Thursday federal headlines – August 15, 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.

  • The Office of Personnel Management has finalized new rules covering relocation, retention and recruitment. The rules were published in Wednesday’s Federal Register. OPM now requires employees to establish residence in a new geographic area before receiving relocation benefits. Managers will also find it a little harder to hand out retention bonuses. First, they’ll have to see who’s available locally to potentially step in for someone leaving. They’ll also have to review positions every year to make sure they are still hard to fill. Otherwise, retention bonuses for that particular job would have to end. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Postal Service is banking on changes to its priority mail program to bring in an additional $0.5 billion per year. It is making online tracking free for priority mail shipments. It is offering free insurance and date-specific delivery. The cash-strapped agency sees priority mail and package delivery as the way of its future, amid declines in first-class mail. The changes come as the Postal Service is reeling from losses this year totaling $3.9 billion. This is one of the few areas where the Postal Service can tweak its business model without Congress’ approval. (Associated Press)
  • The Defense Department will offer health care benefits to same-sex spouses of military members starting Sept. 3. That decision follows a recent Supreme Court ruling. In June, the court struck down parts of the Defense of Marriage Act. They let legally married, same-sex couples gain recognition under federal law. To obtain TRICARE benefits, a couple must present a certificate from a state that allows same-sex marriages. There’s a catch, though. The Pentagon has dropped plans to provide benefits to unmarried gay couples. But they can take leave to travel to a state which allows gay marriages. (Associated Press)
  • Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is trying to downplay President Barack Obama’s tough remarks on sexual assault in the military. The reason? Some military defense attorneys say their clients aren’t getting fair trials because of the commander in chief’s stance. In a military-wide memo, Hagel says each military justice case must be resolved on its own facts. He says both the president and he expect everyone involved to use independent judgment. In May, Obama argued for tough penalties for sex offenders in the military. The New York Times reports dozens of defense attorneys say the president’s speech amounts to unlawful command influence. (New York Times)
  • Managers at the Federal Aviation Administration are urging their political leaders to act now to head off furloughs in 2014. They want Congress to pre- approve the transfer of money from an airport grants fund. And they want Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and the White House to endorse that strategy. Federal Times reports, the FAA Managers Association spelled out the plan in a letter to Foxx and Office of Management and Budget Director Sylvia Burwell. In April, after a few furlough days had occurred, Congress let the FAA transfer $253 million from the fund so controllers and other staff could get back to fulltime work. (Federal Times)
  • Bradley Manning says he is sorry for hurting the United States by leaking classified documents to the website WikiLeaks. He says he did not think his actions would harm the country. The Army private took the stand yesterday at his sentencing hearing. The court also heard from an Army psychologist who said Manning grappled with a gender-identity disorder. He says Manning was under extreme mental pressure when he was stationed in Iraq in 2010. Manning’s attorneys argue that commanders should have spotted Manning’s mental health issues before sending him to a war zone to handle classified information. (Associated Press)
  • The Homeland Security Department has extended an agreement with Northeastern University to house a specialized research program. The award came from DHS Science and Technology Directorate. Under a five-year grant, staff at the Boston-based college will continue their work examining explosives. The project is known as ALERT — Awareness and Location of Explosives-Related Threats. Northeastern will receive $2.5 million the first year of the five-year deal. It partnered with the University of Rhode Island in competing for the grant. Northeastern is one of several research centers of excellence established by the Science and Technology directorate. (Homeland Security Department)
  • Remember the 1974 horror film It’s Alive by Larry Cohen? Well, the same thing can be said about bugs. Staff members at one agriculture agency have a new online application to help them identify pests. Developers in the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service developed the tool. It walks users through a series of questions about a creature’s characteristics, such as color, shape and size. It draws on connections to 30 insect web sites to identify the bug. Terrence Walters manages the program. He says officials were worried about bug knowledge leaving the agency as an experienced inspector retires. (USDA)
  • An injured FBI trainee who won an employment discrimination lawsuit against the Bureau can’t get his job back because of budget cuts. The FBI has shut down its training academy because of sequestration. An official says Justin Slaby will have to wait until 2015, when classes are expected to resume. The Stafford, Va. veteran lost his hand to a grenade explosion while he was in the Army, forcing him to cut his military career short. He then applied to the FBI. He says trainers at the FBI Academy in Quantico discriminated against him because of his missing hand. He won the jury trial last week. Now a judge is deciding whether he will be reinstated. (Associated Press)
  • The Interior Department is moving ahead with a set of contracts for cloud computing services worth up to $10 billion. The project was on hold thanks to a protest filed by Century Link. The Court of Federal Claims dismissed the protest last month. Interior’s first award goes to IBM, which will host the department’s SAP application. Ten companies have cloud contracts with Interior. They’ll compete for future task orders. AT&T, CGI Group, Lockheed Martin, Unisys and Verizon also won contracts. Four smaller companies round out the roster, Bloomberg reports.(Interior Department)
  • Cisco is cutting 4,000 jobs, or 5 percent of its workforce. The tech firm announced the layoffs while reporting revenue had increased 6 percent from this time last year. The Silicon Valley company supplies IT solutions, security, telework and cloud services to the government. It recently announced a partnership with Microsoft to deploy private and hybrid cloud infrastructure worldwide. Analysts see the financial results as a sign the company’s growth has been slower than anticipated, Reuters reports. (Reuters)