Thursday federal headlines – August 1, 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 described a military future with a smaller force and stingier benefits. He outlined how DoD will live under budgets constrained by sequestration. His menu of options includes force reductions, cuts to military pay and benefits and consolidating headquarters staff. One option would limit future pay increases. Another would restructure health care for retirees, using more private insurance plans. In a press briefing, Hagel said he hasn’t made any final decisions. He presents the plan to Congress today. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Pentagon says military stores cannot sell sexually explicit material, but magazines like Playboy and Penthouse are OK. Undersecretary for Readiness Frederick Vollrath made that statement in a letter to an anti-pornography group that had complained about sales of adult magazines on bases, Military Times reported. Despite the defense, the magazines could be harder to find. The Army and Air Force Exchange Service is removing nearly 900 titles from its stock, Playboy and Penthouse included. Officials say it’s a business decision. Sales have plummeted, and they need more shelf space for electronics. (Military Times)
  • A lot of emergency loans can add up. The Federal Employee Education and Assistance Fund says it handed out more than $87,000 in loans to furloughed federal employees in July. Combined with emergency loans for other reasons, the group says it awarded $119,000 in short-term, no-interest loans last month — a record in its 28 year history. The group relies on federal employees and corporate sponsors to donate money. It says donations have not kept up with the demand for help. Many requests are coming from furloughed Defense Department civilian employees. (Federal Employee Education and Assistance Fund)
  • The Senate stands ready to fill a big hole in the State Department’s upper rungs. It could confirm Samantha Power today to be the next ambassador to the United Nations. Power served as the President’s foreign policy adviser. She is also a Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist and human rights advocate. Separately, the White House announced new picks for other departments. President Barack Obama has nominated astrophysicist France Anne Cordova to lead the National Science Foundation. Cordova served as president of Purdue University in Indiana until last year. The President also nominated Federal Reserve System Governor Sarah Bloom Raskin to be the next deputy Treasury Secretary. (Associated Press)
  • The Senate confirmed the nomination of one new agency head, but put another on hold. B. Todd Jones was confirmed as the first Senate-approved head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. ATF has had acting directors since 2006. The close vote went largely along party lines. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) put a hold on the nomination of Katherine Archuleta for head of the Office of Personnel Management. He wants answers from the Obama administration about how the Affordable Care Act will affect federal employees. The Senate is expected to approve Samantha Power as U.S. Ambassador today. (Federal News Radio)
  • The House has postponed action on three government reform bills amid criticism from federal employees groups. GOP leaders had hoped to get enough Democratic support to pass the measures quickly, but the Democrats balked, The Hill reported. One bill would limit federal employees’ bonuses to 5 percent of their salaries. Another would let agencies put senior executives being investigated for wrongdoing on unpaid leave. The third would let citizens more easily record their conversations with federal employees. (The Hill)
  • He was heckled and sworn at, but Gen. Keith Alexander, director of the National Security Agency, faced an audience of corporate computer security experts in Las Vegas. At the annual Black Hat conference, he explained the NSA’s now-infamous communications surveillance program. He challenged the audience to use its collective talent to help the government build a better anti-terror system. Alexander was briefly heckled, and one audience member tossed an epithet. Alexander spoke as the Obama administration declassified documents already leaked to the Guardian newspaper by one-time NSA employee Edward Snowden. (Associated Press)
  • One million foreigners visitors to the United States might be staying longer than they’re legally supposed to. That’s how many arrival records don’t have a corresponding departure record at Homeland Security. A new Government Accountability report finds that DHS has made progress in reducing the number of visitors it can’t account for. Two years ago, it was 1.6 million. Auditors found that tweaks DHS analysts had made to the computer matching system haven’t done enough to fix the matching errors. It’s a problem GAO says has persisted for nearly 20 years. (GAO)
  • Don’t click on that email from the Homeland Security Department. The Department’s U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team cautions, scammers are sending emails that say they’re from DHS and its National Cyber Security Division. Click on them, and you’ll read that use of your computer is suspended. You’ve got to pay a fine to unblock it. One version even takes a webcam photo or video of you and posts it in a pop-up. U.S.-CERT says you may have to consult an expert to remove the malware. They also suggest you contact the FBI. (U.S.-CERT)
  • President Barack Obama or his successor can have any new helicopter they want, as long as it’s Sikorsky. Bidding closes today on the Navy’s solicitation for a new presidential chopper fleet. Two of the three bidders have withdrawn from the competition, according to Defense News. Unless something changes soon, a team lead by Sikorsky and Lockheed Martin will be the only bidder. In its withdrawal letter, the Agusta-Westland team implied the requirements were wired for Sikorsky. Agusta-Westland was teamed with Northrop Grumman. The Bell-Boeing team also withdrew. The Navy says it took in industry feedback throughout the request for proposals stage. (Defense News)