Monday federal headlines – Aug. 12, 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.

  • Housing and Urban Development has called off two furlough days scheduled for August. The cancellation follows a grievance filing by the American Federation of Government Employees Local 222. AFGE said a restructuring the agency announced in April violated an agreement the union had with HUD over furloughs. AFGE says that before it could restructure and close dozens of offices, HUD was obligated to end furloughs. Both sides agreed to that obligation in March, after HUD announced furloughs but before it announced the restructuring. (Federal News Radio)
  • The White House plans to exempt the military payroll from sequestration next year. That means more pressure to reduce other parts of the Defense Department budget in 2014. Under the law enabling sequestration, the White House has the right to exempt troops’ pay. That also means they can’t be furloughed the way civilian employees can and have been. Unless Congress comes up with a budget deal the president will sign, the Defense Department will have to cut $52 billion from planned expenditures next year. (Federal Times)
  • The Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board threw out its incumbent tech services contractor and picked a new one. Under a five-year, $225 million deal, Science Applications International Corporation will replace Serco. The board is also upping its spending on its network, partly to improve cybersecurity. Last year, Serco reported a cyber breach affecting 123,000 users of the Thrift Savings Plan. Both SERCO and the board came under pressure from Congress when it came to light. SAIC will provide several services, including record keeping, information security and agency-wide IT support. (Federal News Radio)
  • The ink is barely dry on a big General Services Administration request for proposals. Already two would-be bidders are protesting. Earlier this month, GSA issued the RFQ for its One Acquisition Solution for Integrated Services, OASIS. The multiple award deal is worth $60 billion. But Aljucar, Anvil-Incus and Company has told the Government Accountability Office the RFQ is unfair to small businesses. A second company, USfalcon, says it plans to file a similar protest. At issue is how companies are evaluated, and whether their commercial experience counts when the government considers them for task orders. It’s a point industry groups and the GSA tussled over for months before the RFQ came out. (Federal News Radio)
  • Los Angeles has high hopes for a new federal courthouse. The General Services Administration has broken ground on the long-awaited building in downtown LA. Architects have dubbed the design the ‘cube’ because of its shape. They expect it to be LEED- platinum certified. It will be situated to maximize daylight and minimize energy use. When completed, it will house the district court, Marshals Service, federal prosecutors and public defenders’ offices and GSA. (GSA)
  • U.S. attorneys are easing up on low-level, non-violent drug offenders to devote resources to more serious crimes. Attorney General Eric Holder plans to announce changes to the Justice Department policy today before the American Bar Association in San Francisco. He is telling federal prosecutors to save charges that carry mandatory minimum sentences for suspects with ties to large-scale organizations, gangs or drug cartels. In prepared remarks, Holder said prison should be used to punish, deter and rehabilitate, and not to merely convict, warehouse and forget. Federal prisons are nearly 40 percent above capacity. (Federal News Radio)
  • The departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs are funneling $107 million into new research on post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. They have set up two programs. One led by the University of Texas will study bio- markers useful for diagnosis and therapy. The other, led by Virginia Commonwealth University, will study the links between concussions, chronic mild TBI and neuro- degenerative diseases. The five-year projects are part of an interagency effort to understand what causes PTSD and related conditions and how to treat them. (White House)
  • President Barack Obama says the Veterans Affairs Department is getting a handle on its backlog of disability claims. The president told the Disabled American Veterans this weekend, VA has cut its backlog by nearly a fifth over the last five months. He credits the department for directing claims processors to work overtime and for a new initiative to address cases that are more than a year old. The department says it is now partnering with the American Bar Association and the Legal Services Corporation to move cases along. Volunteer lawyers will help veterans gather the evidence needed to support their claims. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Army has set up a formal program to recognize insider threats. It requires the chief information officer to set up a program to monitor desktop and portable devices on classified networks. Army Secretary John McHugh signed the directive the day after Army Private Bradley Manning was found guilty of giving classified documents to the web site WikiLeaks. The Federation of American Scientists obtained the Army documents and posted them online. (Federation of American Scientists)
  • The Navy has installed a new commander of the Pacific Fleet submarine force. Rear Adm. Phillip Sawyer previously oversaw submarines in Asia and the Middle East. Pacific Fleet operates 60 percent of the Navy’s submarines. It also oversees the nation’s ballistic missile submarine force in the Pacific. Sawyer’s boss, Adm. Cecil Haney, recently set up a task force to discuss sexual assault issues. Commanders from across Asia and the Pacific held their first monthly teleconference this week. (Federal News Radio)
  • The State Department has re-opened 18 of the 19 embassies and consulates it had closed in the Middle East and Africa. But the embassy in Sana’a, the capital of Yemen, will stay shut. Another consulate, in Lahore, Pakistan, was closed Thursday and will stay closed. The widespread closures stemmed from what State called credible terrorism threats. A spokesman said al-Qaida still poses an immediate danger in Yemen embassy. Most embassy employees were ordered to leave the country. (Federal News Radio)
  • While they wait for cybersecurity legislation, businesses in the United States are looking for ways to reduce risk on their own. More and more are considering insurance policies against data breaches. One new survey says 76 percent of businesses consider cyber threats at least as likely to occur as fires or natural disasters. The study shows only a third of companies actually have cyber breach insurance policies, according to eWeek. But more and more are considering buying them. The study was done by the Ponemon Institute in conjunction with Experian Data Breach Resolution. Respondents estimate the average data breach carries a price tag of $163 million. (eWeek)