Tuesday federal headlines – October 15, 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.

  • Senate leaders are close to a budget agreement that would reopen the government and avoid a credit default. Aides to both Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell say they expect an announcement later today. A few details emerged. The deal would open the government through Jan. 15 and let the government continue borrowing until mid-February. A source tells Federal Times, spending levels would be at sequester levels dictated by the Budget Control Act. An agreement must be signed into law by Thursday, before the government hits its debt ceiling. But the plan could face tough going in the Republican-controlled House. (Associated Press)
  • The Office of Personnel Management has clarified its shutdown guidance, although it won’t be to everyone’s liking. It says excepted employees are supposed to remain on the job no matter what. If they get sick, have a critical appointment or just a vacation planned, they can take it. But they may be furloughed for that time. OPM says agency managers should consider letting excepted employees adjust their work hours or telework instead. (Federal News Radio)
  • The American Federation of Government Employees is asking President Barack Obama to help federal employees under financial strain because of the shutdown. It asks him to call upon creditors to be flexible with deadlines for paying for rent, insurance, gas and other necessities. The union also asks the president to tell managers not to coerce or compel excepted employees to come to work when they or their children are sick. AFGE says this week is a critical turning point for many members, coming after their first short paycheck. (AFGE)
  • For those of you who used Yahoo to get your email, good news — it’s catching up to its competitors in making a common security setting the default. The Washington Post reports, Yahoo users will automatically use the SSL encryption standard beginning in January. Google made it the default for Gmail web users back in 2010. Microsoft soon followed suit with Hotmail. Even Facebook and Twitter use it now. (Washington Post)
  • The National Security Agency has been gathering contact lists from private email accounts and sifting through them, looking for hidden connections. The collecting occurs overseas, but end up scooping information from some Americans’ accounts. The Washington Post reports, NSA has collected hundreds of millions of lists. The new revelation comes from documents leaked by Edward Snowden. In one day, the NSA gathered more than 700,000 contact lists from Yahoo, Hotmail, Facebook, and Gmail. It also collects millions of buddy lists from live chat services. The Post quotes an NSA spokesman saying the program targets terrorists, human traffickers and drug dealers. (Associated Press)
  • Health and Human Services employees and contractors are working overtime to fix Healthcare.gov. Since the Oct. 1 opening of insurance exchanges under the Affordable Care Act, the main portal to buy plans has failed to operate properly. Federal Times quotes an HHS spokesman saying the system was designed for 60,000 simultaneous users but got 250,000. Beyond capacity, experts say the site has numerous programming and architecture flaws. The spokesman says Healthcare.gov is improving daily. (Federal Times)
  • President Barack Obama will bestow the nation’s highest military honor on a retired Army captain in a ceremony this afternoon. William D. Swenson will receive the Medal of Honor for bravery during combat in Afghanistan in 2009. The White House says Swenson saved his comrades’ lives during a Taliban ambush in Kunar Province in northeastern Afghanistan. Swenson was working as an embedded trainer and mentor to the Afghan National Security Forces. Swenson retired from the military in 2011. He has a Purple Heart and Bronze Star Medal and lives in Seattle. (Associated Press)
  • The Australian defense department is putting out the welcome mat for U.S. Marines. Defense News reports, it will spend $11 million to upgrade two facilities so they can accommodate future rotations of as many as 2,500 Marines. Construction takes place at the Australian Army’s Robertson Barracks and the Royal Australian Air Force Base in Darwin. The Marine Corps presence in Australia will ramp up in the spring, when 1,200 troops arrive for training in Australia’s Northern Territory. Only a couple hundred Marines have been stationed in Australia in recent rotations. Eventually, a full-sized Marines task force with airlift capacity will be deployed down under. (Defense News)