Tuesday federal headlines – November 12, 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.

  • Open Season has begun. Federal employees have until Dec. 9 to make changes to their benefits plans. 95 percent of feds typically end up sticking with their old choices. But expert Walt Francis tells Federal News Radio employees could save up to $2,000 by choosing wisely. Premiums are changing. They’re going up an average of 4.4 percent. And there are a handful of new health plans this year. People enrolled in flexible spending accounts have to re-enroll. That choice doesn’t carry over from year to year. (Federal News Radio)
  • The partisan spat over HealthCare.gov is getting personal. The House Oversight Committee, headed by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), is hauling over administration witnesses. He wants to find out what went wrong with the failed launch of the federal healthcare insurance exchange. But not everyone is showing up. Issa issued a subpoena to Todd Park, the chief technology officer. Park was held back by higher-ups in the administration, who said he was too busy working to fix the site. Park’s staff say they tried to negotiate a different date for his appearance. Issa says Park represents an unfortunate pattern. Meanwhile Avalere, a health care think tank, estimates only 49,000 people have signed up for insurance using state-run exchanges. Federal figures come out this week. (Federal News Radio)
  • Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has received subpoena number two to appear before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Chairman Darrell Issa wants more internal documents related to the IRS and how it handled tax exempt applications from conservative groups. GovExec reports, Treasury officials say their response was delayed by the government shutdown. Treasury has sent more than 1,000 pages. But Issa says they’re mostly letters from members of Congress and drafts of congressional testimony. (GovExec)
  • The federal government is offering $20 million in humanitarian aid to the Philippines following Typhoon Haiyan. The U.S. Agency for International Development says half will go to emergency response, things like procuring, transporting and distributing commodities. The agency is shipping and distributing 1,000 rolls of plastic sheeting and 10,000 hygiene kits to the affected area. The other half of the money will go to the UN World Food Program. It will fund airlifts of emergency food products coming from Miami, among other things. (USAID)
  • More Marines have been deployed to help in disaster relief in the Philippines. Approximately 90 troops and several aircrafts from 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade have arrived in the typhoon-ravaged country. That brings the number of Marines helping out to 270. They are led by Brig. Gen. Paul Kennedy, deputy commander of the III Marine Expeditionary Force. One group came from Okinawa, Japan and will help with surveying the damage and looking for casualties. Others will help with logistics in the distribution of food, water and medicine. The big storm has affected more than 4 million people. Some 10,000 are feared dead. (Marines)
  • The Pentagon says 22 percent fewer servicemembers committed suicide this year. Officials tell the Associated Press they aren’t sure why the numbers are down, because the causes of suicide can be hard to detect. The military has hired more behavioral health experts. It has also beefed up training, expanded crisis phone lines and substance abuse programs and handed out gun locks. In absolute numbers, as of mid- October, 71 fewer servicemembers committed suicide this year compared with last year. (Associated Press)
  • The Energy Department has launched a contest to find tech teams that can put its data to good use. The agency has broken the American Energy Data Challenge into four parts. The first competition is this month. The agency wants participants to identify Energy Department open-data sets that could form the backbone of new apps or other inventions. Three more rounds are planned for next year. (Department of Energy)
  • The Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission’s inspector general are looking at the investments of certain SEC employees. The Wall Street Journal reports, the probe is limited to employees in the SEC’s New York office. Sources say they’re seeing if the employees have financial holdings that could be a conflict of interest. SEC rules ban employees from having stock in companies under investigation. A planned computer tracking system has never materialized, so compliance is mostly based on the honor system. (Wall Street Journal)