Thursday federal headlines – May 2, 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.

  • Republican lawmakers are pitching a bill to end the Federal Employees Health Benefits program. Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.) and six other members have introduced a bill that would require federal employees to use the insurance exchanges being set up under the Affordable Care Act. Camp wants that law repealed. But he said f other Americans have to abide by it, then the president, Congress and federal employees should too. (Federal News Radio)
  • The cloud of furloughs has lifted from the Agriculture Department. GovExec reports, thanks to reprogramming authority granted by congress, USDA will be able to avoid furloughs altogether. Earlier, the most likely employees to have unpaid days off were in the Farm Service Agency. But USDA officials say that’s off the table thanks to a hiring freeze, a cut in contract spending, and transferring money from a conservation fund to cover salaries. (GovExec)
  • It’s official. President Barack Obama has signed into law a bill to end furloughs of air traffic controllers, despite his preference for a governmentwide solution to sequestration. The law lets the FAA transfer up to $253 million from other programs to keep controllers on the job. The agency resumed normal operations this weekend in anticipation of the bill becoming law. Lawmakers passed the measure Friday but there was a typo. Congress had to fix it before it reached the president. The FAA said furloughs led to 863 flight delays one day last week. (Federal News Radio)
  • Sequestration is slowing down the government’s efforts to declassify old documents. The National Archives and Records Administration says the agency has reduced funding for releasing presidential records. NARA staff will continue to prepare documents for declassification, but not actually declassify them. NARA says staff will also be slower to respond to FOIA and special access requests. A NARA fact sheet was posted by the Federation of American Scientists. It says NARA had to cut $19 million out of its 2013 budget of $354 million. (FAS)
  • The FBI has released photos of three men it believes have knowledge of the attack on a State Department compound in Libya. The attack occurred Sept. 11, 2012. It resulted in the deaths of four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens. The photos are grainy but the faces are recognizable. They depict men holding rifles and appear to be images from surveillance cameras. The FBI released a plea in English and Arabic for information on who the men might be. (FBI)
  • A new arrest in the Boston Marathon bombings case is casting a light on communication problems at the Homeland Security Department. One of the three people arrested yesterday was allowed to return to the United States from Kazakhstan despite not having a valid student visa. Azamat Tazhayakov was a classmate of suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. Tazhayakov left the United States in December. The university dismissed him for academic reasons. His student-visa status was terminated. A Homeland Security spokesman said when Tazhayakov arrived in January, Customs and Border Protection did not know Tazhayakov’s status had changed. DHS is reforming the student visa system to give Customs access to all relevant student visa information. (Federal News Radio)
  • Two former Commerce Department employees pleaded guilty to submitting false claims for relocation expenses and work not performed. Rachel Ondrik and Kirk Yamatani were special agents in the inspector general’s office. They were transferred from Atlanta to Washington. They charged the government for thousands of dollars in househunting trips that they never went on and other moving expenses they did not encounter. The agents resigned a month ago. The plea deal requires them to pay $42,000 and be sentenced to probation. (Justice)
  • President Barack Obama will nominate businesswoman Penny Pritzker to head the Commerce Department. She’s a Hyatt hotel heiress and a longtime Obama fundraiser. The Associated Press also reported senior economic adviser Michael Froman will be the White House’s pick for U.S. Trade Representative. Obama will announce both nominations later this morning. (Federal News Radio)