Thursday federal headlines – March 20, 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 labor-management councils have had a fitful record ever since the Obama administration re-started them in 2009. The latest hurdle: establishing metrics to measure whether the councils are accomplishing anything. Now the National Council on Federal Labor-Management Relations is getting ready to launch new tools to help partnerships better measure their effectiveness. Among the tools are a “quick- tips” series of webinars explaining best practices for collecting metrics. One tip: Leveraging the expertise of agency performance improvement officers to help identify goals for their groups. (Federal News Radio)
  • A powerful GOP Congressman suspects the White House may be violating the Hatch Act. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, wants to know why the White House re-opened its office of political outreach and strategy in an election year. It now has six employees. A spokesman says they provide the president with political information in a way that the Special Counsel says is appropriate. But the office closed temporarily in 2011 after the Special Counsel raised concerns that it was being used for systematic, campaign-related activity. (House Oversight and Government Reform Committee)
  • President Barack Obama has weighed in on the missing Malaysian airliner. He says finding out what happened is a top priority for the United States. Now Australian authorities have spotted large objects off their western coast they say could be part of the plane. An American P-8 Poseidon submarine-hunting plane was headed there overnight. The FBI is helping Malaysian authorities investigate how flight simulator data was deleted after being used by the pilot of the missing plane. The National Transportation Safety Board is also lending its expertise. The plane disappeared March 8 with 239 people board an hour after leaving Kuala Lampur. (Associated Press)
  • Six months after the Navy Yard shooting, the White House rolls out a 13-point report to improve background checks. Like the Defense Department, the interagency review recommends a continuous, automated system to monitor incidents. It recommends launching the system by September for top-secret clearance holders. Already some foresee problems with the recommendations. The American Federation of Government Employees says it should have only federal employees working on the security clearance process. And clearing a backlog will be daunting. One in five top-secret clearance holders are overdue for re-investigation. (Federal News Radio)
  • A federal judge in San Francisco has extended his nationwide order blocking the National Security Agency from destroying telephone surveillance records. U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White first issued a restraining order on March 10. He now says the records might be needed to settle an invasion- of-privacy lawsuit against the NSA. The lawsuit has 23 plaintiffs. They include churches, marijuana advocates and gun owners. Cindy Cohn of the Electronic Frontier Foundation is the plaintiffs’ lawyer. She says the records could be destroyed if the government would confirm that her clients’ data was collected. But the Justice Department’s lawyer, James Gilligan, says that information should remain secret. (Associated Press, SFGate)
  • The General Services Administration launches 18F saying it will be the government’s hub for digital innovation. It begins with a website that looks distinctly not bureaucratic. And a promise that the 18F’ers are doers who make hard IT projects possible. The hub absorbs the Presidential Innovation Fellows program. They and federal employees specializing in tech design, development and delivery offer their services to agencies. (Federal News Radio)
  • If procedures in place had been followed, the Navy yard shootings last year could have been prevented. That’s the conclusion of the lead investigator, Navy Admiral John Richardson. He’s reiterated his main findings over the past several days. Richardson places some of the blame on contractors Hewlett Packard and The Experts Incorporated. They should have reported on bizarre behavior by the shooter, Aaron Alexis, who had security clearance. The Pentagon has started making changes across DOD. It will establish an Insider Threat Management and Analysis Center to check into results of automated background records checks. (Federal News Radio)