Wednesday federal headlines – February 26, 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.

  • Federal agencies in the Washington, D.C., area are open today, but snow threatens to clog roads during the morning commute. The Office of Personnel Management says federal employees can take unscheduled leave. You can telework if you are eligible to do so. The forecast calls for up to two inches of snow falling before 10 a.m. (Federal News Radio)
  • A small squadron of Defense Department nominees faced the Senate Armed Services committee in a group confirmation hearing. Senators grilled them on several frustrating topics. Robert Work, nominated to be deputy defense secretary, was poked about proposals to trim the growth in military compensation. He also faced questions about cost overruns and delays in weapons programs. Sen. John McCain was sharp with Work about the star-crossed Littoral Combat ship. Mike McCord, a former hill staffer, is nominated to be DoD comptroller. He also received a snarky jab from McCain, who is skeptical the department will meet a 2017 deadline for having a clean financial audit. Also questioned were Christine Wormuth, nominated for the top policy slot, David Shear, the President’s choice for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs, and Eric Rosenbloch, up for assistant secretary for homeland defense. (Federal News Radio)
  • President Barack Obama tells his Afghan counterpart, all U.S. troops will withdraw this year unless Kabul signs a security agreement. The White House asks the Pentagon to prepare for the possibility. There’s already a blueprint, but the longer action takes, the more expensive a withdrawal would become. Closing a military base takes about 10 months. Officials say they can do it in less time for more money. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has delaying signing the deal as his term in office ends. He says he wants his successor to sign the pact. It would keep up to 10,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. They would focus on counterterrorism and training Afghan security forces. (Associated Press)
  • An Army survey shows just 8 percent of female soldiers want to fight on the front lines. And it suggests male soldiers worry that women cannot do the physical tasks required. The findings reflect nagging fears as the Pentagon prepares to open more combat roles to women. The Army is revising physical fitness requirements to be more gender-neutral. In studies, commanders are forgoing counting pushups and sit-ups. Instead they test soldiers’ abilities to do battlefield tasks, like dragging a wounded person to safety. In April, the Army opens 33,000 roles to women that were previously classified as direct ground combat. (Army)
  • A 1 percent pay raise is “pitiful,” according to federal labor unions. They’re coming out with their own proposals to counter the request President Barack Obama will make in his fiscal 2015 budget. The American Federation of Government Employees calls for a 4 percent pay raise. It says that’s enough for employees to keep up with the rising costs of retirement and health care. The National Treasury Employees Union advocates for a slightly more modest 3.3 percent raise. Feds got a 1 percent lift this year and no raise for the past three years. (American Federation of Government Employees)
  • The House has passed a bill that would transform how the government buys information technology. It would give greater power to chief information officers to manage IT projects, boost adoption of cloud computing, and require agencies to post more information about IT spending online. The yearly tab for IT approaches $80 billion. The Federal Information Technology Acquisition and Reform Act also passed last year as part of the House version of the Defense Authorization bill. But it was stricken from the conference version. (House)
  • The House approves two transparency bills by a landslide. The first is a bipartisan update to the Freedom of Information Act. The measure would create a single website for the public to request government records. And it would elevate the Office of Government Information Services by requiring it to report directly to Congress on agencies’ compliance with the law. The bill is endorsed by small businesses and media groups. The Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council says the measure will shine light on the often misunderstood regulatory process. The second bill is dubbed the Taxpayers Right-to-Know Act. It would require agencies to publish more budget information than they do now. For example, they would have to release the number of full-time employees and contractors who work on each program. And they would have to list programs suspected of overlapping or duplicating efforts elsewhere in the government. (House)
  • President Obama will have four options for what to do with the National Security Agency’s telephone surveillance program. The Wall Street Journal reports, they range from having the telephone companies, and not the NSA, store phone call metadata, to canceling the program altogether. Another idea is having a second government agency hold the data. Obama called for new options in January. The Justice Department and the Director of National Intelligence got the job of coming up with choices. Their deadline was March 28, but sources tell the Journal they delivered their report early. (Wall Street Journal)
  • Three nominees for ambassadorships will face a confidence vote from people they might end up leading. The American Foreign Service Association plans a March 5 vote on whether to oppose the nominees, all of whom were major fundraisers for President Obama. The trio has already faced difficult hearings before the Senators who get the real vote. Association President Robert Silverman says the poll will send a signal about whether career diplomats feel the nominees are qualified to run diplomatic missions abroad. The three are George Tsunis for Norway, Noah Bryson for Argentina and Colleen Bell for Hungary. (Associated Press)