Monday morning federal headlines – March 25, 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.

  • More than 3,500 federal prison staffers won’t face furloughs after all. Attorney General Eric Holder says he has moved $150 million to the Bureau of Prisons from other Justice Department accounts. That means no guard has to take a day off from work unpaid. Council of Prison Locals president Dale Deshotel told us the planned furloughs were causing panic among guards who feared for their safety. Inmates outnumber guards in federal facilities by more than four to one. Holder cautions staff, the spending bill Congress passed last week does not roll back budget cuts. (Federal News Radio)
  • Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki says he’s committed to clearing the claims backlog by 2015. Some 600,000 veterans benefits claims are clogging the agency, most of them late. Shinseki told a Sunday TV show, 10 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan have produced a bumper crop of claims on his watch. He said the agency is on track to replace its paper claims process. Shinseki said a computerized system is in 20 locations already. Recent congressional hearings have highlighted the fact that backlogs quadrupled since Shinseki became secretary. (Federal News Radio)
  • Budget cuts are throwing the criminal justice system into turmoil. Some federal defender offices have laid people off. Others are planning furloughs as long as six weeks. The courts pay for federal defenders out of a much smaller budget than the Justice Department’s. That’s why prosecutors seem to get a better shake. They may be furloughed for just two weeks. What’s more, the courts are limited in how they can tackle sequestration. The law prohibits them from adjusting judges’ salaries. (Federal News Radio)
  • In a bid to save money, the Federal Aviation Administration is closing 149 air traffic control towers starting in April. The towers are located throughout the United States. Most are at small airports. FAA must cut its 2013 spending by $637 million under sequestration. That means furlough days for 47,000 controllers. The affected airports will remain open. Pilots will have to coordinate among themselves on radio to land safely. Airlines haven’t said whether they’ll keep scheduled service to tower-less airports. FAA administrator Michael Huerta said the agency is considering ending overnight shifts at larger airports such as Chicago Midway. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Office of Personnel Management is looking to add six health care providers to the Federal Employees Health Benefits Programs. OPM’s John O’Brien is director of health care and insurance. He says the more providers, the more the competition keeps premium increases in check. Four new providers joined last year. For both 2012 and 2013, premiums rose less than 4 percent. Last year, OPM added employees of Indian tribes to the FEHBP. The open season for adding or changing health care benefits runs for a month each year starting in November. (Federal News Radio)
  • The government’s personnel chief is warning lawmakers to take extreme caution because the federal workforce is close to the breaking point. Federal Times reports, Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry spoke out after a meeting with federal union leaders and agency heads last week. Berry said extended pay freezes and threats to change retirement plans are hurting efforts to recruit and retain a qualified workforce. For example, he said, the government is struggling to hire people to fight cyber threats, now widely acknowledged on Capitol Hill as a top priority. (Federal Time)