Tuesday federal headlines – September 3, 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.

  • Slipped into a weekend of news dominated by Syria, President Obama called for a 1 percent raise for federal employees. The raise would apply to military members and civilians. Obama also called for locality pay percentages to remain at 2013 rates. If Congress goes along, the raise would take effect Jan. 1. But it’s a big “if.” Congress is a long way from passing a 2014 budget plan. It could block the raises when it returns next week. (Federal News Radio)
  • After a two-year freeze, per diems for work-related federal travel are going up a little. New rates are out from the General Services Administration. The standard lodging rate will rise from $77 to $83. But the per diem for meals and incidental expenses are staying the same. About 400 non- standard areas such as large cities will have higher per diems. Next year, GSA will eliminate the so-called conference lodging allowance, which gives higher per diems for feds attending large meetings in specific hotels. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Army is getting an early start on an anniversary that’s a couple of years off. The military establishment is starting to plan for commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. The ground war there officially started March 8, 1965. But The Army has already honored nine former service members who had 14 tours of duty in Vietnam. Some three million soldiers eventually served in Vietnam. The conflict lasted 10 years and cost 58,000 American lives. The Defense Department wants to get 10,000 corporate and civic groups to join in the commemoration as partners. So far, nearly 5,000 have signed up. (Defense Department)
  • “Touchy, feely, kissy, huggy.” That’s how one administrator describes the special courts for veterans spreading throughout the country. The Veterans Affairs Department says there are at least 166 such courts now, a dramatic rise from five courts in 2008. Veterans charged with crimes can choose to have their cases handled in these courts. If they do, they’re greeted by staff from the local VA medical center, who makes sure they are getting the health care and other benefits to which they’re entitled. Others help them with job hunting, school or fitness. They operate under the premise that the defendants need treatment rather than jail time. Some courts only take misdemeanor cases. (Associated Press)
  • Pentagon criminal investigators are looking into weapons deals between the Army and Russian helicopter-maintenance firms. Reuters reports, Army contracting officials might have made improper payments. Investigators also are digging into claims of personal relationships between the parties. While not directly related, the probe casts a shadow over the larger deal with Rosoboron-export to buy and retrofit MI- 17s. A spokesman for Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) tells The Hill the entire program is in question. Cornyn and other lawmakers have criticized the Army for buying the helicopters for Afghanistan. Rosoboron-export also sells weapons to Syria. (Reuters)
  • The Postal Service is so short on cash, it’s leasing vehicles to replace its aging delivery trucks. In a pre-solicitation notice, the agency says it doesn’t have sufficient capital funds to purchase the new equipment it expects to need over the next few years. It plans to award a national three-year contract for minivans and cargo vans. A Postal Service spokesman tells GovExec, leasing will let the Postal Service continue to make deliveries in a timely manner while it works through its financial crisis. A draft budget calls for 24,000 new vehicles at a cost of $624 million. (GovExec)
  • A pro-Syrian government hacker group broke into the Marine Corps’ recruiting website. The Syrian Electronic Army was able to redirect visitors to the website to a message asking Americans not to aid the Syrian rebels. A spokesman for the Marine Corps says the hack was brief; no information was put at risk. The Syrian Electronic Army has claimed responsibility for disrupting Twitter and the websites of the New York Times, The Washington Post and other U.S. media. The New York Times had been posting a story about chemical warfare in Syria at the time of the attack. (Associated Press)
  • The intelligence community has no monopoly when it comes to checking Americans’ phone records. Turns out, for at least six years, federal drug agents have had nearly immediate access to billions of phone call records. Under a program called the Hemisphere Project, the Drug Enforcement Administration can quickly subpoena records of AT&T. Reports published separately by ABC, the New York Times and The Associated Press show the Office of National Drug Control Policy also takes part. A Justice Department spokesman says obtaining phone records is just a bread and butter part of law enforcement. The database includes records going back to 1987. (Associated Press)
  • News of the National Security Agency’s broad surveillance programs is leading some allies to call for international cyber-privacy regulations. Brazilian media reports the president of Brazil may cancel her trip to Washington in October. The foreign ministry is asking the White House for a written answer to espionage allegations. A Brazilian news network revived outrage this weekend when it cited documents from NSA leaker Edward Snowden. They showed the United States had intercepted emails and phone calls of Brazilian and Mexican leaders. (Associated Press)
  • Tech entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley are upset with the Patent and Trademark Office. The agency delayed opening a permanent site in the region, blaming sequestration. But since patent fees rather than appropriations were to pay for the office, local firms say it should be exempt. Under sequestration, 8.6 percent of all patent fees are going directly to the Treasury, costing PTO more than $120 million. Silicon Valley Patent Office staff are working out of a small, temporary space with a handful of administrative judges. (Associated Press)