Wednesday federal headlines – September 25, 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.

  • Federal employees will pay an average of 4.4 percent more in health insurance premiums next year. The Office of Personnel Management announced the rates, saying overall the rise in premiums is lower than the national average. Still, OPM isn’t winning praise from federal employees. Unions say the price hike places a burden on feds coping with pay freezes, furloughs and a possible government shutdown. There is some good news: dental and vision premiums will drop by about a percent. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Defense Department could shed 60,000 more troops than it already plans to cut. If could also fire 50,000 more civilian employees. Yet it would still have enough fighting power. That’s according to a new study released by the Stimson Center think tank. The panel conducting the study included two former vice chairmen of the Joint Chiefs. The report calls for $50 billion in budget cuts now to replace the yearly sequester cuts scheduled for the next eight years. Nearly half the reduction would come from cutting overhead in the form of civilian workers and contractors, and reforming health and pension plans. Co-author Barry Blechmen says, the Defense Department is not a jobs program. (Associated Press)
  • He may be too late to stop it, but Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) wants details about fiscal year-end spending by federal agencies. He asks budget director Sylvia Burwell to discourage agencies from pushing any money out the door they don’t have to. He gives her a big homework assignment. Coburn wants a list of all fourth-quarter contract actions. And he wants to see quarterly spending patters for the last three years. The binge is a real phenomenon. An analysis by the data services firm Govini found requests for proposals rose 28 percent in 2013 compared to last year. (Federal News Radio)
  • The White House website is carrying a list of federal agency furlough contingency plans. They say who would work and who would stay home in a government shutdown. Most of the plans are static documents with dates of 2011 and earlier. They come from agencies ranging from the Air Forces Retirement Home to the Agriculture Department. Federal Times reports, an estimated 59 percent of civilian-agency employees would go to work as usual in a shutdown. That includes political appointees, law enforcement and foreign service officers. Also, anyone considered essential for health and safety. (Federal Times)
  • During a government shutdown, troops would still show up for work, but they might not be paid on time. Rep. Bill Young (R-Fla.) tells Military Times troops might not get a mid-October paycheck if the shutdown drags on. They would earn the pay but have to wait until appropriations became available. He says the shutdown would delay other aspects of military life, including travel, permanent moves and family death benefits. During the mid-90s shutdown, both military and civilian employees who worked through it later received back pay. (Military Times)
  • Amid the contentious debate on Capitol Hill, Health and Human Services unveiled details of health care exchanges. They’re set to launch next week. Some states have built their own exchanges, others are using systems built by HHS. Officials say 95 percent of people using the exchanges will have a choice of at least two insurance providers. The department also made public the various rates consumers will pay. Conservative Republicans have entangled the Affordable Care Act with year-end budget debates, threatening the government with a shutdown Oct. 1. (Associated Press)
  • Federal transportation officials have launched an investigation into Asiana Airlines. In a first, the Transporation Department is looking into whether an airlines failed to serve the families of crash victims. The National Transportation Safety Board brought its concerns to the Transportation Department following the airliner crash at San Francisco International Airport. U.S. law required Asiana to provide certain services to families, including a toll-free help line, transportation and lodging. The NTSB says Asiana gave it an outdated list of company officials. The Board says Asiana did not contract with an emergency service provider as is the norm. (Associated Press)
  • “Show us your ink” might be the new mantra for aging baby boomers. But the Army wants soldiers to have a cleaner look. Stars and Stripes reports, Army Secretary John McHugh is considering a proposed new rule on grooming. Army Regulation 670-1 would ban tattoos visible below the elbow, below the knee, and above the neckline. Racist, sexist or extremist tattoos would also be banned, no matter where on the body they’ve been inked. Sgt. Maj.Raymond Chandler says McHugh favors the change, but hasn’t signed off on it. (Stars and Stripes)
  • The Postal Service is forever tainted because it sponsored Lance Armstrong through years of doping. That’s the crux of a Justice Department court filing. Department lawyers are urging a federal judge to let its fraud lawsuit against Armstrong proceed. Armstrong wants a dismissal. He contends the Postal Service got international exposure in exchange for the $40 million deal. He says the agency could have ended the sponsorship whenever it wanted to. Former Armstrong teammate Floyd Landis initially sued Armstrong under the False Claims Act in 2010. The Justice Department joined the case this year after Armstrong confessed to doping. (Associated Press)
  • The head of the Senate Intelligence Committee plans to unveil a cybersecurity bill to encourage companies to share network threat information with the government. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) tells The Hill she has prepared the Senate’s answer to CISPA — a bill the House passed in April. That bill has lost momentum following revelations of the National Security Agency’s broad surveillance programs. The White House has threatened to veto it, saying it fails to address privacy concerns. More than 100,000 people signed a petition against the bill on the White House’s website. (The Hill)
  • General Dynamics is beefing up its main network security product, Fidelis XPS. The company had added in a new application called YARA. It’s a rule-based malware identification and classification tool. GD says YARA will speed up administrators’ awareness of malicious traffic. In continuous monitoring situations, officials say it goes a step beyond scanning suspicious files after they’ve entered the network. By keeping them out, YARA can help agencies reduce their annual remediation costs. (General Dynamics)