Federal City Digest

Friday, February 13, 2009

Some Easy Nominations

While President Obama reopens the search for a commerce secretary in the wake of the withdrawal by Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), two of his top scientific nominees received a largely warm welcome from members of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee yesterday, with Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), above, telling the panel that "the FBI reports on these two distinguished folks" made for "the easiest reading I've ever been through."

Harvard University physicist John Holdren -- who is slated to head the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy -- and Oregon State University marine biologist Jane Lubchenco, who is in line to serve as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration chief, told the panel they would maintain the government's scientific integrity while also addressing real-world concerns about climate change, space exploration and fishery management, our colleague Juliet Eilperin reports.

"I believe very strongly that the role of science is to inform our understanding and inform our decisions," Lubchenco told Rockefeller. "The science doesn't tell us what to do. The choices you make are often social decisions that should be informed by science."

A Long-Term Emergency

More than three long years after hurricanes Katrina and Rita lashed the Gulf Coast, some of the survivors of the 2005 storms remain in emergency housing programs -- and a new move by the Obama administration will allow them to stay there a bit longer.

Yesterday, our colleague Spencer S. Hsu reports, the Department of Homeland Security moved to allow states to request a 60-day-extension -- until May 1 -- of a Federal Emergency Management Agency program that is providing trailers, mobile homes and hotel rooms in four states to about 6,800 households displaced by the legendary storms. The program was set to expire at the end of this month.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development will also continue assistance for an unspecified period to 31,000 families now receiving disaster rental aid vouchers, in part by allowing more of the families to switch to programs such as HUD's traditional Section 8 housing assistance.

FEMA housing aid traditionally ends 18 months after a disaster, but the scale of damage to housing stock on the Gulf Coast has led to several extensions.

Layoffs at BIA

The Bureau of Indian Affairs will soon lay off some employees, but it's not clear how many. The BIA said it plans 52 furloughs, our colleague Joe Davidson reports, but the administrator of the Federation of Indian Service Employees says that notices the agency sent the union indicated about 200 workers would be laid off. [Federal Diary, D3.]


· The clipped and trimmed mammoth that is the stimulus bill will be Topic A when the House convenes to take up the conference report on the "American Recovery and Reinvestment Act." The Senate is also expected to vote today.

· Despite all the Gregg hoo-ha, the Obamas will try to have a relaxing Valentine's Day getaway. The president and Michelle Obama depart this afternoon for a weekend in Chicago. Good luck to them with that.

-- Garance Franke-Ruta federalcity@washpost.com

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