Monday federal headlines – December 9, 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.

  • Expect agencies to launch more public challenges, crowdsourcing initiatives and contests for innovative technology solutions. That’s because the White House has released a new Open Government National Action Plan. This is the second plan since the United States joined an international partnership on transparency. It makes 23 promises. The White House says it will improve its online petition site “We the people.” It will also launch a governmentwide online open-records service to bring transparency to the Freedom of Information Act process. (Federal News Radio)
  • Federal agencies in the D.C. area are opening two hours late today because of the weather. The Office of Personnel Management says, “Employees should plan to arrive for work no more than 2 hours later than they would be expected to arrive.” Non-emergency employees can telework, if you are deemed telework ready. You can also take unscheduled leave. Emergency employees are expected to report to the office. A winter storm warning goes until 10 a.m. The freezing rain is supposed to change to rain later in the day. Look out for fallen tree branches, icy conditions and traffic lights without power. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Senate returns to Washington today for a two-week year-end blitz. The agenda includes both the Defense authorization bill and a budget deal to avoid another government shutdown. Before the Thanksgiving break, Democrats forced through a rule-change that lets the Senate approve presidential nominees by majority vote. Several high-profile picks could learn before Christmas whether they’ll get the job. The list includes Federal Reserve choice Janet Yellen, Homeland Security nominee Jeh Johnson and Federal Housing Finance Agency pick Mel Watts. (Associated Press)
  • A plan to take military sexual assault cases out of the chain of command will have to wait for another day. The Hill reports the amendment from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) won’t make it into the bill Congress is trying to pass this week. Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) says there’s not enough time for the bill to toggle between the two chambers. Gillibrand had been promised a vote on her measure. But the House plans to adjourn for the holiday on Friday. Smith is the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee. He says the House and Senate panels were preparing to ping-pong the Defense bill by reaching a pre-conference agreement that’s passed as a new bill in the House, then the Senate. It leaves no time for major amendments. (The Hill Newspaper)
  • A new National Research Council study, funded in part by NIH, concluded the federal government should care whether Americans are happy or sad. Statistical agencies should track how many times people smile or say they’re stressed. The answers could help the government shape policies on benefits, like retirement age and pensions, healthcare or unemployment. Outside researchers say the United States lags behind other countries in trying to quantify happiness. It ranks 17th in a world happiness ranking directed by the firm Helliwell. (Associated Press)
  • Eight tech giants are joining forces to call for tighter controls on government surveillance. The companies include Google, Facebook and Twitter. They issued an open letter to President Obama saying, “The balance in many countries has tipped too far in favor of the state and away from the rights of the individual.” (Associated Press)
  • National Security Agency surveillance is starting to come between traded corporations and their shareholders. AT&T is under fire from several shareholder groups for not disclosing what information it shares with the NSA. The company tells the Securities and Exchange Commission it complies with national security requests and protects customer information. The ACLU and the New York State Common Retirement Fund both have AT&T shares. They’re demanding it to be more transparent about what it shares. The back-and-forth comes days after the Washington Post reported the NSA tracks 5 billion cell phones a month overseas. Some belong to Americans traveling abroad. (Associated Press)
  • President Barack Obama is bringing a former aide with deep ties to Congress back to the White House. Phil Schiliro’s job is to coordinate policy among agencies to shore up the Affordable Care Act. He parallels former OMB Deputy Director Jeff Zients. Obama assigned Zients to oversee repairs to the website. Before joining the Obama administration in the first term, Schiliro was an adviser to Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), an author of the health care overhaul law. (Associated Presss)
  • A former State Department contractor received a two-year prison sentence for her role in a multi-million dollar fraud scheme. Her husband got 18 months. Both pleaded guilty in August. Kathleen McGrade worked in State’s Office of Acquisition Management. She steered contracts to a company she owned with her husband, Brian Collinsworth. They did work for embassy construction around the world. Federal Times reports the pair must also forfeit a house, a yacht and a Steinway piano. An information technology specialist working for the National Science Foundation has pleaded guilty to theft of government property. Officials say James Troy Clark used his government credit card to buy $95,000 worth of cell phones, computers and tablets for himself and friends. He also bought movies, music and books from the iTunes store. He’ll be sentenced in February. The NSA’s inspector general first investigated Clark. (Federal Times/Justice Department)
  • Three former Office of Personnel Management directors say the executive branch shouldn’t wait for Congress to fix the civil service system. Federal Times reports they spoke at a National Academy of Public Administration forum. Constance Newman, Janice LaChance and Linda Springer worked for Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. All say reforms enacted in 1949 are ill-suited to the 21st century. LaChance says people should be able to advance but not necessarily become supervisors. Newman says agency appraisal systems have a lot of phoniness. (Federal Times)
  • Visitors at the National Air and Space Museum’s Milestones of Flight gallery got a surprise yesterday. 120 musicians of The United States Air Force Band treated museum visitors with its first-ever flash mob. Watch the video: