Wednesday morning federal headlines – March 27, 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 has signed a six-month spending bill into law. Without it, the government would have run out of operating funds today. The law keeps the sequester in place but gives some agencies more flexibility to cope with the cuts. The Defense Department is tweaking its plans to cut $46 billion. Pentagon officials say they still have not made a decision on how many days civilian employees might be furloughed. That means furloughs would not start until mid-May. They warn that despite the new law, the decisions will still be tough. (Federal News Radio)
  • NASA is warning contractors: they may have to find other work. The director of Langley Research Center in Norfolk, Va., has told her staff she may have to reduce the 1,700-strong contract workforce, because she’s already cut back on travel and monetary awards. Meanwhile, the independent has published an internal agency memo revealing that NASA is suspending education and public outreach activities pending review. This includes events aimed at getting kids interested in science careers. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Office of Management and Budget has repeated its calls for agencies to stop building new financial management systems. It says they should share in systems already up and running. The latest memo comes from Controller Danny Werfel. He says use of Federal Shared Service Providers will let agencies focus more on their core missions. And it could improve financial reporting and data quality. OMB handed Treasury the task of surveying existing service centers and seeing where the gaps are. OMB has been pushing for more shared services since early in the Bush administration. (Federal News Radio)
  • The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency is warning of big hikes in flood insurance premiums. Craig Fugate says policies that now cost hundreds of dollars per year will cost thousands. That’s because Congress has mandated the federal flood insurance program pay for itself. Fugate says the price hikes will be phased in over three or four years. He spoke at the National Hurricane Center. Center director Rick Knabb says it’s working on earlier warning systems for hurricanes and storm surges. (Federal News Radio)
  • President Barack Obama has named a 30-year veteran of the Secret Service to become its new director. Julia Pierson will be the first woman to lead the agency. The job does not require Senate confirmation. Pierson takes over from Mark Sullivan after a series of scandals for the Secret Service. Last year several agents were implicated for the use of prostitutes while on a presidential trip to Colombia. Pierson joined in 1983 after serving as a police officer in Orlando, Fla. (Federal News Radio)
  • Advocates of gay service members are out in force at the Supreme Court. It hears arguments today in a case that could signal the end of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act. The federal law defines marriage as between a man and a woman. The case was originally brought by a Massachusetts postal worker suing the Office of Personnel Management for benefits for her legal spouse. The Pentagon has also denied same-sex military couples survivor benefits and health insurance for spouses. Before retiring, former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta ordered the services to extend 22 personnel benefits to the gay husbands and wives of service members. But he noted, DOMA precluded the Pentagon from offering the most substantial ones. Yesterday, the Supreme Court heard arguments on California’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage. (Federal News Radio)
  • Thrift Savings Plan managers may tweak the automatic enrollment program. Government Executive reports, new figures from the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board, which oversees the plan, show some feds aren’t saving as they should. That’s perhaps because of how the automatic enrollment feature works. When you join the government, 3 percent of your pay goes into the G-Fund unless you opt out. That fund is the most stable offering. It’s geared toward those closer to retirement. And some say 3 percent is not the right amount of money to automatically invest. (Government Executive)