Monday morning federal headlines – March 11, 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.

  • President Barack Obama’s suspected pick for Labor Secretary is a hometown boy known for his enthusiasm. Thomas Perez heads the civil rights division of the Justice Department. He has played a leading role in challenging some states’ voter ID laws. Before that, he served as Maryland’s Labor Secretary. In that role, he led the move to pay unemployment benefits with debit cards rather than paper checks. And before that, he was the first Latino elected to the Montgomery County Council. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Internal Revenue Service says more federal employees are cheating on taxes. More than 300,000 feds owed a combined $3.5 billion in back taxes in 2011. That’s a 12 percent jump over the year before. But the IRS cautions, feds do better than other Americans. The delinquency rate for the general public is three times as much. The IRS says most people who owe back taxes file their returns on time but cannot pay everything they owe at once. The Department of Housing and Urban Development had the highest delinquency rate, 4.4 percent of employees failed to pay all their taxes on time. (Federal News Radio)
  • A watchdog group is giving the Obama Administration one thumb up on its transparency initiatives. The Center for Effective Government says the administration has laid the groundwork for a more open and participatory government. Officials have pushed agencies to embrace social media, mobile apps and electronic records management. But the group said implementation is inconsistent at best. It wants the White House to hold agencies more accountable for following through with open-government plans. (Center for Effective Government)
  • While the Obama Administration has pledged to make government more open, it is citing security concerns more often as a reason to keep the public in the dark. The Pentagon, intelligence community, NASA, Office of Management and Budget and nearly every other big department invoked the national security exemption last year in rejecting requests. The Associated Press reports, the government is answering more open-records requests overall. It released two-thirds of the documents requested by the public last year. The other third included cases where agencies couldn’t find records, a person refused to pay for copies or the request was improper. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Air Force is offering counseling and stress relief to employees who may never be in a war zone but experience the stress of it nonetheless. The program targets analysts who sit in a room at Langley Air Force Base, Va. They provide information critical to battle strategies. They also go over videos of incidents to assess damage. The Air Force began the counseling program after noticing an uptick in sleeping problems, smoking, alcohol and behavioral issues. (Federal News Radio)
  • Just when you thought there was an app for everything, Thrift Savings Plan has issued a warning for iPhone users about an app called TSP Funds. The app is not sanctioned by TSP. It’s being offered in the Apple App store by a third party called iSystemIntegrator. It asks TSP participants to enter their account login information and offers access to personalized fund performance data. TSP warns that providing this information could pose a security risk. (TSP)
  • A watchdog group says the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is painting too rosy a picture of nuclear safety in the United States. NRC Chairman Allison Macfarlane told the Associated Press plants are safer than ever, though not trouble-free. All but five of the nation’s 104 nuclear reactors were performing at acceptable safety levels at the end of last year. But the Union of Concerned Scientists says nearly one in six U.S. nuclear reactors experienced safety breaches last year, due in part to weak oversight. The group accuses the NRC of “tolerating the intolerable.” It bases its report on the agency’s own data. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Labor Department has sent furlough notices to just under a third of its employees, about 4,700 people. They would have to take an average of six days off from work without pay before October. A department spokesman told Federal Times, Labor plans to space out those days so that each employee would have just one per month. He said the situation is still fluid. Managers are looking for savings in contracts and grants. The department says it hopes to realize enough savings to cancel some of the furloughs. (Federal Times)