Thursday morning federal headlines – Jan. 12, 2012

The Morning Federal Newscast is a daily compilation of the stories you hear Federal Drive host Tom Temin discuss throughout the show each day. The Newscast is designed to give users more information about the stories you hear on the air.

  • The Air Force has finished drawing up its plans to draw down its civilian workforce in 2012. The service says it needs to eliminate another 4,500 jobs. But those cuts will be the last batch of reductions it will need to make this year. The Air Force hopes to make the reductions with a combination of buyouts and early retirement offerings and avoid involuntary reductions in force. Like the rest of the Defense Department, the Air Force is under orders to keep its civilian workforce at fiscal year 2010 levels. Applications for voluntary early retirement and voluntary early separation are due by Feb. 3. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Federal Employee Health Benefits Program is preparing to welcome employees at hundreds of Indian tribes into the system. It will be the first time the Office of Personnel Management opens the insurance program to people with no connection to the federal government. The move could add up to 350,000 people to FEHB. Tribes have urged the government to open the federal employee coverage program to their workers for years. The change was finally mandated two years ago by the Affordable Care Act. Since then, OPM has been working through a complex logistical web involving hundreds of tribes, each with their own autonomous government. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Census Bureau has upgraded its American FactFinder Database. It’s finished migrating data sets from it’s legacy system into a one-stop repository of statistical information. Visitors can now navigate between 40,000 tables, 1,500 population groups and tribes, 80,000 businesses and industries, and 12 million geographies for each decennial census. The U.S. Census Bureau’s statistics and information search engine was introduced one year ago. Now users don’t need to navigate between two web tools to find data on topics like income, poverty, education and housing. (Census Bureau)
  • Officials at the Defense Information Systems Agency took time out for a change in command ceremony. Air Force Lt. Gen. Ronnie Hawkins Jr. took over the helm. He replaces Army Lt. Gen. Carroll Pollett. Pollett is retiring after 37 years in the military. He took over DISA in 2008 and oversaw the agency’s move to new facilities at Fort Meade, Md. DISA established several cloud computing services during Pollett’s tenure. Hawkins worked at DISA earlier. He returns from the Pentagon, where he’s been the deputy C-4 director for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. (DISA)
  • With so many agencies pursuing mobile computing, the White House wants to pull it all together into a government-wide strategy. Federal CIO Steven Van Roekel has launched an online forum to gather ideas. The National Dialogue on the Federal Mobility Strategy will be open for comments until Jan. 20. Anyone can offer an idea or rate an idea already posted. Van Roekel says one goal of the strategy is to boost federal worker productivity by liberating you from ineffective 20th century work practices. He also hopes to devise a governance strategy for federal mobility. (Mobility Strategy Forum)
  • The Justice Department handed out awards to three dozen of its workers. But it couldn’t say why they won them. That’s because the honored employees did outstanding work in secret national security projects. Assistant Attorney General Lisa Monaco told the gathering she was sorry she couldn’t say more about the awards. Monaco heads the National Security Division at Justice. It employs 340 people and has a budget of $88 million. Among the awardees was attorney Shelly Goldstone. He won for what Monaco said were several highly sensitive, fast-paced espionage investigations involving issues of utmost importance to U.S. national security. (Federal News Radio)
  • A high ranking general has singled out military logisticians for their outstanding work in two long wars. Air Force Lt. Gen. Brooks Bash is director of logistics for the Joint Staff. He calls military logisticians the unsung heroes of 21st century wars. Bash cited Pakistan’s recent closure of its border gates to Afghanistan. It followed a friendly fire incident in which coalition troops killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. To keep U.S. forces in Afghanistan supplied, the logistics people developed a Northern Distribution Network. It connects Baltic and Caspian Sea ports with Afghanistan through Russia and the countries of Central Asia and the Caucasus. Bash said, no other country in the world can do what the U.S. is doing logistically. (JCS)
  • The Environmental Protection Agency has launched a new website that brings together smokestack statistics for 6,700 power plants, refineries and factories. It’s part of the Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program mandated by a 2008 law. Gina McCarthy, EPA’s assistant administrator for Air and Radiation, says the data, available in one place for the first time, will help foster ideas to reduce emissions and safe fuel. The numbers show that power generating stations puff out the most carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. (EPA)
  • A new report to Congress finds the Internal Revenue Service is facing an unmanageable workload in the face of budget cuts, according to the Associated Press. And, IRS’ National Taxpayer Advocate says it’s not just hindering the agency’s mission. It’s harming taxpayer rights. Congress cut the IRS budget by more than $1.5 billion, compared with what the administration requested for this year. At the same time, the agency has to deal with an ever-more-complex tax code, with 4,400 changes between 2001 and 2010. The report finds that’s forced the IRS to rely on shortcuts, mostly using automated procedures. For example, IRS computers flagged almost a million tax returns as fraudulent last year and declined to process them without ever giving the taxpayers involved an opportunity to respond. (AP)
  • The Interior Department has decided to press ahead with a new procurement for cloud email services. That after more than a year of protests and court fights. In a notice the department posted on FedBizOpps this week, Interior says it plans to issue a request for proposals on Feb. 7. The solicitation for cloud email and collaboration services, first reported by NextGov, would move all 88,000 Interior employees into one email system. It would also provide calendaring, instant messaging, desktop video conferencing and support for mobile devices in a private cloud. Interior originally awarded a contract for a similar service to Softchoice in 2010, but stepped back from the award after a protest by Google. (FedBizOpps)
  • Across the country, scientists and agriculture experts are worried about a decline in the bat population. One problem is disease. Another is deaths caused by wind turbines. The Forest Service has a new tool designed to help solve the second problem. Scientists at the Pacific Southwest Research Station built devices that detect the echolocation calls of bats and mounted them on towers, so they could detect the winged mammals’ migratory patterns around windmill sites. From there, they created an interactive tool designed to help wind facility operators predict the presence of bats, so they can help avoid mass fatalities. (USDA)
  • The website of the private intelligence analysis firm Stratfor is back online. That comes about a month after a hacking incident that let loose thousands of its subscribers’ credit card numbers. Stratfor acknowledged for the first time this week that it had left those credit card numbers in its system unencrypted, leaving them vulnerable. The hacking group “Anonymous,” claimed responsibility for the attack last month. Anonymous members claimed they were targeting companies who “played fast and loose” with their customers’ data. Stratfor says it’s moved its e-commerce process to a third party vendor, and it’s offered credit protection services to its customers at the company’s expense. (Federal News Radio)
  • Homeland Security’s Computer Emergency Response Team is warning government agencies about a new variant of the keystroke-logging “Zeus” virus. This one comes in emails that target accounts belonging to federal, state and local government employees. But there’s an added wrinkle: The emails are disguised to make them look like they come from U.S. CERT itself. The real U.S. CERT says the emails are coming from a botnet that’s controlled by computers in Russia. (DHS)