Thursday federal headlines – September 26, 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 government will hit the debt ceiling on Oct. 17. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew tells House Speaker John Boehner in a letter: If Congress fails to act, the government will have just $30 billion on hand. That would cover about half-a-day’s expenses. The estimate is the most precise and severe yet from the Treasury Department. Revenue has come in more slowly than anticipated. Lew attributes it to corporate and individual tax receipts, the military retirement trust fund and similar expenses. The House is expected to approve a measure this week letting the Treasury borrow freely for another year. But that legislation would include a provision to delay or thwart the roll out of the Affordable Care Act. (Associated Press)
  • The Senate unanimously passed a continuing resolution that withholds funding for the new health care law. That moves the government only slightly away from a possible shutdown Monday at midnight. Majority Leader Harry Reid says he’ll strip out the Obamacare defunding provision before sending the bill back to the House. House members are considering an array of options from a week-long CR to one that funds the government until Nov. 15. Negotiations between Reid and House Speaker John Boehner have yet to take place. (Associated Press)
  • Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) has asked the Government Accountability Office to look into Senior Executive Service bonuses. She asks it to focus on those involved in contract management. McCaskill chairs a subcommittee on financial and contracting oversight. She says she worries bonuses have become routine, rather than driven by metrics and performance. She tells GAO to look at both the bonus criteria and whether bonuses went to SESers who actually improved contract performance. (Federal News Radio)
  • When he goes before a Senate panel today, Postmaster General Pat Donahoe will make the case that every penny counts to the cash-poor Postal Service. It wants to raise the cost of mailing a letter by three cents. First-class stamps would be 49 cents each starting in January. The Postal Service estimates it would generate $2 billion in annual revenue. The chairman of the postal Board of Governors cites the agency’s precarious financial condition and uncertainty over help from Congress in making the request. The Postal Service expects to lose $6 billion this fiscal year. Any rate increase must be approved by the independent Postal Regulatory Commission. (USPS)
  • The Pentagon is doing three major security reviews in the wake of the Navy Yard shooting. Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter says two are in-house. The third will be done by an independent panel led by former Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul Stockton and Former Special Ops Commander, retired Navy Adm. Eric Olson. The reviews will look at physical security at military installations, security clearance processing procedures and emergency response plans. Carter says a department-wide report will be due in December. (Defense Department)
  • Hewlett-Packard says it will sever ties with The Experts, a subcontractor working on the Navy Marine Corps Intranet. The Experts employed Aaron Alexis, the former sailor who shot and killed 12 people in the Navy Yard before being shot dead by police. HP’s move came as the FBI released a note Alexis wrote giving clues to his mental state. He believed he was being saturated with radio waves that prevented sleep. The FBI also released surveillance video from NAVSEA headquarters. It shows a gun-wielding Alexis scurrying through hallways and stairwells. (Associated Press)
  • FEMA is one of the first organizations to join with Twitter on its new alert system. The social media giant says Twitter Alerts will let users find critical information from trusted sources in emergencies. If you sign up to receive an account’s alerts, you’ll receive both text messages and push notifications whenever that account sends out an emergency message. Twitter says law enforcement, public safety, emergency managers and select agencies have priority access to the feature. (Twitter)
  • A burgeoning market of add-on gadgets has turned smart phones into medical devices. Now Food and Drug Administration officials say they’ll begin regulating them and the applications that come with them. The FDA estimates 17,000 health-related apps exist for Apple and Android phones. It says most of them are safe. Officials say they’ll focus on the relative handful that involve hardware such as a heart or breath monitor, or a blood pressure cuff. Jeffrey Shuren is director of FDA’s medical devices center. He says the devices have the potential to transform health care by enabling remote diagnoses. (Associated Press)
  • Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) has put a hold on the nomination of Deborah Lee James to be secretary of the Air Force. Defense News reports, Ayotte is concerned about an Air Force plan to eliminate its fleet of A-10 Thunderbolt ground attack jets. Kelly, whose husband was an A-10 pilot, says she’s concerned about a gap in capability until there’s a replacement. Air Force officials have warned that because of budget cuts, they may have to delete whole platforms, rather than trim a little from all of them. Ayotte is ranking member of the readiness subcommittee. The newest A-10, also known as the Warthog, was built in 1984. It is popular in the Army and with the National Guard and Reserves. (Defense News)
  • Dueling legislation underscores lawmakers’ conflicted feelings on the National Security Agency’s spy powers. A new bill would end the NSA’s collection of Americans’ phone records. Sponsors are a politically diverse group. It includes Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). The bill would install a constitutional advocate to argue cases before the secret spy court. Meanwhile, the Senate Intelligence Committee holds a hearing today to close what some call a terrorist loophole. The bill would expand the government’s power to electronically monitor terrorist suspects who come to the United States. (Senate)
  • U.S. Cyber Command has activated the last of its three main components. Headquarters for its Cyber National Mission Force is fully operational. That’s according to Army Gen. Keith Alexander, head of both Cyber Command and The National Security Agency. It joins the Cyber Combat and Cyber Protection mission forces. Speaking at the Press Club, Alexander listed the command’s three top priorities. Number one is developing trained and ready people. Second is moving information systems, especially in the Defense Department, to new, more defensible architectures. Third is establishing shared situational awareness between government and the private sector. (Defense Department)