Tuesday federal headlines – September 24, 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 FederalNewsRadio.com users more information about the stories you hear on the air.

  • The agency in charge of the Thrift Savings Plan will spend heavily to improve participants’ experience. Members of the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board approved a nearly 18 percent increase in the agency’s budget for the coming fiscal year. Part of the increase will help lay the groundwork for what the board calls a wholesale overhaul of the TSP front end. Executive Director Greg Long says the TSP wants to gather more data about participants so its systems can anticipate their needs. That project will get started with $2.3 million in 2014. The board approved a total budget of $201 million. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Pentagon is warning employees to prepare for a possible government shutdown. It’s just in case Congress fails to pass a spending bill by the end of the fiscal year on Monday. In a memo, Deputy Secretary Ashton Carter says the Defense Department remains hopeful that lawmakers will avert a shutdown, but it’s prudent to prepare anyways. Under a lapse in funding, Carter says many defense civilian employees would be furloughed. Military personnel would continue in normal duty status. Carter directs employees to follow the Office of Personnel Management’s guidance. (Defense Department)
  • The Navy is recommending three changes to security procedures following the Navy Yard shooting. It says civilian background checks done by the Office of Personnel Management should include available police documents. The service is sending Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel the recommendation for approval. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus has approved the other two changes. One will require executive officers or other senior members, rather than junior officers, to manage command security. The other would require more scrutiny at top levels of candidates’ evaluations and fitness reports. Authorities pouring over shooter Aaron Alexis’ record have found signs that he suffered from mental illness and was prone to violence. (U.S. Navy)
  • A Navy investigation into last Monday’s Navy Yard killings shows the shooter lied about himself when he applied for security clearance in 2007. Federal investigators later dismissed those omissions. They compounded the problem by deleting references to Aaron Alexis’s gun use in an incident that led to an arrest. Now Navy Secretary Ray Mabus is calling for all police reports, not just arrests or convictions, to be included in security and fitness reports. He’s already approved other changes, making senior officials more accountable for those reports. (Associated Press)
  • Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology are working on a rating system for the destructive potential of wildfires. They hope it will lead to better building codes for neighborhoods near woods susceptible to fires. The ratings would look similar to the scales used to describe earthquakes or hurricanes. Nelson Bryner is a research engineer for NIST’s fire research division. He envisions a day when news reports and bulletins refer to fires on a scale of E-1 through E-4. (Associated Press)
  • Pennsylvania and Michigan will serve as testing grounds for new online ID tools. The National Institute of Standards and Technology has awarded more than $2 million to the states for projects that could improve Americans’ access to government services while reducing fraud. In Michigan, some citizens who now have to go in person to verify their identity in order to get public services will be able to do it online. Pennsylvania will streamline its online credential system so people have to register just once instead of creating multiple accounts. The grants are part of the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace, or NSTIC, program. It’s trying to create a safe online environment that lets people prove their identities with an array of private and public credentials. (NIST)
  • The much ballyhooed fingerprint security system on Apple’s new iPhone 5S can be bypassed using a printer and wood glue. That’s according to a German hacking group called Chaos Computer Club. Apple says its built-in reader scans the layer of skin below the surface and therefore couldn’t be replicated with a fingerprint image. But the CCC produced a video purportedly showing how a laser-printed fingerprint image could be glued onto a finger to unlock an iPhone. If verified, the club could get a $10,000 reward offered by a pair of security researchers. (Reuters)
  • A former FBI bomb expert is pleading guilty to leaking information on counterterrorism operations to reporters. Donald Sachtleben says he told the Associated Press about a U.S. intelligence operation in Yemen last year. The story gained wide attention after the Justice Department seized AP phone records in its hunt for the source of the information. Under the plea deal, he would serve three years and seven months for the leak, making it the longest prison term yet in a civilian case. Sachtleben earlier confessed to charges of pornography involving underage girls. He will spend more than 11 years in prison in total. (Justice Department)
  • Lois Lerner, the IRS executive at the heart of a scandal surrounding tax-exempt organizations, has resigned. She’d been on administrative leave since May. That’s when she revealed publicly that the IRS division she headed had singled out tax-exemption applications from conservative groups. Shortly after, she told a Congressional panel she’d broken no laws but then pleaded the fifth amendment against self-incrimination. She was put on leave the next day. Lerner had spent 34 years in the federal government, including the Justice Department and the Federal Election Commission. (Associated Press)
  • The Office of Personnel Management says the government is doing a teeny tiny bit better at one of its longest-standing diversity goals. It added nearly 2,000 Hispanic employees to the payroll last year. Latinos have stayed at about 8 percent of the workforce for years, far less than their representation in the general labor market. OPM says agencies are trying to address the problem. It, for one, has partnered with two California State University campuses that have large Latino student bodies. The Federal Executive Board has put members on the faculty as adjunct professors to build relationships and promote federal internships. (OPM)
  • The Defense Information Systems Agency has issued a request for proposals for a cloud storage contract. Federal Times reports, the deal could be worth up to $427 million. DISA had postponed the RFP this summer. The Enterprise Storage Services contract will replace one held by Vion Corporation since 2007. Vendor proposals are due Oct. 21. DISA is putting in some extra requirements. It wants bids to include public, private and hybrid storage facilities. And it wants support for DoD’s common access card. (Federal Times)