Friday federal headlines – January 31, 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.

  • Two agencies shave their payrolls through early-outs. The Social Security Administration says employees over 50 years old, with at least 20 years of experience, can retire early. Folks with five more years of experience, regardless of age, can leave, too. By some estimates, half of the agency’s workforce is eligible. But the Social Security Administration doesn’t offer a cash incentive. The EPA will offer cash to departing workers, up to $25,000 for some. Inside EPA reports, employees in regional offices will get offers. The agency has submitted a plan to the Office of Personnel Management. It’s waiting for approval. EPA officials say the buyouts and early-outs will let it reorganize. It wants to cut the number of higher-level employees and hire more entry-level workers. (Federal News Radio)
  • Rafael Borras, the undersecretary for management at the Homeland Security Department, is stepping down after almost four years on the job. Government sources tell Federal News Radio his last day will be Feb. 7. He plans to return to the private sector. Borras gets credit for helping DHS reach its first unqualified financial audit opinion last year. He also improved DHS acquisition by establishing a review process called the Program Accountability and Risk Management. He was less successful at improving morale among DHS employees. Chris Cummiskey will be acting undersecretary. (Federal News Radio)
  • President Obama names Vice Adm. Mike Rogers to take over the National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command. The cyber half of the job requires Senate confirmation. Rogers’ appointment has been expected. He will succeed Army Gen. Keith Alexander, scheduled to retire in March. Rogers is a trained cryptologist, now heading the Navy’s Cyber Command. He joins the NSA when the agency has been crippled by leaked documents about secret surveillance programs. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel appoints Rick Ledgett to replace Chris Inglis as the NSA’s top civilian. Ledgett headed an NSA task force to look into the leaks. (Associated Press)
  • Top Air Force officials seem to have found the outer limits of a cheating ring in the nuclear missile force. 92 launch control officers have been implicated. That’s about half the staff at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont. Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James describes a culture of undue stress and fear over written tests. The 92 have been de-certified and suspended while the investigation continues. That means remaining officers at Malmstrom will have to do 10 shifts per month, instead of eight. Each shift lasts 24 hours. Lee says the 20th Air Force will take over test-writing. Until now, each of the three nuclear missile bases wrote their own test questions. (Associated Press)
  • The Transportation Security Administration says “no” to the idea of having armed officers at airport checkpoints. The move disappoints their union. The idea of arming at least one officer at each checkpoint came up after a TSA screener was shot and killed by a deranged gunman at Los Angeles International Airport last year. But Administrator John Pistole says he’s ruled out the idea. J. David Cox, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, says Pistole spoke prematurely. He points out the shooting investigation is still going on. (Associated Press)
  • There will be lots of folks in blue uniforms at the Superbowl besides the Seahawks. The Homeland Security Department is deploying teams from five agencies to protect fans in New Jersey on Sunday. Federal air marshals, TSA officers, behavior-detection officers and others will monitor transit. Coast Guard has the waterways. Customs and Border Protection scans cargo entering MetLife Stadium, checking for explosives, drugs or weapons. It also secures the air. And it will help Immigration and Customs Enforcement crack down on counterfeit sales of football jerseys and other game-related gear. But that’s not all. The FBI, Food and Drug Administration, Defense Department and others are assisting. (Homeland Security Department)
  • The IRS begins accepting 2013 tax returns today. Early birds may notice, it’s a bit of a late start. The agency says it needed 10 more days to make up for time lost during October’s shutdown. The National Treasury Employees Union predicts it will be a rough season, with refunds delayed and taxpayers waiting longer than ever on hold. The IRS has lost 8,000 employees, and its budget has been cut by $1 billion over the past three years. (IRS)
  • President Barack Obama orders a “soup to nuts” review of federal workforce training initiatives and pledges to copy the most successful ones. The job-training memo tells the secretaries of Labor, Commerce and Education to develop an action plan within six months. He says it should include more active engagement with industry, employers and others to identify skills in demand. The President took that message on the road. He visits a General Electric engine factory near Milwaukee and a high school in Nashville. (Associated Press)
  • Student veterans have an easier way to complain to the government about misuse of their education benefits. Several federal agencies have teamed up to launch an online portal. Veterans Affairs officials call the system a “direct line” to the agencies. The agencies, in turn, promise to act quickly on the feedback they receive. The website comes after reports of for-profit colleges and others swindling veterans out of their benefits under the post-9/11 GI Bill. (Military One Source)
  • The Justice Department is asking lawyers around the country to help some drug prisoners prepare petitions for clemency. The request expands a step taken by President Obama. He commuted the sentences of eight people he said were serving overly harsh drug sentences. The clemency petition request comes from deputy Attorney James Cole. He urges Congress to pass legislation cleared by the Senate Judiciary Committee that would overhaul federal sentencing guidelines. Long mandatory sentences have caused prison populations and costs to explode. Cole directs the Bureau of Prisons to advise inmates of the opportunity. (Associated Press)