Friday morning federal headlines – Feb. 8, 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.

  • The Internal Revenue Service is claiming success in a nationwide crackdown on suspected identity thieves. It says it’s fingered nearly 400 of them, resulting in 189 indictments and 109 arrests so far. IRS officials say that in 2012, they prevented $20 billion in fraudulent refunds, up from 14 billion the year before. In some ways, the IRS is a victim of its own success. Electronic filing makes it easier for fraudsters to submit multiple returns using stolen identities. (IRS)
  • Federal workers would get four weeks of paid parental leave when they give birth or adopt a child. That’s under a new bill from House Democrats. The National Treasury Employees Union says it underscores a tough reality for federal employees. Current law provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave, but few federal workers can afford to take it. The bill would let them substitute any leave without pay under the Family and Medical Leave Act with four weeks of paid leave. (NTEU)
  • Senior Executive Service applications are on ice at agencies about to get new political leadership. The Office of Personnel Management says it’s following standard procedure in suspending SES qualification review boards. It wants to give incoming political leaders some say in the career executives they’ll be working most closely with. OMB Director John Berry says non-competitive SES applications will still be processed. And he’ll consider exceptions on competitive applications case by case. OPM says agencies can still initiate QRB applications, but they won’t be completed until new leadership is in place. (CHCOC)
  • The General Services Administration wants to bolster security outside the hulking Commerce Department headquarters. But, officials promise to make it as attractive as possible. The plans call for bollards, hardened light posts and a cable-rail system hidden by stone-clad walls. The plans violate the National Capital Planning Commission‘s policy against security elements in public space. But the commission agreed to a partial exemption if GSA could show the elements would provide a public benefit. That could include Capital Bikeshare stations, public seating and an attempt to integrate the security barriers into the landscaping. (NCPC)
  • The government needs administrative law judges, lots of them. For the first time, the Office of Personnel Management says there’s no limit to the number of applicants it will let sit for the professional exam. Administration law judges arbitrate at benefits-granting agencies, including the departments of Veterans Affairs and Health and Human Services and the Social Security Administration. Government auditors have warned OPM that it needs to qualify candidates more frequently because nearly four out of five current judges are eligible to retire. The last exam was in 2007. (CHCOC)
  • Federal agencies are having a hard time meeting tough energy efficiency goals set by the Obama administration. Federal Times reports, the Defense Department is likely to miss its target of a 30 percent reduction by 2015. It may come in at half that. Health and Human Services and Homeland Security are also falling short. Few of the departments’ buildings come close to the new efficiency standards. In reports to the White House sustainability office, only the General Services Administration says it will meet its green goals. (Federal Times)
  • Congressional Republicans continue to hound the EPA over its email and open-records policies. Now three GOP leaders are asking the agency inspector general to broaden an ongoing investigation. The controversy stems over a long-standing EPA policy to assign two email accounts to its administrator, one for public use and one for internal communications. EPA says both fall under open-records laws. But the heads of the House committees on environment, science and government oversight say the EPA is hiding information from the public by redacting the email account information in documents released publicly. (House)