Thursday federal headlines – November 14, 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.

  • It seemed like a good idea. The Transportation Security Administration would add special screeners to watch airport crowds, plucking suspicious people before they entered security lines. Six years and $1 billion later, the Government Accountability Office is declaring the program a failure. GAO says the Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques (SPOT) is barely better than pulling people at random. Homeland Security Department officials insist SPOT is a necessary layer of its defense in depth strategy. (Associated Press)
  • The Secret Service removed two officers from the President’s detail following an inspector general probe. The investigation alleges the two engaged in sexual misconduct this past spring. The Washington Post reports, the IG cites incidents at the Hay Adams Hotel. Supervisor Ignacio Zamora Jr. tried to get into the room of a woman he’d met in a bar. That’s after he left a bullet from his service pistol in the room. Another supervisor, Timothy Barraclough, is alleged to have sent sexually suggestive emails to a female subordinate. The incidents came a year after the Secret Service was hit by a sexual misconduct scandal in Cartegena, Colombia. (Associated Press)
  • The Congressional Budget Office has come up with a list of more than 100 policy options for Congress to reduce future deficits. Some of them aim right at federal employee pay and benefits. CBO says lowering the limits on military and civilian pay hikes would save $78 billion over 10 years. Boosting employees’ contributions to the federal pension system would save $19 billion. The biggest savings would come from switching to the chained CPI calculation for retirement pay increases. The CBO says that would save $162 billion over 10 years. (Congressional Budget Office)
  • The Pentagon says it will no longer buy helicopters from a Russian arms exporter that also supplies weapons to the Syrian government. The Pentagon had agreed to buy 15 additional Mi-17 helicopters for Afghan security forces from Rosoboron export, at a tune of $345 million. Military officials had said the Russian helicopters were best suited for Afghanistan because they were familiar to Afghans. But lawmakers on Capitol Hill had chided the Pentagon, even questioning whether the deal put the United States at risk of Russian coercion or blackmail. (Associated Press)
  • Stung by a series of personnel scandals, Air Force brass are toughening up their screening of candidates for nuclear commanders. Chief of Staff Mark Welsh says screening will include Google searches and closer looks at physical and mental health records. The change comes after the firing of Maj. Gen. Michael Carey. He commanded the 20th Air Force, which oversees 450 nuclear missiles. Carey was cited for unspecified personal misconduct resulting in a loss of trust by his superiors. Welsh tells reporters, the Air Force has changed its hiring practice to include more intensive pre-screening, even for officers who have served for years. (Associated Press)
  • Just in time for the holidays, cashiers at military commissaries are beginning to ask customers to scan their Defense Department ID cards. With the new process, the Defense Commissary Agency says it no longer has to keep personal information on customers in its computer system. The agency plans to tap into the data stored on the cards for marketing purposes, however. Officials say they aren’t looking for specific personal data. They want to know the demographic makeup of their customers. Scanning began at Fort Lee, Va., last month. By mid-January, all stores will have the capacity to scan ID cards at checkout. (Defense Commissary Agency)
  • The pool of small veteran-owned contractors could get smaller, thanks to a bill introduced in the House. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) came together to sponsor the bill. It would restrict the definition of “service-disabled veteran-owned small business,” a key designation for companies vying for federal contracts. People who attend military prep school but do not go on to join the military could no longer qualify. The bill stems from a recent controversy. An IT contractor received a $500 million in federal contracts under the designation. He never served a day in the Armed Forces. (House)