Tuesday federal headlines – November 19, 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.

  • A new piece of evidence shows how hard last month’s government shutdown hit federal employees. A record number made hardship withdrawals from their Thrift Savings Plans last month. Federal Times reports, more than 14,000 feds made early withdrawals — the highest monthly total in the 26-year history of the TSP. The average amount taken out: $9,300. The IRS treats early retirement account withdrawals harshly. It imposes a 10 percent penalty. The retirement savings board itself withholds another 20 percent for taxes. (Federal Times)
  • Volunteers make good employees. That’s the message the Office of Personnel Management is sending agency leaders. OPM Chief Katherine Archuleta has penned guidance based on an executive order from July. It encourages agencies to expand their use of national-service volunteers, like those who enroll in the Peace Corps. Archuleta says agencies should analyze their workforce needs, then seek help from the Peace Corps or the Corporation for National Community Service. OPM is developing standard language agencies can include in job ads. (Federal News Radio)
  • You see them every day — mopping floors, tending the agency cafeteria, guarding the doors. Most low-paid service jobs in the federal government are done by contractors. Now they could get back pay for when they were laid off during the government shutdown. D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton has introduced a bill to amend the continuing resolution to provide retroactive pay for low-scale contract workers. GovExec reports the bill has 11 co-sponsors. It would apply to people who provide retail, food, custodial and security services to the federal government. (GovExec)
  • If you’re looking for federal employees, sure you could ask around Washington. But you may have slightly better luck in Colorado Springs. The Atlantic Cities has mapped the nation according to where federal employees live and work. Our region comes in fourth in terms of labor market share. 14 percent of Washingtonians work for the federal government. More than 16 percent of Colorado Springs residents do. Virginia Beach and Honolulu also have higher shares than Washington. The three are homes to military installations. You are least likely to spot a fed in the Northeast or Midwest. (The Atlantic Cities)
  • A bill to standardize agency financial data has passed the House with nearly unanimous approval. Just one lawmaker, Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.), opposed it. The DATA act would also make federal spending public through USASpending.gov. The Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board’s Recovery Operations Center would use the data to pinpoint potential waste and fraud. Another version of the bill passed a Senate committee earlier this month. (House)
  • Aware of its own surveillance mistakes, the National Security Agency regularly reported itself to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The Court’s approval is required for many surveillance operations. The repeated mistakes are revealed in more than 1,000 newly declassified pages of documents. The Obama administration has been releasing the documents in response to a lawsuit by civil liberties groups. District Judge John Bates, who also serves as a FISA judge, said back in 2009 that internal oversight by the NSA seemed to be lacking, resulting in the violations. (Associated Press)
  • A Fort Detrick scientist who lost his son in Afghanistan has been awarded the Pentagon’s top prize for career civilian employees. Leonard Smith took home the Distinguished Civilian Service Award in a Defense Department ceremony that also honored eight additional employees. Smith works at the Army Institute of Infectious Diseases, where he is an expert on ricin toxin and the neurotoxins that cause botulism. A department spokeswoman says Smith has spent more than 30 years developing vaccines against those toxins. Smith’s son, Marine Sgt. David Smith, was killed three years ago by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan. (Defense Department)
  • The United States military is headed to Libya, by way of Bulgaria. The Pentagon has agreed to give basic training to as many as 8,000 Libyan troops. They’re struggling to maintain stability in a country torn by sectarian violence. Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren says training will take place in Bulgaria. The timetable, logistics and budget have yet to be worked out. Warren says the Libyan government requested the training, and Congress agreed to pay for it. (Defense Department)