Thursday morning federal headlines – Feb. 21, 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 Occupational Safety and Health Administration blamed the Department of Veterans Affairs for unsafe working conditions at a San Francisco, Calif. lab. Medical researcher Richard Din died after exposure to a meningitis virus. OSHA said the VA failed to follow safe handling and training procedures. Din handled bacteria in the open, not in a protective chamber and the VA did not give him a meningitis vaccine. VA closed the lab after the incident last April. It said it followed OSHA’s orders before the final investigation report came out. (Federal News Radio)
  • A survey of federal agencies suggested the Department of Homeland Security could give more help in securing federal buildings. Auditors at the Government Accountability Office said DHS could make it easier for the others to follow the security standards set by an interagency working group that it leads. GAO found most of the 32 agencies have managers that monitor and oversee physical security at individual buildings and most have documented performance measures for security. But two-thirds of them don’t make full use of risk assessments to allocate resources. (GAO)
  • The Postal Service said it no longer needs 800 experts in deciphering bad handwriting. reported the service is closing its Remote Encoding Center in Kansas. It is one of two remaining centers that specialize in reading poorly printed addresses. Even though it opened in the mid 1990s, the center’s manager said it was always supposed to be temporary. Now the Postal Service’s character-recognition technology can read 98-percent of hand-written addresses. The agency is reassigning 417 employees protected by union contracts. The other 380 workers will lose their jobs when the center closes. The Postal Service said that the job loses will occur in September 2013 at the earliest. (PostalReporter News Blog)
  • The State Department wants to spread out in the District’s Foggy Bottom neighborhood. The agency wants ideas from planners for building offices on the campus of the former Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery. The Pentagon deserted the campus in the last Base Realignment and Closure round. It is located between State’s current headquarters and the Kennedy Center. The location is a historic property that the federal government has owned since the 1790s. The General Services Administration said it could become a state-of-the-art federal campus where history meets innovation and modernization. State Department employees now working out of private office buildings would move to the site. (GSA)
  • In an apparent Hollywood first, a federally-funded propaganda movie has received an Oscar nomination. The Wall Street Journal reported that the 29-minute film “Buzkashi Boys” was funded by the State Department as part of a campaign to improve the image of the United States in Afghanistan. Director Sam French received a $220,000 grant from a public diplomacy fund. He used the project to train aspiring Afghan filmmakers. Buzkashi is the national sport of Afghanistan. Horseback riders compete to get a headless goat carcass across a goal line. (The Wall Street Journal)
  • The House Oversight Committee is looking into suspected contracting fraud at the IRS. Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) asked acting Treasury Secretary Neal Wolin for more information. Issa said he learned of $500 million in contracts that went to Signet Computers. Issa said Signet’s owner had a personal relationship with an IRS employee who works in procurement. He said the company appears to have had no federal experience before IRS, and that the agency may have set up the procurement so that Signet alone could win. (Federal News Radio)
  • Federal employees worried about their agency budgets might also want to think about their retirement annuities. The government’s unfunded pension liability jumped more than five-fold from 2010 to 2011. It currently stands north of $760 billion. Federal Times reported most of the deficit is in the Civil Service Retirement System. But the FERS accounts also went from black to red. The Office of Personnel Management attributed the jump to a revision of its long-term assumptions about rate of return on invested funds. The latest projection caught the eye of Sen.Tom Coburn (R-Okla.). He wondered how the government planned to cover the growing pension deficit. (Federal Times)
  • Customs and Border Protection will issue furlough notices to employees in mid-March if Congress fails to stop sequestration. More than 5,000 border patrol agents and 2,700 customs officers would have to take up to 14 days off without pay.The National Treasury Employees Union made the announcement after talks with the agency.It said Customs and Border Protection considers furloughs a “last-resort” tool and that the agency will try to spread the furlough days out among the remaining pay periods of the fiscal year. (Federal News Radio)