Tuesday morning federal headlines – May 8, 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 FederalNewsRadio.com users more information about the stories you hear on the air.

  • House Democrats said the military needs to get hazing under control. They introduced a bill to require the services to track incidents. Those could be cases of soldiers committing violence against each other as a punishment, initiation rite or bonding activity. Hazing isn’t clearly defined now. The measure would provide a legal definition so that it could be treated as a stand-alone crime. The bill would require auditors to look at each service’s training and prevention policies. It would direct the Defense Department to develop a comprehensive plan to stop hazing. Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) is one of the bill’s sponsors and has named it after her nephew Harry Lew, who committed suicide last year after being hazed by his Marine Corps platoon in Afghanistan. (Federal News Radio)
  • A pioneer contractor in government IT is about to lose its independence. GTSI opened its doors as a reseller exclusively to the federal government in 1983. Now it has agreed to be acquired by Unicom Systems for $76 million in cash. That amounts to $7.75 a share, a premium over GTSI’s current market price. A company release said GTSI’s board of directors approved the deal unanimously. GTSI was once the largest reseller of PCs and other equipment to the government. Stiff competition and only partial success converting to a service company lead to a steady decline in revenues and repeated losses. In 2010, the company was briefly suspended from federal contracting over a deal involving an Alaska native company. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Office of Personnel Management has outlined a strategy to provide what it calls “less frustrating” customer service to federal workers while helping its own employees do their jobs better. It announced five initiatives to get at those goals. They’re in a revised open-government plan. This year, OPM is studying how it shares information, solves problems and collaborates with agencies. It is also refreshing its website. Without these first steps, the agency said it could not centralize call centers and help desks next year. Officials said that move should please customers and cut redundant operations. OPM also is studying how it can post more information online to cut down the number of Freedom of Information Act requests it receives. (OPM)
  • The Merit Systems Protection Board is revising its governing policies for the first time since the agency opened its doors 33 years ago. It is looking at how the board is organized, how members make decisions and its practices and procedures for hearing and deciding cases. Chairman Susan Grundmann called the revision a “watershed event.” The agency has already gathered ideas from staff and outside stakeholders. It will publish a proposal in June to give the public time to comment. (MSPB)
  • In a strange form of 21st century vigilantism, a group of hackers called “the Unknowns” said they have hacked into NASA and Air Force computers, according to Government Computer News. But the group said it did this to help those agencies patch up security holes. In a blog post on Pastebin, the group said that unlike hacker group Anonymous, it is not against the U.S. government. The Unknowns posted the names and email addresses of government employees but then sent emails to those same employees telling them how they could protect themselves in the future. The Unknowns also hacked into Harvard University’s website and the defense ministries of several countries in Europe and the Middle East. (Government Computer News)
  • The House Budget Committee approved a bill to avoid the automatic budget cuts scheduled for next year. The alternative budget plan heads to the full House for a vote later this week. It’s designed to skip sequestration by overriding the Budget Control Act now in effect. The new bill includes a 5 percent hike in the amount federal employees contribute to their retirement costs. That raise would be phased in over five years. Savings would also come from cuts in a variety of big-ticket programs. The White House vowed to veto the bill should it come to the president’s desk. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Postal Service is facing a multimillion-dollar lawsuit from one of its major contractors. Northrop Grumman has sued the agency for breaching a $874 million contract, according to the PostalReporter News Blog. The Postal Service had hired the company to install mail-sorting machines. Law 360 reported that Northrop Grumman alleged that the Postal Service improperly delayed and disrupted the installation. It said the agency kept tweaking its requests and ignoring the original deal. That made it hard for the project to continue. Northrup Grumman said the Postal Service owes it more than $60 million. The agency expects to lose billions of dollars this year. Congress is considering legislation to help it regain its financial footing. (PostalReporter)