences, cocktail parties, galas and movie screenings. The Obama administration is considering rules that would restrict government and industry to have discussions with government officials. As a result, they say, public policy would be made in a vacuum, and federal rules would be more unrealistic and unworkable. The proposal would extend restrictions now on political appointees to more than two million government workers. Federal employees could no longer accept ‘gifts of free attendance’ at the many seminars, receptions and other social gatherings held by registered lobbyists and lobbying organizations.
- Are government contractors costing the government money? That’s the questions a Senate panel is hoping to answer. Senator Claire McCaskill says federal agencies are increasingly relying on contractors to perform services. GovPro says spending on service contractors has outpaced spending on federal employees. Senator McCaskill says the cost of service contracts has increased by 79 percent over the last 10 years, from $181 billion to $324 billion, while in the same time period, spending on federal employees has increased by 34 percent, from $170 billion to $229 billion.
- Is big brother watching you? Not yet, but many privacy experts are concerned the multiple cybersecurity bills floating through the halls of Congress right now could be monitoring too much. The Center for Democracy and Technology says any of the cybersecurity proposals circulating on Capitol Hill could open a back door to vast government surveillance. The National Journal says, Congress is considering multiple bills that would give federal officials more oversight over some private networks and increase information-sharing between government and businesses.
- The Department of Veterans Affairs says it’s getting ahold of the mountains of disability claims it receives. Secretary Eric Shinseki told Congress the agency is rolling out an automated tool that would help it reach “the tipping point.” Shinseki said he didn’t want veterans to wait longer than four months for their disability benefits. Federal News Radio says the VA received 1.3 million claims last year and could process just three-quarters of them. Shinseki said he was building on the agency’s success at processing Post 9-11 GI bill claims. The lesson, he said, was to keep manual processing going until automation is in full swing. He expected that to happen by fall.