Thursday federal headlines – January 2, 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.

  • Most feds will notice a slight bump in their next pay stubs. President Barack Obama has ordered a 1 percent pay raise, effective yesterday. But it goes only for employees under the General Schedule system. Some 200,000 blue-collar federal employees won’t see a dime more. That’s because they’re paid under the wage-grade system. There’s no bump in locality pay either. (Federal News Radio)
  • It may make more sense to drive to work in the new year. The tax subsidy for public transport has been cut in half, from $245 a month to $130. Blame Congressional inaction. Several bills would have restored parity between the mass transit benefit and the one for parking. It’s now $250 a month, up $5 from last year. There’s a chance Congress still could pass a law and make it retroactive to Jan. 1. (Federal News Radio)
  • Restore Americans’ faith in the government. That could be a new year’s resolution. The Associated Press conducted a year-end poll. 70 percent of the people surveyed say they lack confidence in the government’s ability “to make progress on the important problems and issues facing the country this year.” They have more faith in their state and local leaders. A slight majority says they’d do a better job running the country than federal politicians. They say they want leaders to focus on health care reform, jobs and the economy. (Associated Press)
  • Don’t forget us. That’s the word from the judicial branch to the legislative and executive branches. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts says low funding is the biggest challenge facing the court system. In his year-end report, Roberts tells Congress and the White House that court staffing has dropped to 1997 levels. Flat budgets and sequestration put the judicial branch headcount at 19,000, a double-digit reduction. Roberts warns of greater delays in criminal and civil cases. He’s asking for a budget of slightly more than $7 billion in 2014 to prevent the loss of another 1,000 employees. That’s .2 percent of the total federal budget. (Associated Press)
  • Records management is bound to get more formal in the new year. Two years after President Barack Obama issued a presidential memo, the Office of Personnel Management has come out with broad guidelines for the position of records management specialist. It’s asking agencies to comment on the draft. OPM says it’s part of an effort to separate records management support work from the stuff specialists do. (OPM)
  • A well-known privacy advocate has exposed the National Security Agency’s personal spy gear. Security expert and blogger Jacob Appelbaum showed off the NSA’s tools at the Chaos Communications Conference in Hamburg, Germany. One device could let the NSA see from a distance what is being typed on a keyboard, even if its disconnected from the internet. Another can tamper with WiFi signals from a distance of eight miles. Applebaum says the NSA has software that it can insert on iPhones to enable eavesdropping using both the camera and microphone. He tells the conference the NSA capabilities are worse than your worse nightmares. (Associated Press)
  • Apple has joined a cavalcade of technology companies denying it has cooperated with the National Security Agency on spying. The Wall Street Journal reports, the company says it never worked with the NSA to create a back-door into iPhone software. Leaked documents from 2008 allege Apple was targeted by the NSA in a spyware program called Dropout Jeep. The software supposedly let NSA personnel access data and activate the camera or microphone. Apple says it was unaware of the NSA’s program. Cisco and Juniper Networks have also been named in leaked documents as having NSA-installed software on their products after manufacturing. (Wall Street Journal)
  • Special Operations Command is reiterating its commitment to developing a revolutionary body suit, something like the one worn by movie hero Iron Man. It won’t fly, but the suit would regulate body and skin temperature, administer first aid, and electronically enhance situational awareness. The suit would also function as body armor. As envisioned, it will have an exoskeleton to help bear the weight. It’s a pet project of Special Forces Commander Adm. William McRaven. The project is dubbed Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit, or TALOS. Special Forces is working with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Army’s engineering unit in Natick, Mass. (Defense Department)
  • The Health and Human Services Department has ordered 14 million doses of potassium iodide. The compound protects the body from radioactive poisoning in the aftermath of severe nuclear accidents. reports, the pills are to be delivered no later than Feb. 1. The solicitation in FedBizOpps calls for 700,000 packages, each containing 20 pills. A search of FedBizOpps shows no other agency having ordered mass quantities of potassium iodide. EcoNews reported last month that 71 U.S. sailors are suing Tokyo Electric Power Company. They say that after helping with early relief efforts in the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster, they developed thyroid cancer, leukemia and brain tumors. (