Tuesday federal headlines – January 28, 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 FederalNewsRadio.com users more information about the stories you hear on the air.

  • The White House wants major changes to a bill aimed at increasing government transparency. Critics say the changes would reduce transparency. The Digital Accountability and Transparency Act is sponsored by Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.). It would require governmentwide financial data reporting standards. The White House markup would let the administration review and revise any new standards established by an interagency group. The Data Transparency Coalition says this guts the purpose of the bill. (Federal News Radio)
  • President Barack Obama is signing an executive order to raise the minimum wage for federal contract workers to $10.10 an hour. Obama will announce it during the State of the Union. The new wage would start when federal contracts renew. It could affect up to 2 million workers, including janitors and cafeteria employees. (Associated Press)
  • Your retirement plan knows how bad you had it last year. The board that runs the Thrift Savings Plan says hardship withdrawals hit a 10-year high in 2013. About 10 percent of withdrawals came in October — the month of the shutdown. In total, there were 138,000 last year, in addition to nearly 300,000 loans. People who take hardship withdrawals have to wait six months before making contributions again. The board says TSP participation is down slightly now. But people who stuck it out last year did well. TSP assets rose to a high of $397 billion, thanks to a strong stock market. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Office of Personnel Management is deciding whether to suspend or debar U.S. Investigative Services, the company hired to do background checks for security clearances. USIS faces charges of defrauding the government. Prosecutors say it sent more than a half million incomplete cases to the government but represented them as finished. OPM gave USIS a new, $288 million contract in 2011 and renewed it in 2012. OPM Director Katherine Archuleta outlines several steps to improve oversight, including putting more agency staff on the job. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Smithsonian Institution doesn’t have the money to reopen one of the oldest buildings on the National Mall. The agency had planned to turn the 133-year-old Arts and Industries Building into an innovation pavilion in a partnership with the Patent and Trademark Office. The Smithsonian already has spent $55 million replacing the roof and stabilizing the structure. The building has been closed for ten years. Some in Congress want to reserve it for a future American Latino Museum. (Smithsonian Institution)
  • Postal workers picket Staples stores in California today. They are protesting a deal between the office retailer and their employer, the Postal Service. At 84 stores, you can buy stamps and mail packages. A Staples employee will be helping you. The American Postal Workers Union says its members should do that work. 40 percent of them work in retail operations. They see the Staples deal as a threat to their jobs and public post offices. (American Postal Workers Union)
  • The administration is already planning for the next phase of the National Security Agency surveillance program. President Obama has proposed having someone other than the NSA store telephone metadata. Now the agency is funding research into how the queries it makes of the data would stay secret. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has awarded five contracts to explore high volume encryption. The idea is to prevent anyone from spying on its own surveillance of Americans’ phone records. The Justice Department and leading internet companies reach a compromise with the government on data calls. The deal would allow the firms to reveal how often they are ordered to turn over information about their customers in national security investigations. The deal would let Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook and LinkedIn provide public information in general terms. Other internet companies are likely to join in. (Associated Press)
  • President Barack Obama is expected to announce Navy Vice Adm. Mike Rogers as the next leader of the National Security Agency. Rogers heads the Navy’s Cyber Command. He’s been long considered the frontrunner for the position. But NSA Director Army Gen. Keith Alexander is retiring in March, putting pressure on the White House to make the decision official soon. The President can appoint Rogers to the NSA without Senate confirmation. But the second half of the job, to lead U.S. Cyber Command, requires a Senate vote. (Associated Press)
  • Five House Republicans and one Democrat are calling for the President to fire National Intelligence Director James Clapper. The congressmen say Obama cannot restore trust in the NSA’s security programs and increase transparency as long as Clapper has the top job. They say he lied to Congress, under oath, about the bulk-data collection programs in March. House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa is leading the call for Clapper’s dismissal. (House)
  • A bi-coastal pair of congressmen unwrap draft legislation to overhaul federal procurement of IT systems. The bill, by Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), would give added powers to the federal chief technology officer. The CTO would oversee and guide major projects. It would open more opportunities for small business by raising the dollar threshold for streamlined acquisitions. Eshoo and Connolly say nearly every large IT project the government undertakes is late, is over budget or fails. (House)
  • The Army is sending the equivalent of a squad to the Olympics in Sochi, Russia, next month. Nine soldiers in the Army’s World Class Athlete Program will be members of the U.S. Olympic Team. Four will compete in the bobsled, and two will compete in the luge. The other three will be coaching bobsled, luge and skeleton. All are men. Seven have competed in earlier Olympics either as athletes or coaches. The Olympics start Feb. 7. The United States team will consist of 105 women and 125 men. (Defense Department)
  • A U.S. cargo ship has set sail on a mission to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons. The Virginia-based Cape Ray left last night for its two-week trip. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel bid the crew good luck in doing something untried before — destroying, at sea, one of the world’s largest stockpiles of chemical weapons. Officials estimate the number at 700 tons of chemical weapons. The Cape Ray carries two hydrolysis systems to break down the chemicals and make them inert. The Navy assumed command of the ship Monday night. It belongs to the Transportation Department. (Defense Department)