Thursday morning federal headlines – April 26, 2012

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

  • The Senate has approved a bipartisan bill to help the Postal Service gain firmer financial footing. It allows the Postal Service to offer retirement buyouts to 100,000. It lets USPS negotiate with its unions about moving employees out of the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan. And it provides an $11 billion cash infusion by returning early payments into the retirement system. But the bill halts Postal’s plan to close thousands of post offices and mail processing centers. The House so far has no corresponding bill. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Army knows it’s got to shrink to meet future budget goals. Now, an Army official says force reductions might require layoffs of soldiers. Thomas Lamont is assistant Army secretary. He tells the Senate Armed Services subcommittee, as many as 24,000 enlisted personnel could face the pink slip. That includes many who returned from multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Another five thousand officers could also be laid off. It all depends on how many leave the Army through attrition. The Army must shrink from 570,000 uniforms to 490,000. (Federal News Radio)
  • Veterans Affairs leaders admit they need help digging out of a backlog of disability claims. VA has signed a deal with the National Archives to apply that agency’s electronic record-keeping system to the mountains of paper applications. It will use the Archives’ top-of-the-line scanners to digitize records. VA says going electronic is the only way it will catch up with all the requests. Secretary Eric Shinseki says he wants to eliminate the backlog by 2015. Nearly 590,000 veterans have been waiting more than four months to hear back from the agency about their applications. (Federal News Radio)
  • A new White House task force will take on the biggest challenge to electronic government. Fifteen years into the e-gov movement, agencies are still reluctant to offer transactions online. That’s because it’s too hard to verify the identity of web site visitors. The new working group will try to change that. Jeremy Grant is the top advisor for identity management at the Commerce Department. He says the new team’s work will let agencies put their killer apps online using commercial identity services. (Federal News Radio)
  • House Republicans are pushing ahead with legislation to protect the nation’s critical infrastructure and corporations from cyber attacks. Even before passage, the Obama administration is threatening a veto on civil liberties grounds. Members will work on the bill today. It authorizes extensive threat information sharing between the Homeland Security Department, other departments. and private sector operators of critical infrastructure. The bill would limit the legal liabilities of companies who share. An administration statement says the bill doesn’t do enough to protect private information. (Federal News Radio)
  • A Senate committee has approved a bill to extend federal whistleblower protections to contractors. Federal Times reports the bill would let contract employees who had been fired…or otherwise harmed by their employer because they reported waste, fraud or abuse to submit a claim to an agency inspector general. The I-G would have six months to investigate and, possibly, submit a report to the contracting agency. Advocacy groups say the bill closes gaps in current whistleblower laws. The Ethics Resource Center says a fifth of private-sector employees who report wrongdoing experience retaliation. (Federal Times)
  • House lawmakers haven’t been able to get federal employees to pay more for retirement benefits, but they’re trying again later today. The House Oversight Committee will consider a bill that would require you to contribute 5 percent more of your salary towards your pension. The increase would be phased in over five years. New employees would have to pay that much right away. It’s quite a hike from the current zero-point-eight percent for employees under FERS. Republican supporters say the increase is a must to counter government spending. The American Federation of Government Employees says it amounts to a pay cut. It says the bill will deter people from joining the federal government. (AFGE)
  • When it comes to agency leadership, federal employees say it’s better than it was, but nowhere near good enough. Overall, it’s ho-hum. The Partnership for Public Service analyzed data from the government’s 2011 survey of federal workers. Governmentwide, employees give senior leaders an “F” with a score of 49 out of 100. Immediate supervisors do better. They earn a “D”, with a score of 64. The Partnership says these scores reflect what employees think about their leaders’ abilities to motivate them empower them and treat them fairly. It warns that agencies need to catch up to the private sector on leadership. That said, the ratings reflect a steady rise over the past decade in how feds see their bosses. Leaders at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and NASA score best among agencies. (Partnership for Public Service)
  • The American Federation of Government Employees is praising 26 members of the Senate for a letter asking Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to lift the cap on the civilian workforce. The senators asked Panetta to look at the bigger picture, saying the cap encourages managers to use contractors instead of civilians. They also said decisions should be made based on law, cost, policy and risk — not because DoD managers simply have fewer civilian employee slots. (AFGE)
  • Making statements about the commander-in-chief on Facebook has ended a Marine’s career. The service is discharging Sgt. Gary Stein for his criticism of President Barack Obama. He wrote on a Facebook page for Marine meteorologists: “Screw Obama and I will not follow all orders from him.” Stein later said he meant that he would not follow unlawful orders. But military prosecutors say Stein repeatedly broke Pentagon rules that forbid uniformed troops from engaging in political activity or speaking “contemptuously” against senior officials. Stein will get an other-than-honorable discharge and lose most of his benefits. (Federal News Radio)