Friday federal headlines – August 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.

  • Contractors will soon see changes to their past performance records. Amendments to the Federal Acquisition Regulation establish new criteria for evaluating past performance. Now, agency reports score contractors on their ability to control costs and the technical quality of their work. Agencies can also include a variety of contract-specific factors, such as business relationships. In order to give a contractor a “very good” rating, the agency will have to document why, and how it benefited the government. Ditto for “marginal” and “unsatisfactory” ratings, and how they harmed the government. (Federal News Radio)
  • President Barack Obama has picked a turnaround specialist to be commissioner of the embattled IRS. John Koskinen helped lead mortgage giant Freddie Mac when it entered government receivership in 2008. If confirmed by the Senate, Koskinen would replace acting commissioner Danny Werfel. Werfel is testifying later today before the House Oversight Committee. Chairman Darrell Issa has been an outspoken critic of the IRS. He says Koskinen needs to explain his views on the IRS’ targeting of certain political groups that applied for tax-exempt status. (Federal News Radio)
  • The White House released a slew of nominations to second-tier positions. Among them is Gil Kerlikowske to be commissioner of Customs at Homeland Security. Kerlikowske is director of National Drug Control in the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Before joining the administration, he was police chief in Seattle. President Obama also nominated retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Frank Klotz to run the National Nuclear Security Administration. That’s part of the Energy Department. And Kathryn Sullivan was tapped for administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration at Commerce. Sullivan is now the assistant secretary for Observation and Predictions. Yesterday, the Senate confirmed Samantha Power as U.N. Ambassador. (Associated Press)
  • President Obama has nominated Deborah Lee James to be the next Air Force Secretary. She’s president of the technology and engineering sector at contractor SAIC. Lee had a five-year stint in the Clinton Administration as assistant secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs. Earlier she was a staff member of the House Armed Services Committee. If confirmed, Lee would guide an Air Force set to shrink as the Defense Department deals with zero-growth budgets. It’s also working to get a new generation of aerial refueling tankers off the ground. (Associated Press)
  • Beer and wine could help the Postal Service climb out of the red. Postmaster General Pat Donahoe tells the Associated Press, he wants the agency to begin delivering alcohol along with the mail. That’s now illegal, so Congress would have to change the law. But Donahoe estimates that special alcohol shipments could net up to $50 million a year. That’s a drop in the bucket compared with the agency’s reported loss of $16 billion last year. (Associated Press)
  • Despite some bumps along the way, House Republicans successfully have pushed several government- reform measures through the chamber. The “Stop Government Abuse Act” contains measures to limit federal employees’ bonuses, to let citizens more easily record their conversations with feds and to let agencies put senior executives under investigation on unpaid leave. The three separate bills ran up against Democratic opposition earlier in the week. Then sponsors bundled them into one single bill. It passed on a vote of 239 to 176, largely along party lines. (House)
  • Congress has established a new battle line concerning civilian and uniformed pay in the Defense Department. The Senate Appropriations Committee approved a 1 percent pay raise across the board for 2014, GovExec reports. If the full Senate goes along, it will have to negotiate with the House. Last week the House version of the 2014 Defense Appropriations bill passed with a 1.8 percent raise for troops, but nothing for civilian employees. President Obama has threatened to veto the House version. He’s proposed 1 percent for all federal employees next year. (GovExec)
  • The Air Force website is getting an upgrade today. The redesign will be more accessible for users with disabilities. It will be more compatible with mobile devices. The Air Force says upgrades on the back end make it easier to maintain by web managers. Social media and places where users can comment are more prominent on the site. (U.S. Air Force)
  • The Pentagon is investigating the unit responsible for finding missing service members from past wars. In a recent Senate hearing, the Pentagon’s inspector general said he will conduct a probe of potential fraud, waste and abuse. W. Montague Winfield is the deputy assistant secretary of defense for POW MIA policy. He says officials are also looking for a more sensible way of organizing the MIA accounting mission. (Associated Press)
  • The Historic Congressional Cemetery doesn’t “kid” around about keeping its grounds in shape. The non-profit that maintains the cemetery has hired a herd of grazing goats who will chew the place into shape. Starting next week, 100 goats will graze just outside the 1.6 acre site to get rid of invasive species. The animals belong to Eco-Goats of Davidsonville, Maryland. Those goats have helped federal properties before. In 2009 they cleared an overgrown GSA property in California. The goats depart Aug. 12, but a little something stays behind as fertilizer. (Federal News Radio)
  • Former Secretary of State Colin Powell is the latest public figure to be hacked. The notorious hacker Guccifer tapped into Powell’s email and discovered highly personal messages between Powell and Romanian diplomat Corina Cretu, according to In one of the emails, Cretu calls Powell the love of her life. Powell denies having an affair, claiming they’ve been merely friends for years. Guccifer has also hacked into the emails of former President George W. Bush and other government officials and political figures. (The Smoking Gun)
  • Cybersecurity experts have been poring over newly unclassified surveillance documents. They’re finding surprising capabilities in the National Security Agency’s X-Keyscore system. Some researchers think the system can see what’s going on in virtual private networks, according to Information Week. If that’s the case, it means NSA can decipher encrypted files. But researchers disagree over how strong NSA’s tools really are. Computers in the Middle East typically use weaker encryption algorithms than in the United States. Washington Consultant Ashhan Soltani believes NSA can at least crack those. (Information Week)