Monday morning federal headlines – April 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 State Department is mourning the loss of a 25-year-old diplomat killed in Afghanistan Saturday. Secretary of State John Kerry said Anne Smedinghoff was bringing textbooks to school children when a suicide bomber intercepted her convoy. She is the first American diplomat to die on the job since last year’s attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi. Smedinghoff’s father said she was tailor-made for the foreign service. She joined straight out of college and served in Venezuela before volunteering for Afghanistan. Four other Americans were killed in the attack. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Office of Personnel Management has published guidance to help agencies create the new role of post-combat care coordinator. The coordinator is meant to be a point person for civilian employees who get hurt or sick while serving in a war zone. Civilian employees returning from troubled areas might not be aware that there are programs to help them cope with physical or mental trauma. The coordinator can connect them with the programs and help them collect the required documentation and evidence. The role was mandated by the 2012 defense authorization law. OPM said some agencies have already designated a person for the job. (CHCOC)
  • NASA wants to bag an asteroid. Literally. The plan was disclosed in a document obtained by the Associated Press. NASA would select a 25-foot rock sometime in 2019. A crew of four on an Orion space capsule would surround it with the space-equivalent of a drawstring bag and drag it closer to earth’s orbit. The idea is to improve NASA’s skill at eventually having astronauts walk on an asteroid. NASA says if a 25-footer came too close to Earth, it would pose no danger because it would burn up in the atmosphere. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) says the president’s 2014 budget proposal includes $100 million for the accelerated asteroid mission. (Federal News Radio)
  • President Barack Obama’s 2014 budget proposal will strongly back Veterans Affairs. It will include a nearly 14 percent increase in money for processing backlogged disability claims. Overall, VA spending would rise 4 percent. VA would get more than $63 billion for everything from construction to veterans’ pension and education benefits. The claims backlog has become a major bugaboo for VA. Even television comedian Jon Stewart has poked fun at the problem. Six-hundred thousand claims have been sitting for at least 125 days. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Federal Aviation Administration has delayed the closing of 149 small airport control towers. The first of the shutdowns were to have started this past weekend. Now they’ll all close at once on June 15. The FAA says it needs more time to deal with legal challenges to the closings. A group representing tower operations contractors sued to stop the closings. The U.S. Contract Tower Association said the FAA is singling out its members for too much of the sequestration cost cutting. The FAA also has to consider bids from 50 airport authorities, who say they’re ready to step up and fund tower operations themselves. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Office of Personnel Management is proposing two dozen changes to the largest workplace fundraiser. The Combined Federal Campaign would start and end a month later, meaning it would go from mid-October through the holidays and end in mid-January. There would be a new disaster relief program to collect donations as soon as a disaster like Superstorm Sandy strikes. And new federal employees could contribute to the campaign immediately rather than waiting a whole year. OPM’s proposed rule in today’s Federal Register is based on an independent board’s recommendations. The agency is accepting public comments for two months. (Federal Register)
  • A boomlet in federal retirements continued in March. The Office of Personnel Management says more than 10,000 people filed to retire, twice the expected number. It was the third month of higher-than-expected claims. January and February swept in a combined 42,000 retirements. OPM said it was able to beat its claims processing goal in March. Staff completed nearly 15,000 applications. (Federal News Radio)