Lawmakers Return to Congress – Plus the DorobekINSIDER’s 7 Stories

On GovLoop Insights’ DorobekINSIDER:

  • For the past four year the US Public Interest Group has graded each of the 50 states on their level of transparency. While 7 states made the honor roll, six states received failing grades. How did your state do? We take an indepth look with Phineas Baxandall.

But up front: lawmakers return to office - what’s on the agenda?

  • Lawmakers return to D.C. this week from a recess for the first time this year without a fiscal crisis bearing down on them. - National Journal

That’s not to say there isn’t much budget talk. President Obama is slated to issue the administration’s fiscal year 2014 budget proposal this week.

National Journal: What to Expect in Obama's Budget

If the budgets passed by Senate Democrats and House Republicans offered up competing worldviews, then President Obama will add a third entry to the mix on Wednesday as the White House unveils its spending plan for fiscal year 2014.

ON SPENDING: The president’s budget blueprint is expected reflect the new reality that Congress simply will not pass any new stimulus money unless it can find a way to pay for it. Already, nondefense discretionary spending as a share of economic growth is on track to hit a historic low by 2017. The president’s blueprint will keep this script of reduced spending alive.

One new idea—to create more free pre-kindergarten programs for states—would be paid for by raising taxes on tobacco. This echoes a similar spending strategy that the president outlined in his State of the Union address, during which he also proposed raising the minimum wage—an idea in which the higher costs fall to the private sector rather than the federal government.

In the post-fiscal-cliff and sequester era, that may be the only way to propose any new spending programs: find a way to avoid the government having to pay for them.

Meanwhile, the director of National Intelligence James Clapper is concerned about the looming budget cuts, The Washington Post reports. “What worries him now, as director of national intelligence, is a rerun of federal budget cuts that he said hurt intelligence operations in the 1990s. Today’s cutbacks, known as sequestration, will harm the nation in ways that might not be known until it is too late, he said. Employee furloughs are under consideration, though none has been announced.”

The SEVEN stories that impact your life

  1. The Veterans Affairs Department will request a discretionary budget of $63.5 billion in 2014, a four percent increase over the 2013 funding levels President Obama approved last month. NextGov reports the figure is  $500 million below what the department originally sought  for 2013, the White House said in a preliminary release of the VA budget.
  2. Jane Holl Lute announced today that she would be stepping down in May as deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. Federal News Radio reports, Lute was confirmed by the Senate on April 3, 2009, as the undersecretary at DHS. She had previously served as the assistant secretary-general for peacebuilding support at the United Nations, as well as the assistant secretary-general for mission support at the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.
  3. Meanwhile,  the Senate has confirmed Mary Jo White to be the permanent chairwoman on the Securities and Exchange Commission. Federal News Radio reports White is the first former prosecutor to head up the agency. White spent nearly a decade as U.S. Attorney in Manhattan. She helped convict a diverse bunch of criminals, including the blind sheik of the first World Trade Center bombing and Mafia boss John Gotti. As a private lawyer, she defended many of the large companies the SEC regulates. The agency is caught in a quagmire of rulemaking brought on by the Dodd Frank financial overhaul legislation.
  4. A watchdog group says the Pell program needs an overhaul. The Wall Street Journal reports, a panel of secondary educators says recipients' graduation and job success rates are too low. The Education Department handed out $354 billion in Pell Grants to more than 9 million college students last year. That's half again more than in 2009. Spending has nearly doubled. But only a quarter of students under 25 ever graduate. Only 3 percent of older students get their degrees. The panel will recommend narrowing the program and finding ways to boost the graduation rate.
  5. NASA's communications team is taking home the prize at the Shorty Awards. Mashable reports, it’s social media's version of the Oscars. The agency's main Twitter handle, @NASA, was named best in government. NASA's Curiosity Rover was crowned Foursquare Mayor of the Year for using the check-in app from Mars. It's NASA's fourth year winning the Shorty. The crowd-sourced awards program started in 2009.
  6. Redundant federal programs are leading to billions in waste, so says the Government Accountability Office, and the government is slow to adopt reforms to fix the problem. USA Today reports, the White House says President Obama recognizes the problem and will propose eliminating redundant programs in the budget plan he releases on Wednesday.
  7. And on GovLoop. You can now register for the April edition of free event here.

DorobekINSIDER water-cooler fodder

  • CNN Money Sixty Seconds of Salary: 60 Seconds Of Kobe Bryant’s Salary Vs. A School Teacher’s: CNN interactive chart looks at how much one of the NBA’s biggest stars makes in a minute compared to President Obama, a teacher, the U.S. median wage... or the U.S. minimum wage.
  • The 45 Best Photos From the Department Of Interior's Instagram
  • And in a first... a case of texting while flying...  BloombergNews: Texting While Flying 
  • Quoted: on confusing hashtags and Margaret Thatcher’s death -SiliconBeat

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