Monday federal headlines – September 9, 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.

  • Congress returns this week. The House will vote on a continuing resolution budget bill. Majority Leader Eric Cantor says the vote could come soon, possibly today or tomorrow. Speaker John Boehner says he wants to avoid a government shutdown and a debt default. Treasury says it will hit the debt ceiling in mid-October. Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers tells Federal Times, he favors a clean bill funding agencies at post-sequestration levels. There’s not much time for Congress to act. It recesses again Sept. 23. Members face a full plate even without the budget. President Obama wants a positive vote on bombing Syria. And the House is nominally debating immigration reform. (Federal News Radio)
  • There are 71,000 fewer federal government jobs today compared with last August. The Bureau of Labor Statistics released a recent employment report showing the federal workforce hovering around 2.7 million civilian employees, including Postal Service workers. Local government, however, is on the rise. BLS numbers show an increase of 20,000 new municipal government employees between July 2013 and August 2013. (Bureau of Labor Statistics)
  • The IRS says it has reduced spending on video production by 90 percent over this past fiscal year. IRS made this statement after House Republicans criticized a recent $10,000 parody of The Apprentice the IRS made for a training conference. The IRS says the video was made in 2011, before the stringent policies IRS now has in place to ensure that all training videos are made at the lowest possible cost. GovExec reports the video costs at IRS have come down from $2 million in 2012 to around $140,000 in 2013. (GovExec)
  • The FBI has warned news and media organizations to be on the lookout for hacking by the Syrian Electronic Army. The Cyber Division, in an online advisory, is asking them to report suspicious network activity. According to the FBI, the Syrian Electronic Army uses spear phishing, web site defacements and hijacking of social media accounts to spread propaganda. It’s already hit the New York Times and the Huffington Post. The SEA is described as pro regime, so it’s incensed that the United States is contemplating military attacks on the country. (FBI)
  • Cyber experts stand behind encryptions as the best way to protect data. Steve Weis is chief technology officer at PrivateCore and has a Ph.D in cryptography from MIT. He tells ComputerWorld, despite the NSA activities, the mathematics of cryptography remains very hard to crack. Weis suggests it’s likely that the NSA managed to break through insecure and outdated implementations of some encryption technologies. (ComputerWorld)
  • The Obama administration petitioned the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to lift restrictions on domestic spying by the National Security Agency. The Bush administration had requested the limits in 2008. The court complied with both administrations. The Washington Post reports, the 2011 ruling allowed NSA to search Americans’ e-mail and telephone communications. Meanwhile, Google has accelerated a program to encrypt its data to protect it from surveillance. Google has been one of the companies whose data is probed under the NSA’s Prism program. (Associated Press)
  • The U.S. needs to do more at home to counter terrorist jihadists. A new report by the Soufan Group says the U.S. is behind other countries whose governments have programs aimed at countering extremism. A recently released report by the Homeland Security Project Bipartisan Policy Center concurs. Both reports say the new programs that target extremist rhetoric and indoctrination would deter what is called lone-wolf terror attacks, like the Boston Marathon bombing. The founder of the Soufan Group tells the Wall Street Journal, not intervening in Syria could give violent extremists more sway, and more followers. (Wall Street Journal)
  • The Homeland Security Department is at a cross roads. A recent paper published by the Homeland Security Affairs Journal says non-homeland security missions split the mission, focus and money within the agency. The paper’s author, Jerome Kahan, says DHS should include in its Quadrennial Homeland Security Report a review of all agency responsibilities. This would provide an analytically-based rationale for why and how separate homeland and non-homeland budget allocations are made. (Homeland Security Affairs Journal)
  • The House Veterans Affairs Committee hits the road today with a hearing in a Pittsburgh courthouse. The panel is scheduled to hear testimony from Veterans Affairs officials about management failures that resulted in what the Chairman Jeff Miller says is a host of preventable veterans’ deaths, infectious disease outbreaks and benefit and construction delays. The committee plans to hear from family members of those who died during an outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease at VA’s Pittsburgh medical centers. (House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs)
  • Navy Adm. James Winnefeld presided over the ribbon cutting at a rural retreat for wounded service members and their families. The Boulder Crest facility in Virginia is owned by retired Master Chief Petty Officer Ken Falke and his wife Julia. They formed a non-profit to operate it. The site is booked through the end of the year. It features cabins and a 6,000-square-foot lodge. Service members and veterans with severe injuries can book two-week sessions for free. Winnefeld says the retreat lets families escape the confines of medical facilities like Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. The 200-acre retreat offers everything from nature walks to yoga and meditation. (Defense Department)
  • NASA launched a moon probe from Virginia’s Wallops Island. But the craft developed mechanical troubles NASA says it will be able to fix. The Friday night launch was unusual. It was the first time a launch from Wallops Island was destined to leave earth orbit. But the probe, named Ladee, is spinning too fast. Peter Worden, NASA Ames Research Director, says that will be solved before the probe begins orbiting the moon. Ladee will analyze the moon’s atmosphere and test space-to-earth communications using lasers. Ladee launched on top of a re-purposed intercontinental ballistic missile. (Associated Press)