Monday federal headlines - September 23, 2013

Monday - 9/23/2013, 10:17am EDT

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 FederalNewsRadio.com users more information about the stories you hear on the air.

  • There's just a week left before the end of the fiscal year and a possible government shutdown. Most lawmakers say they don't want the first government shutdown in 17 years. But others seem resigned to the possibility after the House passed a funding bill guaranteed to fail in the Senate. It strips funding for the Affordable Care Act. The House has canceled a recess scheduled for later this week. Members have been told they could work through the weekend. (Associated Press)
  • Managers at the Naval Sea Systems Command are looking throughout Washington for alternative office space. NAVSEA's Building 197 is likely to remain closed for a while following last week's mass shooting there. The building is still a crime investigation scene. Officials say even after that's over, the building will require extensive rehabilitation. They're looking at the de-commissioned Coast Guard headquarters at Buzzard Point and at other places within the Navy Yard. NAVSEA is also encouraging employees to telework. The base gym is still closed. The FBI has taken it over to stage its investigation. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Navy says search teams are looking for two missing airmen after a helicopter crash in the Red Sea. Three crew members were rescued late last night after their Knighthawk chopper went down in the central Red Sea. It was operating from the destroyer USS William P Lawrence. The Fifth Fleet, based in Bahrain, issued a statement that aircraft and boats are looking for the two missing crew. The Navy says no hostile fire was involved in the crash. (Associated Press)
  • The Pentagon's IT chief took the witness stand at Guantanamo Bay amid a computer security dispute. It threatens to further delay the trial of five suspects in the 9/11 attacks. The Office of the Secretary of Defense Chief Information Officer Ronald Bechtold said a computer network used by defense teams had safeguards to prevent leaks of confidential legal material. But he said the military monitors the network as necessary to protect against aggressive hacking. Defense lawyers want an independent computer network to guarantee their emails and confidential files are safe. (Associated Press)
  • The independent panel chosen by President Obama to investigate National Security Agency surveillance programs may not be so independent after all. In fact, it operates under the control of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees the NSA. The Associated Press reports, the panel uses offices on loan from the DNI. Statements and interview requests go through DHI public affairs. And Intelligence Director James Clapper exempted the panel from open meeting laws, citing the classified nature of what it's looking at. Meeting attendees say nothing classified has been discussed so far. The group's findings are due Dec. 15. (Associated Press)
  • An outside mediator has sided with the IRS by upholding an agency decision to withhold employee bonuses for 2013. GovExec reports, acting Commissioner Danny Werfel informed agency staff by email. Earlier, Werfel said canceling the bonuses let the agency avoid two furlough days. Employees took three furlough days this summer, instead of five. Werfel estimated the agency would save $70 million by skipping bonuses. The National Treasury Employees Union still says says the IRS is obligated by its contract to pay the bonuses. It's filed a grievance, and says it will take until spring for a decision from an arbitrator. (GovExec)
  • Now that the government is providing employee benefits to the same-sex spouses of feds, two senators say domestic partners should be included, too. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) have introduced a bill. It would give same-sex domestic partners access to the same benefits as those who are legally married spouses of federal employees. They say the bill would put the government on par with most Fortune 500 companies. Three House members have introduced a similar bill. (Senate)
  • The Postal Service is celebrating one of its biggest mistakes — a stamp with an upside-down plane that's known among collectors as the 'inverted Jenny.' Just 100 stamps were sold in 1918. Now they fetch more than $950,000 at auction. Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe presided over an event honoring the stamp yesterday at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum across from Union Station. It has opened a stamp gallery to showcase what the agency calls the world's largest stamp collection. (U.S. Postal Service)
  • The Veterans Affairs Department has launched a search to fill one of the hardest jobs in Washington: Overseeing the Veterans' Health Administration. Undersecretary for Health Robert Petzel is retiring next year. In anticipation that filling his shoes could take a while, the department is convening a commission now to recommend candidates. Petzel has served in the position for four challenging years. Most recently, the system has come under fire for making veterans wait months for disability payments and for suicides at VA hospitals. Congress is examining VA treatment records for Navy shooter Aaron Alexis, too. (Veterans Affairs)
  • It's no secret the Chinese government, or people working for it, are on a cyber offensive. One expert says, what China wants is information on how to build unmanned aircraft. Darien Kindlund is manager of threat intelligence at Fire-Eye, a cybersecurity vendor. He points out that Shanghai hackers have spent two years going after a total of 20 defense contractors. The New York Times reports, Kindlund's assessment is supported by the Project 2049 Institute in Arlington. The Asia-focused think tank says China is striving to have drone-building capabilities of its own. Research Fellow Ian Easton says cyber-spying is one way China can get a leg up on the technology. (The Bulletin)