Thursday morning federal headlines – Dec. 6, 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 Social Security Administration is expanding its fast-track program for applicants with serious illnesses. Now 200 conditions from cancer to early-onset Alzheimer’s can qualify someone for the Compassionate Allowance program. The triage system also helps the agency cope with increasing caseloads and a grim budget outlook. The American Federal of Government Employees, which represents many Social Security employees, says staff expect furloughs of up to 15 days next year. Offices began closing a half-hour earlier last week to save money. (SSA)
  • The National Weather Service may change its hurricane warnings following Superstorm Sandy. A spokesman said it could start issuing watches and warnings for storms that threaten life and property, even if they aren’t technically hurricanes or tropical storms. Some have criticized the agency’s silence on Superstorm Sandy. The National Hurricane Center stopped issuing warnings when Sandy weakened from a hurricane to a storm. Even though it was just a storm by the time it hit land, it has left billions of dollars in damage. Some say residents might have taken more precautions if they had understood how bad a superstorm could be. (Federal News Radio)
  • Most federal agencies have failed to update their Freedom of Information Act policies, four years after an executive order ordered them to. That’s according to the non-profit National Security Archives. The group says 62 out of 99 agencies ignored a March 2009 order from Attorney General Eric Holder. It asked agencies to default toward releasing material rather than withholding it. Even fewer agencies have complied with the 2007 Open Government Act, the Archives said. The Archive said all agencies should join the FOIA-online portal, and they should engage in direct talks with requesters to find out exactly what they are looking for. (National Security Archive)
  • Agency use of polygraphs on employees is on the rise. An investigation by McClatchy Newspapers found that last year, more than 73,000 Americans had to take lie-detector tests to get or keep a federal job. The report said polygraph screening was mostly banned in the private sector. But federal lie-detector use is expanding to contractor employees, the report said. Studies disagreed over whether polygraphs are accurate. In 2003, the National Academies recommended the government stop using them. Since then, 15 agencies have continued or expanded use of polygraphs as a screening device for national security jobs. (McClatchy)
  • CEOs at government contractors might find their paychecks a bit light if a Senate bill becomes law. The provision to watch is in the upper chamber’s version of the defense authorization bill. It would slash the amount the government would contribute to contractor executives’ salaries. The reimbursement cap would dive from $763,000 a year to $230,000. During conference committee last year, lawmakers dropped a similar cap from last year’s defense bill. (Federal News Radio)
  • The National Guard will continue manning the U.S-Mexico border for another year. The Pentagon has agreed to supply up to 300 guardsmen to the Department of Homeland Security. The Guard has helped Customs and Border Patrol agents arrest nearly 20,000 illegal immigrants and seize more than 100,000 pounds of marijuana over the past nine months. President Barack Obama authorized the Guard’s deployment along the border in 2010. Four times as many guardsmen manned the border at that time. Since then, Homeland Security has ramped up its presence there to more than 18,000 agents. The Guard supports their work mainly through intelligence activities, including air missions. (DoD)