Friday federal headlines – January 3, 2014

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.

  • It’s going to be a cold, windy commute. Federal agencies are open today, but you can take unscheduled leave or unscheduled telework. The Office of Personnel Management says non-emergency employees who want to take advantage of that should contact their supervisors. The snow has stopped falling. The high will be near 24 degrees. But the National Weather Service says the real beast is the wind. Beware of wind gusts as high as 43 miles per hour. Take care driving, especially high-profile vehicles. (Federal News Radio)
  • A new bill would restore cuts in military pensions approved by Congress and the President late last month. It would pay for the restoration by ending Saturday first class mail delivery. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) introduced the bill. He calls it a common sense reform. Last month’s bipartisan budget agreement called for a reduction in the growth of pension payments for military members who retire before the age of 62. Veterans groups have fought to have the provision overturned. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Office of Personnel Management wants to make it easier for feds to change some of their employee benefits when their personal circumstances change. Under the proposal, you could change your vision and dental benefits whenever you change your health insurance plan outside of open season. For example, you’re getting married or divorced. OPM says it wants to align the dental and vision plan, FEDVIP, with the Federal Employees Health Benefits program. (Federal News Radio)
  • Agencies involved in the new health insurance system are dealing with stacks of last-minute health insurance applications. The White House says about 2.1 million people have enrolled through both the federal and state-run web portals. But insurance companies say they’re receiving thousands of faulty applications from the government. Potential Medicaid recipients in the 36 states relying on the federal exchange are in limbo, waiting for the federal website to pass their applications to their states. But Health and Human Services says its call centers handled the normal amount of calls yesterday. People who signed up on the federal website have until Jan. 10 to pay premiums for coverage retroactive to Jan. 1. (Associated Press)
  • A common health care record for Defense and Veterans Affairs could be pushed back to 2019. That would be ten years after it was called for by the Obama administration. NextGov reports, the Defense Health Agency seeks a contractor to sustain its own EHR through the end of 2018. DoD and VA gave up their joint records effort last year. The DoD solicitation calls for a program not merely to maintain the existing system but also enhance it. The military health system contains 240 million records. (NextGov)
  • The Agriculture Department is giving up on its battle to restrict meat and grain portions in school lunches. It’s making permanent rules that let schools have more control over portion sizes and still get federal reimbursements. The original guidelines were meant to combat childhood obesity by encouraging kids to focus on fruits and vegetables. Some parents said their kids just weren’t eating enough. School administrators complained that the rules made it hard for them to plan meals. USDA says the vast majority of schools are meeting the new meal standards. (USDA)
  • The Marine Corps will delay a physical requirement for women who want to become combat troops. The standard was supposed to be imposed starting this year. But 45 percent of female enlistees are unable to do the minimum of three pullups. Commandant Gen. James Amos wants to do more data gathering before establishing a new deadline. He says he wants to avoid forcing women out of the running for the most demanding jobs. Combat roles are supposed to open for women in 2016. As an alternative to the pullups, women may choose to demonstrate they can hang by flexed arms for at least 15 seconds. (Associated Press)
  • In about two weeks, a federal cargo ship will head to the Mediterranean to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons. The Merchant Vessel Cape Ray is now in Portsmouth, Va. The military is installing a hydrolysis system to turn the chemicals into disposable, albeit hazardous, waste. Reuters reports the ship will carry three times its normal number of personnel so it’s also getting modular housing. Defense Undersecretary Frank Kendell estimates the mission could be done in 45 days, but probably will take twice that long because of bad weather. (Reuters)
  • The Office of Federal Procurement Policy is dusting off an old cost-cutting technique. It’s called value engineering, an organized way of evaluating the function of each part of a system. Value engineering is outlined in Circular A-131, which has received its first update in 20 years. OFPP cites $10 billion in savings the Defense Department achieved in two years using the technique. The new policy calls for agency chief financial officers to name someone senior to be responsible for value-engineering. (Federal News Radio)