Friday federal headlines – February 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 users more information about the stories you hear on the air.

  • The Office of Personnel Management will move final quality reviews for background investigations in-house. It will assign work now being done by U.S. Investigative Services to 300 OPM employees. Some of them will work overtime. Director Katherine Archuleta says she doesn’t expect the move to slow down the approvals. USIS is facing federal charges of fraud. A whistleblower accused the company of fudging on hundreds of thousands of background checks to meet deadlines. The company’s quality control work ends Feb. 24. (Federal News Radio)
  • There’s no panic about the debt ceiling this time around. The government technically reaches its borrowing limit today, but the Treasury Department says it can hold off a default until the end of the month. House Speaker John Boehner promises his chamber won’t let a default happen. He fights for a clean debt limit measure, minus Tea Party favorites like a mandate that the White House approve the Keystone XL pipeline. Meanwhile, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew employs bookkeeping maneuvers to buy a few weeks’ time. (Associated Press)
  • A Senate committee approves a compromise bill to help the Postal Service. The bill angers some who have nothing to do with the Postal Service. That’s because a provision changes workers’ compensation for all federal employees. Other measures include a timeline for ending Saturday mail delivery and letting the Postal Service set up its own health care plan for employees. In a statement, a key sponsor gives a reality check. Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) says the bill is not even halfway to becoming law. The Postal Service today announces its first-quarter finances. (Federal News Radio)
  • President Barack Obama signs the farm bill today at Michigan State University. The bill cuts food stamps by $800 million a year, or around 1 percent. It gives the Agriculture Department more money to stop food-stamp trafficking. It prevents lottery winners from receiving food stamps. While in Michigan, the President will announce a “made in rural America” export initiative. A draft includes an order that agencies host regional forums for rural businesses. It instructs the Agriculture Department to train staff in all 50 states to advise on export opportunities and showcase success stories. (Associated Press)
  • The Agriculture Department says it will spend $30 million this year to improve forest ecosystems in 13 locations. The Forest Service will partner with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, formerly called the Soil Conservation Service. Robert Bonnie is USDA undersecretary for Natural Resources and the Environment. He says the goals of the project are to boost resiliency of forests to wildfires and to protect water quality. The project will concentrate on areas where forests intersect private land. Bonnie announced the project in Helena, Mont. That’s near the Red Mountain Flume-Chessman Reservoir, one of the 13 areas. (Department of Agriculture)
  • Max Baucus has been confirmed as the next ambassador to China. The retiring Democratic Senator from Montana received a unanimous yes vote from his colleagues. He voted present. A senator for 35 years, Baucus championed China’s inclusion in the World Trade Organization. He also sponsored legislation to punish China for undervaluing its currency. It didn’t pass. He’s criticized China for blocking imports of U.S. beef, a big business in Montana. Baucus had already announced his retirement from the Senate when President Obama nominated him. (Associated Press)
  • The Marine Corps has received high praise from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel for winning an important battle. It’s the first of the armed services to receive an unqualified financial audit. Hagel lauds the Corps along with nine other Defense agencies. He quips that it might sound funny to use the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes to honor a bookkeeping accomplishment. He cited the Marines for consolidating 790 financial processes into 59, making transactions traceable from beginning to end. Hagel also praised the Pentagon’s outgoing comptroller, Robert Hale. The Army, Navy and Air Force have yet to produce a clean audit. Their deadline is 2017. (Defense Department)
  • The Defense Contract Audit Agency and the American Federation of Government Employees sign the agency’s first-ever agency-wide contact. AFGE says it covers 3,200 employees in five regions. Before formation of a national bargaining council, AFGE covered about 1,300 employees in two regions. Union President J. David Cox calls yesterday’s Fort Belvoir signing a historic day for DCAA. Most of the covered employees are accountants and auditors. The unit also covers clerks, technicians and administrative support staff. AFGE Council 162 President Jim Galler says the new contract establishes a labor-management forum at DCAA. It already had its first meeting. (American Federation of Government Employees)
  • Cold War-era spying meets the Internet. Add in loose lips, and you’ve got an international mess. Someone recorded a private conversation between two senior American diplomats in which they revealed frustrations about European allies. Victoria Nuland, the top diplomat to Europe, used not-so-nice language. She has apologized. U.S. officials suspect Russia leaked the conversation. The State Department says it marks a new low in Russian tradecraft. (Associated Press)