Thursday federal headlines – January 30, 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.

  • A Senate panel has put off a vote on postal reform. Thirty proposed amendments bogged down debate on a bill to help the cash-strapped agency. The measure would let the Postal Service set up its own health plan for employees. It would ease a requirement that the Postal Service pre-pay for retirees’ health benefits. The legislation would maintain Saturday mail delivery for now. Postal officials say $2 billion in savings are at stake in that move. (Federal News Radio)
  • President Barack Obama did not use the State of the Union address to announce executive actions, as pundits had predicted. One federal employees’ union sees the omission as an opportunity. The American Federation of Government Employees has 10 suggestions for ways the President can help feds through executive actions. Among them: Making sure white- and blue-collar feds who work together get the same locality pay rate; giving TSA officers the right to appeal a disciplinary action; giving agencies a formula to calculate the cost of producing something in-house versus contracting it out; letting federal prison guards carry pepper spray. (American Federation of Government Employees)
  • The Government Accountability Office says federal agencies aren’t doing enough to fight sexual abuse in schools, especially abuse at the hands of teachers and other school staff members. GAO points fingers at the departments of Education, Health and Human Services and Justice. The agencies collect data. But, GAO says, none analyze the extent of the problem, and they need to close that data gap. In response, an Education Department official says the department is exploring ways to better track the problem. She says the agency is updating its sexual misconduct training and will look for ways to work with the other agencies. (Associated Press)
  • Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel calls 15 top Air Force, Navy and Strategic Command leaders to the Pentagon for a candid talk about the nuclear force. The high-level meetings come in response to a widening cheating scandal, a drug investigation and signs of low morale among launch officers. A Pentagon spokesman says the leaders agree that there are systemic cultural issues within the force. They spent two hours defining those issues and discussing how to address them. Hagel says the conversations will continue. (Federal News Radio)
  • Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel orders a review of the way troops are honored with awards and decorations. A spokesman says Hagel wants to do it now that the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan is ending. He says the review won’t cherry-pick honors. Rather it will include all awards up through the Medal of Honor. The undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness will lead the effort. Last year, Hagel scrapped a new medal — the Distinguished Warfare Medal. It was intended to honor service members who aid combat operations but are not in combat themselves. (Defense Department)
  • A terror suspect is challenging the constitutionality of the National Security Agency’s warrantless surveillance program. The motion was filed in Denver with help from the American Civil Liberties Union. The suspect, Jamshid Muhtorov, also asks prosecutors to tell more about how the surveillance law was used in his case. The challenge was expected. The Justice Department said publicly it planned to use information gained from the warrantless program against Muhtorov. At a Senate hearing, Intelligence Director James Clapper calls on Edward Snowden and his accomplices to return documents he took from the NSA. He says Snowden’s repeated leaks to media have caused profound damage. (Associated Press)
  • The National Security Agency names Rebecca Richards as its first civil liberties and privacy officer. Richards is now the director of privacy compliance at the Homeland Security Department. She’s been there since 2004. The move follows a promise from President Obama last fall to help increase public confidence in the NSA and its surveillance programs. Richards will be the main adviser to the NSA director on privacy and civil liberties issues. (National Security Agency)
  • Dorothy Robyn will be stepping down in March as commissioner of the General Services Administration’s Public Buildings Service. She took over the service in 2012 after a Western Regions conference scandal resulted in several executive departures. In a statement, Administrator Dan Tangherlini praised Robyn for her efforts to cut governmentwide energy use. Before joining GSA, Robyn was the deputy Defense undersecretary for installations and the environment. The Office of Management and Budget confirms that Norman Dong, the acting controller, will leave to take over GSA’s Buildings Service. (Federal News Radio)
  • U.S. Customs and Border Protection has grounded its fleet of drones. Reuters reports, CBP was forced to ditch one of the pilotless aircraft in the Pacific Ocean off San Diego last evening. The plane had a mechanical failure. Operators concluded it would not be able to land safely. It broke up on hitting the water. The Coast Guard tells the Los Angeles Times the drone was recovered. The downed Predator B is one of nine operated by Customs and Border Protection. Also called the MQ-9 Reaper, it’s made by General Atomics. It can stay aloft for 20 hours at heights up to 50,000 feet. CBP says it grounded the rest of the fleet as a precaution. (Reuters)