Tuesday federal headlines – November 26, 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.

  • Today might be a day out of the office for federal employees, but not necessarily a day off from work. With bad weather expected, the Office of Personnel Management says federal employees can take unscheduled leave. If they’re telework ready, they can take an unscheduled telework day. Non-emergency employees can use earned annual leave, compensatory time off, credit hours or sick leave. If you decide to telework, plan on sticking to it all day. No early jump on Thanksgiving pie-making. Otherwise it’s leave without pay. In all cases, you’ve got to notify your supervisor beforehand. (Federal News Radio)
  • Withdrawing money from the Thrift Savings Plan has its drawbacks, as more than 14,000 federal employees are learning. They took money out of their retirement accounts during last month’s government shutdown. Now they have to wait six months before they can resume deposits in those accounts. The board that oversees the TSP says not all the participants will take the initiative next spring. The board is stepping up communication in the short term. In the long term, it might rewrite the rules of the TSP to let people automatically re-enroll after the waiting period ends. (Federal News Radio)
  • If you see a break in the clouds over Capitol Hill today, it might be thanks to improving chances of a budget deal. House and Senate negotiators are expressing confidence they’ll reach a limited deal to blunt sequestration and keep the government open through fiscal 2014. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) plans to return to D.C. after Thanksgiving. She’s the lead negotiator facing Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). Democrats won’t get their tax hikes, and Republicans won’t get their entitlement reform. But the two sides will likely split their spending difference of about $100 billion. (Associated Press)
  • While many federal agencies are cutting their budgets, the Defense Department and Department of Human and Health Services are both spending big bucks doing the same thing. The agencies are faulted for duplicative programs producing protective equipment against biochemical weapons for military personnel. The Los Angeles Times reports DoD’s new Florida-based plant disregards government-backed expert advice. Assistant Secretary of Defense Andrew Weber says the military could not solely rely on HHS to make what it needed. (LA Times)
  • It’s almost the end of the month, when the Obama Administration promised it would have fixed the glitches in HealthCare.gov. Anticipating a surge of applicants in December, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services says it just boosted storage capacity in its data center. But Spokeswoman Julie Bataille says there will be bumps ahead when the system is slow or unresponsive. Just yesterday morning, the application and enrollment tools were down for about an hour. And you may not want to try the site Thanksgiving Day. Call-center staff are getting a rare break. The phone lines will be closed. (The Hill Newspaper)
  • The Defense Department is preparing to wind down its rescue and recovery operations in the Philippines. A spokesman says Operation Damayan is moving to what he calls the transition phase. The country is slowly stabilizing after a super typhoon devastated the city of Tacloban. So far, the U.S. Joint Task Force 505 has logged nearly 2,000 flight hours in 1,000 flights. It moved 2,000 relief workers into Tacloban City while delivering four million pounds of supplies and equipment. Its Commander, Marine Lt. Gen. John Wissler, says the task force will stand down Dec. 1. (Defense Department)
  • The Pentagon has reached an agreement with broadcasters to share radio airwaves. Reuters reports the deal with the National Association of Broadcasters entails changing the radio frequency that military systems use. Instead, they will use another band of airwaves and share it with news teams during emergencies. It will cost the Pentagon about $3.5 billion. The deal follows a White House directive to free up the airwaves to meet a growing demand from commercial data providers. The Federal Communications Commission plans to hold airwave auctions in the next few years. (Reuters)
  • Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that $10.5 million worth of grants are available within the Agriculture Department. The USDA is now accepting applications until February 2014. The Value-Added Producer grant program supports President Obama’s plan to strengthen rural America. The grants support producers and small businesses, giving them a boost and competitive edge. Vilsack says USDA programs and the passage of the farm bill are important steps to keeping local communities the cornerstone of America. (USDA)
  • The General Services Administration is touting victory for one of its most visible governmentwide contract vehicles. Officials say the Networx program saved a lot of money in 2013 — $678 million in all. That’s according to an agency blog entry posted by Program Manager Bill Lewis. He says prices on the Networx program are 35 percent lower than agencies could get on the open market. The main Networx contractors include AT&T, CenturyLink, Level 3, Sprint and Verizon. They provide a bevy of telecom and data network services. (GSA)
  • The intelligence community’s far-out research arm is launching a program aimed at better understanding the human brain. The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, or IARPA, says the research may help analysts make more accurate inferences from data they receive. Specifically, the program will look at the neural basis of conceptual knowledge. That means getting a better understanding of why we know things like an apple is edible or that it comes from an orchard. (Director of National Intelligence)