Tuesday federal headlines – January 7, 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.

  • One senator is so upset with an Affordable Care Act rule, he’s taking the Office of Personnel Management to court. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) sues OPM Director Katherine Archuleta over a regulation that subsidizes members of Congress and their staffs. Congress was swept out of the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program and into the exchanges. But OPM ruled they still get a contribution towards their insurance premiums. Johnson says that’s unfair. OPM had no comment on the lawsuit. Johnson filed it in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. (Federal News Radio)
  • Some rural senators are picking a fight with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration over regulations on small farms. Sens. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) say the workplace safety agency is over-reaching. In a letter to Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, the senators say it’s illegal to enforce the rules on farms with fewer than 10 employees. In 2011, OSHA began regulating grain storage facilities on those farms. The year before, a record number of 26 workers nationwide were killed after becoming engulfed in grain. (Senate)
  • Congressional appropriators are working feverishly to beat the Jan. 15 deadline for completing spending bills and avoiding a government shutdown. They’ve been working mostly in secret on the $1.1 trillion plan. They worked throughout the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. The appropriations work fulfills the bipartisan spending authority enacted just before the end of the year. But another rough patch arrives next month, when the government faces its spending limits under the debt ceiling. That’s likely to trigger more partisan debate.

    The bill would also put the Pentagon’s biggest budget fears to rest. There wouldn’t be another, steeper round of across-the-board cuts. Instead, the bill would keep the defense budget nearly flat at $520 billion. That’s $2 billion more than last year’s level under sequestration. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) says the measure provides predictability and stability. He’s the chair of the House subcommittee that writes the Pentagon’s budget. (Associated Press)

  • No one wants to go outside on a day like today. The Office of Personnel Management says agencies should protect the health and well-being of their employees. That means letting eligible employees work from home or adjust their work hours so they are not commuting during the coldest parts of the day. OPM says employees can also request leave if they need it. (Chief Human Capital Officers Council)
  • The new IRS Commissioner John Koskinen says the most intractable problem he faces is a too- tight budget. He lays out his priorities for reporters shortly after a ceremonial swearing in before hundreds of employees. GovExec reports, Koskinen also says he hopes the agency is nearly finished with redacting and submitting documents to Congress. Lawmakers want to know what happened in 2012 when the IRS tax exempt unit seemed to discriminate against conservative groups. Koskinen says he plans to visit 25 IRS offices and meet up to 60,000 of the agency’s 100,000 employees. (GovExec)
  • As the General Services Administration plans the next major telecom contract, it needs to own up to its mistakes and tell other agencies about them. The Government Accountability Office says agencies missed out on hundreds of millions of dollars in savings when they moved to the Networx contracts. And they spent tens of millions on contract management. The move to Networx from legacy contracts took three years longer than planned and cost 44 percent more than GSA had expected. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) says it’s an example of bad planning, duplication and management problems at GSA. (GAO)
  • Cyber warfare is the most serious threat facing the United States, according to a poll conducted among national security leaders by Defense News. United Technologies paid for the survey. Nearly half of respondents named cyber. But when it comes to the number two threat, respondents differ along party lines. Republicans name terrorism, Democrats global warming. Respondents name Iran as the top Middle East threat, and China as the top Asian issue. Nearly half of Democrats say defense spending is too high, but only a third of Republicans say so. Defense News says results show a great deal of diversity in opinions held by members of the defense establishment. (Defense News)
  • The National Labor Relations Board has blinked. Members say they won’t go to the Supreme Court on a proposed rule. It would have required employers to put up big posters advising employees of their right to unionize. Business groups sued to stop the rule. Employers were sustained in two appeals court decisions. The NLRB could have taken the case higher, but says in a statement it won’t. Employees are free to post their own notices. The NLRB offers downloadable posters in 23 languages at its website. (The Press-Enterprise)
  • The government will garnish wages from federal employees who owe money, no matter how old those debts are. Next month, the Office of Personnel Management gets rid of the 10-year statute of limitations on debt collection. OPM says it will not take more than 15 percent of an individual’s salary, unless required by a court. Employees will get 30 days notice. The rule conforms with a five-year-old law. (Federal Register)