Monday federal headlines – July 22, 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.

  • Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is getting more blunt in his cross-country town hall meetings. Now he is telling audiences at military installations that furloughs of Defense civilians are likely to continue in 2014. Hundreds of thousands of employees have already had their first of 11 unpaid days off planned for this year. Hagel says that because of the likelihood of another round of sequestration budget cuts, these are the facts of life. Hagel has already warned of layoffs in the next fiscal year. Analysts say the uniformed staff grew 3 percent during the Iraq and Afghanistan war years, but the civilian headcount has grown 14 percent. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Pentagon is preparing parole-board-style hearings for 71 Guantanamo detainees. The decision comes years after President Barack Obama ordered the Periodic Review Boards, according to The Miami Herald. The six members on the panel represent the Pentagon, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Director of National Intelligence, and the departments of State, Justice and Homeland Security. They are supposed to evaluate whether the inmate is still a significant threat to national security. There is no word yet on when the hearings will start. Meanwhile, a Senate Judiciary panel will hold a hearing Wednesday on the implications of closing the Guantanamo prison. (The Miami Herald)
  • House Republicans want to do away with a signature Education Department program. On a party line vote, they passed a bill to dismantle the troubled No Child Left Behind law. The legislation would eliminate federally required student testing. The Obama administration immediately issued a veto threat. An alternative Senate plan would give local school districts more flexibility, but keep the federal government as the arbiter of what’s a good school improvement plan. No Child Left Behind was enacted in 2001 by a bipartisan coalition. (Federal News Radio)
  • Federal employees’ conversations with citizens would be more easily recorded under a new bill. Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-Kan.) calls her bill the Citizens Empowerment Act. It would require agency employees to allow people to tape phone or face-to-face discussions about criminal or regulatory violations. It would apply when there’s the possibility of fines or forfeitures. The bill would require feds to notify citizens of their right to record conversations. With advance notice, federal employees could also record the talks, but they would have to provide a transcript. (U.S. House of Representatives)
  • One lawmaker wants to expand the federal employees’ health benefits program to small businesses. Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) pitches the idea as part of a package of bills to help small businesses meet the mandates of the Affordable Care Act. He says his state doesn’t offer a lot of health care options for those businesses. The FEHBP could provide a competitive alternative. Begich says it would be off-limits in states where small businesses can choose from at least two other plans or a multi-state option. (U.S. Senate)
  • The Transportation Security Administration is bringing faster security lines to the masses. It is expanding its trusted traveler program known as Precheck. Starting in the fall, any U.S. citizen can apply for $85. The cost covers TSA’s screening, including a background check and fingerprints, and enrollment. Right now, about 12 million frequent fliers are in the expedited screening program. Administrator John Pistole says he expects another 3 million to enroll. Congress applauded the move. Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) says success will depend on how effective the agency communicates with the public and manages the program behind the scenes. (Federal News Radio)
  • The National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education is working to standardize job descriptions for people who do cybersecurity work. To help move the project along, it plans a series of focus groups with cyber experts. The focus groups will start in mid- August and occur through October. The aim of the focus groups is to sharpen what the Initiative calls its Framework Version Two, which it hopes to draft by next spring. Focus group participants must have at least two years technical experience in cyber and, basically, know what they’re talking about. They’ll have at least four hours of reading to do before participating. The Initiative is working under the auspices of the National Institute of Standards and Technology. (National Institute of Standards and Technology)
  • In its latest effort to protest National Security Agency surveillance programs, the hacker collective Anonymous has targeted FEMA. It stole and posted data about a cyber exercise that the agency conducted last year. In the exercise, a made-up group called “The Void” hacks into the networks of U.S. businesses. The data dump includes contact information for first responders and contractors. Last week, we reported that Anonymous also posted the email addresses and passwords for hundred of Capitol Hill employees. A Senate systems administrator says many of those were outdated. (Twitter)
  • The U.S. Marshals Service has lost track of as many as 4,000 encrypted two-way radios. The equipment is worth millions of dollars, according to the Wall Street Journal. Its loss potentially endangers federal judges, witnesses and others protected by the Marshals. An internal investigation has warned Marshals’ leadership about the problem since 2011. A spokesman tells the Journal, the problem may be the record-keeping system and that the radios aren’t really lost. But employees report purchasing at least one of the agency’s radios on eBay. (The Wall Street Journal)
  • The Patent and Trademark Office is blaming sequestration for delaying its plan to expand beyond the Beltway. Acting Director Teresa Stanek Rea says PTO will not open permanent offices in Dallas, Denver or Silicon Valley yet. Agency staff in those areas are working out of temporary spaces. Rea says they are trying to make a dent in the Patent Trial and Appeal Board’s caseload. She says they will hire more staff as necessary. The agency opened its first satellite office last year in Detroit. (U.S. Patent and Trademark Office)