Thursday federal headlines – October 31, 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.

  • Many security guards at federal facilities haven’t been taught what to do in an active-shooter situation or even how to use screening equipment. The Government Accountability Office released its new report at a House hearing on the Navy Yard shooting. The Federal Protective Service relies on about 13,500 contract guards to help secure buildings. GAO says the agency needs to figure out which guards need more training. Based on the GAO sampling, one out of every five guards might not have the required training and certification. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Justice Department is stepping into a lawsuit against the biggest provider of federal background checks. The government is joining a whistleblower case. It alleges United States Investigations Services, or USIS, failed to perform quality control reviews on its investigations. Assistant Attorney General Stuart Delery says the company is taking shortcuts. USIS dominates the market. It took in nearly $200 million in government payments last year. It handled the background checks of former National Security Agency analyst Edward Snowden and Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis. The False Claims suit accuses USIS of using its own software program to send incomplete work to the Office of Personnel Management. (Federal News Radio)
  • A group of Senators has introduced a bill to update how the government conducts security clearance and background checks. The bipartisan legislation comes in the wake of the Edward Snowden leak affair and the deadly shootings at the Navy Yard. In both incidents, the damage was done by individuals who had passed their clearance tests. The new bill would require the Office of Personnel Management to conduct random, automated reviews of public databases twice every five years, looking for information about individuals with clearance. It has bipartisan backing. A hearing on security clearances takes place today before the Senate Homeland Security Committee. (Federal News Radio)
  • The National Security Agency is secretly tapping into Yahoo and Google data centers and accessing much more information than previously thought. The Washington Post broke the news after analyzing more documents taken from the NSA by former analyst Edward Snowden. The revelations raise questions of whether the NSA is breaking federal wiretap laws. In response, the agency says it does not use the method to collect vast quantities of data on Americans. And it says it is not using a presidential order to get around limitations imposed by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. (Washington Post)
  • The Office of Personnel Management now has a confirmed director. The Senate last night approved Katherine Archuleta in a divided 62-35 vote. The president nominated her more than five months ago. Archuleta had been Labor Department chief of staff and a top re-election campaign official. She joins OPM as it grapples with two big, politically-charged issues — how to implement OPM’s role in the Affordable Care Act, and how to improve the security clearance process in the wake of the Edward Snowden affair. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Veterans Affairs Department is splitting up its chief information officer’s position. Secretary Eric Shinseki has named Stephen Warran as permanent CIO. But Warren didn’t get the nod for assistant secretary for Information and Technology, a Senate-confirmed position. Warren has been acting in that capacity also. His predecessor had both titles for four years. One reason for the split is that Warren has served for the maximum 210 days allowed for an acting position without being nominated. The moves means the assistant secretary slot is vacant. (Federal News Radio)
  • If your agency is still running Windows XP on its desktop computers, Microsoft has published a new reason to switch to Windows 7 or 8. The company’s latest Security Intelligence Report shows XP computers are hit with malware infections at twice the rate of machines running the other OS. More than 9 percent of XP machines were infected through June of this year, versus 5 percent for Windows 7 and 1.4 percent for Windows 8. Microsoft reports, overall fewer computers are encountering malware attacks, so fewer are succumbing to them. The report shows enterprise computers tend to be better protected than individual consumer ones. Microsoft is ending support for Windows XP this coming April. (Microsoft)
  • The eternal flame is once again burning at the gravesite of former President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jackie Kennedy. Army Secretary John McHugh re-lit it yesterday during a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. The flame had been on a temporary burner during some repairs to the memorial. Officials said the repairs were needed after nearly five decades of use. The trickiest part: testing the flame to get the gas and air mixture just right. (Army)
  • The Air Force has awarded Northrop Grumman a contract to install updated attack radars in airplanes, trainers and Air Force labs. The $43 million deal retrofits the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System, known as Joint STARS. Northrop Grumman will replace computers, signal processors and displays, and modernize all the software. Flying systems will get more communications bandwidth. Separately, Northrop Grumman received a task order from the General Services Administration to update the Defense Travel System. The task order has a potential value of $143 million over five years. It was awarded under GSA’s Alliant contract. Defense Travel System is operated by the Defense Logistics Agency. (Northrop Grumman)