Wednesday morning federal headlines – April 17, 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.

  • Another cautionary tale for system administrators who choose weak passwords. WordPress, the open source Web publishing platform used for blogging, continues to be a target for hackers using brute force attack methods to compromise the software. WordPress administrators with the word “admin” as account name and an easily cracked password are the biggest targets. US-CERT recommends WordPress users and administrators ensure their content management installation has the latest software versions available and recommends changing passwords. Other recommendations can be found at (US Cert)
  • The Department of Veterans Affairs wants to end its two-strikes-and-you’re-out policy of health care. Right now, if a veteran misses two medical appointments without giving at least 24 hours notice and a good excuse, that’s it. The VA puts them down as refusing medical care. They don’t get more health care services from the department except in an emergency. Or if they promise not to miss appointments again. VA says that rule is out of line with its patient-centered philosophy. It wants it stripped from the books. It is accepting public comments on a proposed rule in the Federal Register. (Federal Register)
  • The United States still pays billions of dollars for overseas military bases. The Senate Armed Services Committee spent a year investigating the cost, burden-sharing and congressional oversight of permanent bases and found the U.S. spends $10 billion overall — 70 percent of that in Germany, Japan and South Korea. The report also identified inherent problems and missteps as U.S. facilities on foreign lands are returned to the host nations. The Pentagon is looking to scale back or close overseas and U.S. domestic bases in order to save money. (Federal News Radio)
  • The American Civil Liberties Union wants the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the four major mobile carriers’ security practices. The ACLU filed a complaint Tuesday claiming AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint are not doing enough to protect users’ private and personal data — specifically on Android devices — by not issuing timely security updates. The ACLU claims that while Google has published updates to fix exploitable security vulnerabilities, these fixes have not been sent out to consumers. (ACLU)
  • Renegotiate your pay? The National Association of Postal Supervisors told the Postal Service: thanks but no thanks. The Postal Service asked supervisors to re-open pay talks in light of its financial crisis. But the group says postal supervisors can’t afford it. They’ve had three years of pay freezes, paid higher benefits premiums and faced bigger workloads because of understaffing. Meanwhile, lawmakers are debating helping the Postal Service climb out of the red. The House Oversight Committee hears from Postmaster General Pat Donahoe, Comptroller General Gene Dodaro and the heads of the Postal Service’s Board of Governors and the National Association of Letter Carriers. (National Association of Postal Supervisors)
  • Police have a suspect in the case of a poisoned letter mailed to the Senate. The letter, coated in ricin, was intercepted at a post office in Prince George’s County, Md. It was addressed to Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.). His colleague, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), says the suspect is a frequent correspondent. The FBI and Capitol Police are investigating. But they wouldn’t name the suspect. (Federal News Radio)
  • Poorly trained federal acquisition staff is putting agencies at risk of overspending. So say the leaders of House and Senate committee that oversee general government operations. They have released a new report by the Government Accountability Office. Agencies told GAO they don’t have the money to properly train staff. GAO found it hard to compare agencies because most don’t collect data on this. The lawmakers say: they should. They also call on the Office of Federal Procurement Policy to make them. Bills are moving in the House and Senate on the issue. (GAO)
  • A proposal to alter cost-of-living adjustments in the president’s 2014 budget request is causing heartburn with federal employees. President Barack Obama is proposing switching to the chained consumer price index or “chained CPI” to calculate COLAs to federal civilian and military retirement annuities, as well as Social Security, veterans’ and disability insurance benefits. These benefits are currently determined by the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers or CPI-W. The National Association of Active and Retired Federal Employees says by using the chained CPI instead of the CPI-W, COLAs would be reduced by about 0.3 percent per year. Over time, that would mean benefits would be 3 percent lower after 10 years. NARFE offers a calculator to estimate how the proposal would reduce an earned federal annuity. The House Committee on Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security takes up the issue Thursday. (Federal News Radio)
  • A bill to give the Government Accountability Office more power has passed the House. The vote was unanimous. It would give GAO more access to sensitive information, and let investigators make copies. Examiners could also place agency officials under oath. GovExec reports, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) is reading the bill. She introduced a similar one in the Senate in 2011. The House version was sponsored by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Rep. Elijah Cummings (R-Md.). They are chairman and ranking members of the Oversight and Government Reform committee, respectively.(GovExec)
  • Plain language movements are starting to make a difference. Agencies are being graded on their efforts to use plain language in federal documents. The Center for Plain Language recognized the Agriculture Department with an “A” for adhering to the Plain Language Act while Veterans Affairs received a failing grade. Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) is reintroducing his Plain Language Regulations Act to extend the use of simple and straight-forward writing to federal regulations. (Federal News Radio)
  • Federal CIO Steven VanRoekel has been pushing agencies to save money by using shared services. Now the Office of Management and Budget has published a catalog of shared services. It’s online at The catalog divides available share services into three categories, commodity ITT, mission services and support services. You need a Max ID to log on. (