Friday federal headlines – September 20, 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 company that investigated NSA leaker Edward Snowden for his security clearance in 2011 admits it did the background check on Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis in 2007. USIS revised an earlier statement denying it had done so. But it says its contract with the Office of Personnel Management prohibits it from commenting further. USIS already is under criminal investigation. The details of the case have been kept under wraps. The Falls Church firm dominates the background check market. Lawmakers say that proves the system needs an overhaul. (Associated Press)
  • Unions representing first responders to the Navy Yard shootings say the were hampered by failures of their radios. Federal Times reports, the radios are unable to transmit through building walls. Gregory Russel, president of a D.C. civilian local, says the battalion fire chief had to send a runner outside to transmit commands. Anthony Meely, head of a Naval District police union, tells The Hill the same thing. He says police officers had to use cell phones when radios failed inside buildings. In some cases the radios’ batteries died. Both union officials say the problem dates back years. (Federal Times)
  • Wrangling on Capitol Hill continues as the days count down to the end of the fiscal year. The House prepares a bill that funds the government but defunds the Affordable Care Act. The Senate is preparing its response. Federal Times reports, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) says he’s willing to use any trick, including a filibuster, to defund ObamaCare. But he irritates House counterparts by saying it’s basically their fight. The Hill reports, Majority Leader Harry Reid has a plan to move the House bill, but use a Senate procedure to remove the defunding amendment. That would avoid a government shutdown. And it would allow Republicans to avoid voting against defunding ObamaCare. (Associated Press)
  • New FBI director James Comey confirms he is considering furloughing agents for 10 days or more if the steep budget cuts continue. Comey spoke with reporters at FBI headquarters for the first time since taking office. Reuters reports the FBI has already stopped training new agents in Quantico because the Bureau doesn’t have the money. Comey says the FBI is turning the couch upside down to look for spare change. He would not name specific areas of the FBI that would be most hurt by more cuts. (Reuters)
  • Prodded by the House Armed Services Committee chairman, the military service chiefs detailed how another year of sequestration would affect them. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Ordierno says the Army would shrink from a wartime high of more than 1 million troops to less 500,000, including National Guard and Reserves. Adm. Jonathan Greenert, the Chief of Naval Operations, says only one carrier group and one amphibious would be ready to deploy quickly should a surge be required. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh says whole fleets of planes would be divested, and training time reduced by 15 percent. (Defense Department)
  • Performance bonuses may be out of the question. But federal executives need more than a pat on the back. That message comes from the Senior Executives Association. It is calling on the White House to recognize a job well done in other ways now that Presidential Rank Awards have been canceled. It has some ideas: The president could pose for photo ops with awardees or send them signed certificates. The Office of Personnel Management could publish their names and let agencies hold their own ceremonies. And the White House could promise to reinstate the Presidential Rank Awards when sequestration ends. The group warns more career executives are retiring, and others don’t want to take their places. (Senior Executives Association)
  • The new iPhone 5S ships today, and already there’s a bounty out for hackers who can foil is fingerprint security system. Forbes reports, security researchers Nick Depetrillo and David Graham are crowdfunding the reward for whoever can show they lifted a fingerprint from any surface, reproduced it and used it to unlock the owner’s iPhone. So far, their website has raised $2,500. Also offered are $500 in bitcoin, a bottle of tequila and a dirty sex book. Depetrillo and Graham say they think Apple has advanced the art of fingerprint readers. They say they don’t expect anyone to be able to hack it. (Forbes)
  • A major cybersecurity provider is warning customers about one of its popular products, for fear that the National Security Agency can hack into it. Reuters reports the company, RSA, sent an email to developer clients. It says one of its tool kits has a default random-number generator that uses a formula developed by the NSA. The warning follows a New York Times story that revealed the NSA pressed the National Institute of Standards and Technology back in 2006 to include its algorithm in voluntary cryptography standards. NIST is reconsidering those standards. (Reuters)
  • The Pentagon’s top communicator, Press Secretary George Little, has taken the rare step of suspending a military task force’s Twitter account. Little explained his move on Twitter. He posted a tweet saying the Joint IED Defeat Organization made inappropriate and offensive tweets that he calls “plainly unacceptable.” JIEDDO had used its account to make light of bombings Monday at a movie theater in the Philippines. JIEDDO was created in 2006 as a specialized unit to combat roadside bombs. Since then, officials have discussed restructuring or disbanding it. (Wall Street Journal)
  • The Thrift Investment Board is falling in behind the IRS and the Office of Personnel Management in recognizing same-sex marriages. The Board administers the Thrift Savings Plan. GovExec reports, it’s revising its rules to give spousal rights to gay federal employees as long as they were married in a state with legalized gay marriage. The Board will judge marital status of TSP members based on what it calls jurisdiction of celebration. The interim rule goes into effect today. It’s open for comments until Oct. 20. (GovExec)