Wednesday federal headlines – December 4, 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.

  • Two Republican Congressmen think they’ve found a way to help balance the budget and restore some Defense spending. And federal employees would foot the bill. The proposed new law would cancel sequestration entirely for the Defense Department and a handful of other security-related agencies in fiscal 2014 and 2015. It would offset that move by requiring federal employees to contribute more of their salary toward their pension. It would trim Medicare payments and agricultural subsidies among other entitlement reforms. Backing the bill are Reps. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.) and Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.). They say their bill could reduce deficits by $200 billion over the next 10 years. (Federal News Radio)
  • The head of a House panel on government operations is picking a fight with several agencies over their real estate. Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) is vowing to block two small agencies from moving out of the Old Post Office Building. The General Services Administration has leased the building to Donald Trump. The National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities are supposed to pack up and move to Southwest Washington. Mica does not have a problem with that, but he wants the space for the Federal Trade Commission. It’s part of his plan to expand the National Gallery of Art. The FTC prefers its current digs. (Federal News Radio)
  • Remember the Transportation Security Administration’s plan to let passengers carry pocket knives on board planes? Proposed in March, killed in June. The House has passed a bill likely to kill such plans before they even take off. The legislation would give more authority to an advisory committee on aviation security. It would force TSA to address, in writing, the committee’s concerns and then brief Congress. The agency did not consult the committee before it made that short-lived decision on pocket knives. (House)
  • Ashton Carter steps down today as the deputy defense secretary. President Obama already announced his replacement, Christine Fox. Until recently Fox was DoD’s director of cost assessment and program evaluation. Secretary Chuck Hagel described her as a brilliant defense thinker and proven manager. He said she was an important voice as the Pentagon struggled to find its way through recent budget cuts and uncertainty. She starts work tomorrow. Carter served two tours of duty at the Pentagon under 11 defense secretaries. (Federal News Radio)
  • President Barack Obama is losing his principal adviser on the environment. Nancy Sutley will step down in February from her post as chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. In a statement, the President says Sutley’s efforts show “a healthy environment and a strong economy…can go hand in hand.” The White House says the government has cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent during Sutley’s four-year tenure. Among other things, the Council has encouraged federal building managers to use performance contracting to help conserve energy. It has coordinated interagency efforts on the environment, including a new initiative to help communities prepare for drought. (White House)
  • When the Environmental Protection Agency banned BP from federal contracts, it did so illegally. At least, a parade of business and oil-industry associations think so. National Journal reports a group ranging from the American Petroleum Institute to TechAmerica are urging a federal court to overturn the suspension. EPA imposed it after BP pleaded guilty to criminal charges in the 2010 Gulf of Mexico drilling platform blowout. BP had been a major fuel supplier to the military. The interest groups argue that barring all parts of the company from contracts sets a dangerous precedent. In their court brief, they call the ban an unprecedented assertion of suspension power. (GovExec)
  • The Air Force says it will release some newbies from their military service commitments in efforts to shrink the force. ROTC cadets slated to graduate next year and newly commissioned graduates waiting to enter active duty may be eligible depending on their specialties. The Air Force doesn’t want to say goodbye entirely. It is encouraging those who apply for the program to enroll in the Air National Guard or Air Force Reserve. Those chosen will not have to pay the Air Force back for scholarships or stipends. (Air Force)
  • The healthcare insurance subsidy program might be vulnerable to fraud. That’s according to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. The IG worries IRS systems might not be able to detect a fraudulent income claim in time to prevent the issuance of a tax refund that includes the subsidy. Auditors did say the IRS has successfully completed development of a system to calculate subsidies. But it called on the IRS chief technology officer to update change management controls and other processes to make sure the system stays accurate. Acting Commissioner Danny Werfel says the IRS has a strong plan in place to ensure integrity of subsidy tax credits. But agency staff mostly agreed with the IG recommendations. (Associated Press)
  • Companies can force employees to sign arbitration agreements waiving all rights to class-action lawsuits. A federal appeals court has overturned a decision by the National Labor Relations Board. It’s a big win for businesses worried about lawsuits over workplace grievances like unpaid overtime. The case considered a policy in which Texas-based homebuilding DR Horton required employees to sign agreements to resolve any workplace disputes in individual arbitration proceedings. The appeals court says the agreements are fine, but they must clarify that employees can still file unfair labor charges with the NLRB. (Associated Press)