Thursday federal headlines – February 13, 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.

  • Turn off the alarm and roll over. Federal agencies in D.C. are closed today. The Office of Personnel Management says emergency and telework-ready employees should follow their agency’s policies. Non-emergency employees will be granted an excused absence, unless you’re required to telework or on travel outside the area. The snowstorm warning is in effect until 3 p.m. Thursday. (Federal News Radio)
  • Who is out and about on a morning like this? Snow crews, of course, and the National Guard. States from Alabama to the Northeast have mobilized their guard units to help deal with the ice and snow. In Georgia, the governor says the National Guard helped four blind students get home from school in the ice storm. Elsewhere, guardsmen are helping first responders, stranded motorists and road crews. Virginia is asking them to help doctors, nurses and patients get to health care facilities. (National Guard)
  • Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has sued the Obama administration over the National Security Agency’s mass collection of phone records. Rand is a possible presidential candidate. He says he and the conservative activist group FreedomWorks filed the suit for themselves and on behalf of “everyone in America that has a phone.” The lawsuit argues that the bulk collection program started during the Bush administration violates the Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches. The administration says it’s legal, although President Obama wants it modified. (Associated Press)
  • President Barack Obama has signed a law increasing oversight of the federal security clearance process. It lets the Office of Personnel Management’s inspector general tap the agency’s revolving fund. That’s the money it gets from other agencies for services like background checks. The IG can now use up to one-third of the $2 billion fund for more audits and investigations. IG Patrick McFarland told Congress last summer, his budget is about half of what it needs to look into serious problems, including fraudulent background checks. (Congress)
  • President Barack Obama gives a few hundred thousand federal contractors a pay raise. He signs an executive order increasing their minimum hourly wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour. The measure applies only to new contracts. There are more than 2 million federal contractors. Most aren’t affected by the order. The President pushes Congress to raise the federal minimum wage for everyone to $10.10 an hour. (Associated Press)
  • The long-held dream of power from nuclear fusion is a step closer to reality. Energy Department scientists were able to get more energy out of a fuel source than was put into it. The experiment took place last fall. It was reported yesterday in the scientific journal Nature. The technique involves firing a powerful laser at a pea-sized target. That produced a short-lived chain reaction, proving fusion is possible. Omar Hurricane is a physicist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and lead author of the study. He says he and his colleagues were able to create a miniature star for a fraction of a second. (Nature)
  • The White House has nominated Nathan Sheets to become undersecretary for international affairs at the Treasury Department. He’s a Citigroup economist and former official at the Federal Reserve. The appointment requires Senate confirmation. The Wall Street Journal reports, the President has nominated Mark Sobel to a two-year term on the International Monetary Fund’s executive board. He’s currently Treasury’s deputy assistant secretary for international monetary and financial policy. He’s a 30-year veteran of Treasury. (Wall Street Journal)
  • The Office of Management and Budget is about to fill a key job that’s been open since May. Lisa Danzig will join OMB as its associate director for personnel and performance. She’ll replace Shelley Metzenbaum. Danzig is currently at Housing and Urban Development as its director of strategic planning and management. At OMB, Danzig will oversee the day-to-day operations of the administration’s performance management initiative. That includes the cross-agency priority goals and the agency-by-agency establishment of high priority goals. Dustin Brown has been the acting associate director. (Federal News Radio)
  • National Institute of Standards and Technology Director Pat Gallagher leaves for his alma mater. The University of Pittsburgh elects Gallagher the next chancellor and CEO. He’ll begin in August. Gallagher earned his phD in physics at Pittsburgh. In a statement, he says he can’t think of a higher form of public service than leading the university. Gallagher has directed NIST since 2009. Under his watch, the agency has developed cybersecurity guidelines for private companies and launched a commission to improve forensic science used in criminal investigations. (University of Pittsburgh)
  • A top executive at U.S. Investigative Services resigned in the wake of a scandal involving its biggest federal contract. The Wall Street Journal reports, Johnny Tharp resigned after the Office of Personnel Management barred him from overseeing federal work. Tharp had been president of the investigations services division. The Justice Department has charged it with fraud for falsifying 660,000 background checks. OPM Director Katherine Archuleta confirmed to the Journal that she’d barred Tharp from involvement in federal work. His lawyer, Christopher Mead, says Tharp believes he’s done nothing wrong and wants to restore his reputation. (Wall Street Journal)
  • President Obama has spent some time staring at two new additions to the Oval Office. They’re paintings by one of the most famous American artists. Now hanging where the President can see them daily are two works by Edward Hopper. Cobb’s Barn – South Truro, and Burly Cobb’s House – South Truro are oil on canvas done in the early 1930s on Cape Cod. They’re on loan to the White House by the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. (White House)