Friday federal headlines – August 22, 2014

The Federal Headlines is a daily compilation of the stories you hear discussed on the Federal Drive and In Depth radio shows each day. Our headlines are updated twice per day — once in the morning and once in the afternoon — with the latest news affecting federal employees and contractors.

  • The number of employees in the Federal Employee Retirement System enrolled in theThrift Savings Plan hit a record high in July, with 87.5 percent of FERS employees actively contributing to their TSP accounts. But the number of participants who contribute full match to the TSP is down. (Federal News Radio)
  • A new handbook describes the way agencies are taking a different approach to contracting. The Office of Management and Budget and Office of Science Technology Policy published the first version of Innovative Contracting Case Studies, which outlines examples where agencies are using existing acquisition regulations to score more innovative contracts. (White House)
  • The Pentagon broke a couple of federal laws when it swapped Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for five Taliban leaders. That’s according to the Government Accountability Office. GAO says the Defense Department used $1 million to carry out the exchange that hadn’t been expressly appropriated. That’s a violation of the Anti Deficiency Act. Plus, DoD failed to notify congressional leadership 30 days in advance of the swap — also a violation of law. Bergdhal had been a prisoner in Afghanistan for five years. The GAO opinion on the incident was requested by nine Republican senators. A Pentagon spokesman says DoD was cleared by the Justice Department. (Associated Press)
  • Top Defense officials are hinting, U.S. action against the Islamic State army might not stop at bombing it in Iraq. In recent days, the U.S. military has used air strikes to help Kurdish forces kick ISIL out of a major dam in Mosul. Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, says the ISIL group is likely to regroup. He says the only way to kill it off is to attack it in Syria. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel adds, the United States is looking at all options. (Associated Press)
  • Love your federal building? Hate it? Either way, now’s your chance to tell the General Services Administration. The 2014 tenant satisfaction is posted online. Public Building Service Commissioner Norman Dong says he wants high participation to help set facilities strategy and plan renovations. The survey takes about five minutes. It asks inhabitants of leased federal buildings about what they think of the inside and outside features of buildings, including landscaping, interior light and whether the bathrooms are taken care of. (General Services Administration)
  • The National Institute of Standards and Technology is providing tips to the federal community for how to vet third-party mobile apps. Agencies increasingly are using these apps for convenience and to boost collaboration. But the concern with third-party apps that feds download is that the apps could expose government data to outsiders. NIST’s draft recommendations out this week provide a list of vulnerabilities common in iPhone apps and Android apps. They are guidelines, as opposed to rules, to help agencies mitigate privacy and security risks. (National Institute of Standards and Technology)
  • Amazon Web Services says it’s the first commercial cloud computing provider authorized to handle sensitive, unclassified data of the Defense Department. An announcement comes from Chad Woolf, Amazon’s director of risk and compliance. The authorization applies to Amazon’s GovCloud, a set of data centers completely within the United States and only open to government customers. It means Defense agencies can use the Amazon cloud for workloads at security impact levels 3-5, as defined by the Defense Information Systems Agency. The GovCloud already had authorization for less sensitive data. (Amazon)
  • The Education Secretary is giving states a bit of a break on Common Core standards and how they use the assessments to keep or get rid of teachers. Arne Duncan said Thursday that states can apply for extra time before they have to use student test scores to judge teachers’ performances. The move comes after concerns raised by teachers unions and affects about 40 states. Common Core is a set of federal standards that spell out the knowledge and skills students should gain during their K-12 education. (Associated Press)
  • The Drug Enforcement Agency is clamping down on the usage of some powerful painkillers. The agency decided this week to list hydrocodone-combination products as Schedule II drugs under the Controlled Substance Act. This puts them in the same category as narcotics, like heroin and methamphetamine, and ups the criminal penalties for anyone caught illegally dealing or possessing them. Hydrocodone- combination products, along with hydrocodone, also contain nonnarcotic substances, such as aspirin or acetaminophen. Previously, they were in the less-restrictive Schedule III category. The switch takes effect in 45 days. (Federal Register)
  • As the Air Force Academy undergoes an investigation into its athletic department and allegations of sexual abuse, the new Naval Academy superintendent says Navy sports don’t have the same cultural issues. Ted Carter took over at the helm of the Naval Academy in July and spoke publicly for the first time this week. Congress and the Pentagon are closely monitoring sexual assaults at the Air Force, Army and Navy academies. Back in January, a Defense Department found that a culture of disrespect permeates the schools. (Navy Times)
  • Don’t hold your breath waiting for President Barack Obama to dump a bucket of ice water on his head. In fact, if you’re a federal employee, it’s probably a good idea not to take the challenge in your official capacity. Luminaries ranging from Ethel Kennedy to Justin Bieber have challenged the President. The White House says he’s made a donation to support research into Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). But it rules out the ice bucket. The State Department bars diplomats from posting videos of themselves taking the challenge. And Defense warns its people, doing the ice bucket routine risks violating federal ethics rules by seeming to endorse a private enterprise. (Associated Press)