Friday federal headlines – August 8, 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.

  • They’re finally final, the new rules for phased retirement. The Office of Personnel Management releases the long awaited guidelines. Employees can beging submitting phased retirement applications November 6. CSRS employees must be 55 years-old with at least 30 years of service. FERS employees must be at the minimum retirement age and have 30 years in, or 60 with 20 years’ service. If you choose the phased retirement, you’ll still be considered a government employee until you fully retire. In the meantime, you’ll have to spend 20 percent of your time on mentoring a younger employee. (Federal News Radio)
  • Federal agencies up their involvement in the Ebola crisis in West Africa. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will send 50 disease control experts to help. Director Tom Frieden tells a congressional recess hearing, he won’t rule out the possibility of an infected person flying into the United States. But he says he’s still confident an outbreak here wouldn’t get very far. In Africa, it’s killed 1,000 people so far. The FDA City Pairs airfare contracts will save agencies $2.3 billion next year. The new fares go into effect October 1, the start of the new fiscal year. In a blog post, the agency says domestic one-way fares for federal travelers will be 4 percent lower than this year. International fares will be down about 1 percent. The program is adding destinations. City Pairs will serve nearly 8,000 markets, up from 5,000 this year. More destinations will have dual fares, cheap if you travel at the last minute, and really cheap if you plan ahead. (General Services Administration)
  • Commonly used military communications hardware has security holes mailcious hackers could easily exploit. That’s the thrust of a study by Ruben Santamarta, an analyst with the security company IO Active. Satellite hardware from vendors such as Harris, Hughes and Cobham have several weaknesses that could end up in misdirected or phony messages. Holes include programming backdoors for use by engineers, weak encryption and hard-coded sign-on credentials. Santamarta presented a white paper on SATCOM ionsecurity at the Black Hat conference in Las Legas. Santamarta says none of the hacks could directly take over aircraft, but could make them harder to fly. (Defense One)
  • EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy is reassuring staff that she doesn’t want to fire them willy-nilly. But she does want to get rid of bad actors quickly. She says no employee, no matter their rank, gets a free pass. McCarthy clarifies her stance in a response to an agency union leader. The union had raised concerns after McCarthy called for more flexibility in terminating employees during a congressional hearing. McCarthy says she was referring to specific cases of egregious behavior. (Environmental Protection Agency, AFGE)
  • Do officials who award contracts really know to whom they’re giving the money? A report from the Government Accountability Office raises that question. Auditors find drastically different levels of compliance across government with requirements to record contractors’ performance in a shared database. At the Defense Department, employees document contractor performance on big awards more than 80 percent of the time. At the General Services Administration, it’s just 13 percent. The White House has tried to improve compliance, but says workforce shortages and competiting priorities have hindered some agencies. (Government Accountability Office)
  • The Army National Guard says it can no longer afford to sponsor NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Junior. The Guard has spent $32 million of its recruitment dollars on Earnhardt this year, plus another $12 million on IndyCar driver Graham Rahal. The Guard will let both contracts expire at the end of this race season. Congress has complained about the deals, saying they netted zero recruits. The Guard says they did help build strong brand awareness, but future recruiting will have to be done on smaller budgets. The Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard already have ended their NASCAR programs. (National Guard, Senator Claire McCaskill)
  • We’ve talked about the case of missing emails at the IRS. Now there may be a sequel at the Health and Human Services Department. The department says Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Marilyn Tavenner may have deleted some emails regarding the launch of the online health insurance marketplace, HHS officials report the error to Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) who chairs the Oversight and Government Report Committee. Issa has subpoenaed thousands of documents. The agency says it hasn’t identified any specific emails that it will be unable to retrieve, but says it’s possible. It has also filed a report with the National Archives, saying it is strengthening its email retention system. (House Oversight and Government Report Committee)