Friday morning federal headlines – Feb. 22, 2013

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.

  • All employees at the EPA will take at least three days off without pay if sequestration begins next week, according to the agency’s union. The American Federation of Government Employees has been negotiating the furloughs with the agency and said every EPA worker would have to take May 24 off without pay. The other two furlough days would come between late April and mid-June. But AFGE also said it is discussing two more agencywide furlough days – one on July 5 and one in August. The EPA cautioned though that these plans are not final yet. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Office of Personnel Management has made it easier for agencies to fast-track the hiring of people with disabilities.Disabled job candidates no longer have to have a doctor or expert’s note saying they’re ready to work. Until now, OPM required a “certificate of readiness” from agencies wanting to use the so-called “Schedule A Hiring Authority.” The hiring authority lets agencies consider disabled job candidates separately from the rest of the pack of applicants. However, another requirement that candidates prove they have a qualifying disability still remains in effect. At last count, 15 percent of new federal hires have disabilities. (Federal News Radio)
  • House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) renewed his call for federal employees to receive benefits more in-line with the private sector. Cantor’s comment was part of a larger statement on sequestration. He blamed President Obama for scaring workers about the effects of the budget cuts scheduled for next week. Cantor also accused Obama of promoting false choices in how to pare back federal spending. In an email to The Washington Post, Cantor repeated his contention that federal employees should pay more toward their pension annuities. (The Washington Post)
  • Agilex Technologies said it will develop a version of VA’s Blue Button technology for mobile devices, NextGov reported. Blue Button allows veterans to download their own medical records and communicate with doctors. Ray Group International will develop an extension of Blue Button so vets can see X-rays and other images. VA made 13 awards totaling $22 million under its Innovation Initiative. (NextGov)
  • The Department of Agriculture has taken new steps to stop illegal trafficking in food stamps. A proposed rule would widen the definition of trafficking itself. It would ban food establishments from giving cash refunds for items purchased with food stamps. It’s already illegal to trade food stamps directly for cash. USDA also wants the authority to immediately freeze payments to retailers it suspects of trafficking violations, instead of waiting for an investigation. Last year, USDA kicked 1,400 retailers out of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. (The Hill)