Thursday morning federal headlines – Oct. 27

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

  • Maybe federal pay and benefits won’t get sacrificed to the fiscal gods after all. At the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction’s public hearing yesterday, witness Douglas Elmendorf, the director of the Congressional Budget Office, told committee members cutting federal pay could ultimately hurt government programs. Elmendorf said it would drive good workers out of the government and hamper recruitment. The committee has been considering extending the federal pay freeze and re-thinking employee benefits. Co-chairman Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) said that might amount to debating pennies instead of dollars. (Federal News Radio)
  • The stimulus watchdog is testing new software tools to track grant and contract money. Four agencies are testing the tools to help catch fraud, and if the tests work out, the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board will make them available governmentwide. Shawn Kingsberry, the CIO of the RAT Board, told Federal News Radio the tools would be offered as a cloud-based service. They are designed to ingest large amounts of data and sniff out clues to possible fraud in the use of stimulus dollars. (Federal News Radio)
  • The White House has responded to its first online petition. It’s new ‘We The People’ website is open to citizens who can get 25,000 signatures for their ideas. The first petition out of the chute was a request to forgive all student loan debt, NextGov reports. Macon Phillips, the White House director of new media, said he promises answers to four other online petitions in the next few days. (NextGov)
  • The Energy Department has been hit by recent successful cyber attacks. Energy’s Inspector General said the agency must do more to protect its computer systems, according to Reuters. The IG report doesn’t say who launched the cyber attacks, when they happened or the consequences. The audit found a growing number of weaknesses in the department’s computer systems, including poor management of computer access codes and passwords, and failure to use up-to-date security measures on some computers and systems to protect against viruses and hackers. The National Nuclear Security Administration criticized the IG’s report for not recognizing the effectiveness of its “layered” approach to cybersecurity. NNSA officials said some of the problems identified in the report were isolated issues. (Reuters)
  • Freddie Mac CEO Charles Haldeman will resign within the next year, the Associated Press reports. The Federal Housing Finance Agency says Freddie Mac will lose its chairman of its governing board and two other board members in the coming months. The departures amount to the biggest leadership shake-up for the agency since it was taken over by the government in 2008. Haldeman has served as CEO since August 2009. He brought stability to the mortgage giant after his predecessor, David Moffett, resigned in frustration in 2009, and the firm’s CFO committed suicide. (Federal News Radio)
  • Two bureaus will soon be one at the Interior department. Secretary Ken Salazar has launched a process to study the best way to merge Interior’s mining regulation and mine reclamation offices. The two have many similar regulatory responsibilities over the mining industry, Salazar said. The move is part of that agency’s push for cost savings and efficiencies. The two bureaus have until March of next year to come up with a comprehensive plan for merging. (Interior Department)
  • OMB could soon be a union shop. Voting on whether to join a union began yesterday. More balloting is scheduled for Nov. 1st. The Office of Management and Budget is a small office, but it carries a lot of weight. OMB has it’s hands in everyone’s budgets and its policies affect all executive branch agencies. It sometimes means long hours for employees there. So workers are exploring whether a union could make their work lives more balanced or beneficial. (Federal News Radio)
  • The National Security Agency is sharing some of its secrets with Wall Street banks. Financial firms are getting the help from the military and private defense contractors to fend off cyber attacks, Reuters reports. The concern is that hackers could exploit security holes and cause economic mayhem. A worst case scenario? Hackers could disable trading systems, trigger flash crashes, or turn off all ATMs. It isn’t clear if hackers have ever come close to causing such trouble, but in an exclusive interview with Reuters, NSA Director Keith Alexander says his agency is currently talking to financial firms about sharing electronic information on malicious software. (Reuters)