Thursday federal headlines – March 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.

  • Congress appears headed towards passing a kind of paperwork reduction act for the government. A bipartisan Senate bill would consolidate or eliminate more than 300 reports produced annually by 29 agencies. It matches a House bill marked up in committee yesterday. The Senate bill was introduced by Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.). Warner questions why agencies should be required to spend hundreds of hours preparing reports no one reads or does anything about. One example is a report about printing in the Social Security Administration. Each year, 100 Social Security employees spend three months preparing it. (Federal News Radio)
  • A key House panel approves a slew of bills aimed at federal work and workers. Measures now heading to the full House for a vote include a bill to stop physical printing of the Federal Register. Submissions would be published, not printed. Another bill would end 170 agency reports to Congress deemed unnecessary or redundant. The House Oversight Committee also adopted a bill to make lifecycle funds the default investment choice for Thrift Savings Plan participants. Those funds are targeted towards a specific retirement year and offer higher rewards and risks that the G Fund, which is the current default. The committee approved a three-year extension of a pilot program that lets whistleblowers appeal their cases outside the Federal Circuit. (House)
  • Senators might have been characters from Grease, singing, “Tell Me More, Tell Me More.” Beth Cobert, the White House management chief, appeared before a Senate hearing to tell more about the administration’s 2015 budget request. GovExec reports, she came under pressure to provide more information about the list of federal programs compiled by the administration. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) warned Cobert about a bill that would require agencies to standardize their definition of a program and what each one costs. He also pressed Cobert for more details about the performance metrics the White House is asking agencies to compile. Cobert promised the Office of Management and Budget would be issuing more data. (GovExec)
  • Investigators from the United States are weighing in on the Malaysia Airlines plane that disappeared over the weekend. Sources tell the Wall Street Journal, they believe the plane flew on for four hours after its transponders stopped. The investigators cite engine telemetry data, which is fed automatically to the engine manufacturer. The sources say U.S. national security officials believe the plane was commandeered. One theory says it was diverted so it could be used later for some unknown purpose. Various possibilities have been laid out to federal agency officials. If the plane did fly that long, it would be thousands of miles away from where the search has been focused. (Wall Street Journal)
  • The Marine Corps solicits volunteers to test ways of integrating female Marines into combat roles. The human research experiment will involve 460 Marines stationed at Camp Lejeune, N.C. A quarter of them will be women. Over the course of a year, they’ll train for combat and mountain warfighting in simulated battle environments. Brig. Gen. George Smith says the Corps needs to test female performance beyond entry-level tasks. The Pentagon has ordered services to let women serve in combat by 2016. (Marine Corps)
  • The Pentagon sends 300 more troops to Poland because of the conflict in Ukraine. They are part of the 555th Fighter Squadron based at Aviano Air Base in Italy. The Pentagon also sends a dozen more F-16 fighter jets. All will arrive by the end of the week. The Air Force already has deployed extra combat fighters to NATO bases in Eastern Europe. Last week, six jets arrived in Lithuania to augment air patrols over the Baltics. Meanwhile, a Navy destroyer joined Bulgarian and Romanian naval forces in the Black Sea for exercises a few hundred miles off the Crimean peninsula. (Defense Department)
  • The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is negotiating a performance appraisal system with the National Treasury Employees Union. NTEU has represented bureau staff for less than a year. The union says the appraisal process was one reason why employees wanted union representation. Pay equity was another. NTEU issued comments following a story in The American Banker. It revealed morale problems. And it accused the agency of giving white men better personnel ratings than it gave Blacks or Hispanics. (American Banker)
  • Attorney General Eric Holder will speak later this morning in support of shorter prison sentences for some nonviolent drug traffickers. He’ll endorse a change before the U.S. Sentencing Commission that could reduce the average drug trafficking sentence by 11 months and cut federal prison rolls by more than 6,500 inmates over the next five years. Holder will say the harshest penalties should be reserved for “dangerous and violent drug traffickers.” But he may stay mum on identity thieves. The nation’s top lawyer is the latest victim of tax return fraud. Federal prosecutors say two Atlanta men filed a tax return using Holder’s name, birthday and social security number. Holder was among at least 10 victims. Prosecutors say the defendants got their victims’ information from publicly available websites. (Justice Department)