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News Briefs: Nov. 12

Nov. 11, 2012 - 03:44PM   |  
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TSA, union ratify first agreement

Transportation Security Administration screeners last week ratified their first-ever collective bargaining agreement with the agency in a 17,326-1,774 vote.

J. David Cox, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents TSA workers, said the agreement will improve working conditions and morale and thus reduce turnover.

“This is important because low morale leads to unsafe levels of attrition in an agency where a stable, professional workforce of career employees is vital to its national security mission,” Cox said.

The agreement, according to AFGE:

• Establishes a new performance management system that evaluates screeners’ “actual performance of their duties.” It replaces the controversial Performance Accountability and Standards System — a pay-for-performance system AFGE has said is discriminatory.

• Permits uniform variations to account for inclement weather and temperatures.

• Provides a more consistent process for moving between part-time and full-time employment, trading shifts and approving annual leave.

Lift height restrictions on D.C. buildings?

The National Capital Planning Commission plans to study the impact of removing height restrictions on buildings in Washington.

Building heights are constrained by the 1910 Height of Buildings Act. The commission will study the impact of taller buildings on federal building security, the city skyline and pedestrian views of the city, according to a news release.

“This study is an important step in protecting this legacy, while also addressing future federal and local needs,” NCPC Chairman Preston Bryant Jr. said.

NCPC expects to finish the study by September and present its recommendations to Congress.

Key post to fill: FBI director

Beyond the reshuffling of President Obama’s Cabinet, another key personnel decision is looming in the administration’s second term.

In the coming months, Obama will decide on a successor to Robert Mueller, the longest-serving FBI director since J. Edgar Hoover.

Mueller, the only top national security official remaining in government since the 9/11 attacks, is set to leave office in 2013, after Congress took the unprecedented action of extending his 10-year term by two years. Obama requested the extension last year to preserve some continuity in the national security structure at a time when he was naming new executives to lead the Pentagon and CIA.

But Congress is not likely to provide another extension. “This is an unusual step by the president, and is somewhat of a risky precedent to set,” Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, the Judiciary Committee’s ranking Republican, said in May 2011 at the time of the request, adding that he would seek to “ensure that this is not a more permanent extension.”

Tom Fuentes, a former FBI assistant director, said a new director must understand “the international nature of crime and the value of intelligence.”

While endorsing Michael Mason, former chief of the FBI’s D.C. field office, for the post last year, the FBI Agents Association referred to a similar need for leadership that spans the agency’s many areas of jurisdiction, “from Bloods street gangs to mortgage fraud to Russian sleeper cells.”

Lockheed to consolidate Labor’s data centers

The Labor Department has awarded Lockheed Martin Corp. a $59.4 million contract to consolidate its data centers and move software applications to the cloud, the company announced last week.

It isn’t clear how many data centers Lockheed will consolidate under the seven-year contract, but according to the most recent numbers on, Labor has as many as eight data centers, all of which are set to be closed by September.

Lockheed also manages data center consolidation and major information programs for the Energy Department, Federal Aviation Administration and Defense Department.

Governmentwide, agencies are expected to consolidate more than 1,000 data centers by 2015.

Outgoing FDIC contractor announces possible layoffs

More than 200 employees at information technology firm SRA International could be out of work come Jan. 1.

The company, which has provided IT services to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. for more than eight years, lost out on a follow-on contract to Computer Sciences Corp. SRA has filed a bid protest with the Government Accountability Office, but its contract expires Dec. 31. GAO is expected to make a decision Jan. 30.

In a layoff notice filed with the Virginia Workforce Network this month, SRA said 222 employees providing IT contract support to FDIC will be laid off if they do not find other opportunities within the company.

“That said, SRA focuses on enabling employees to have a career with the company and we are working diligently to match employees who may be impacted with other open positions in the company,” said spokesman Mark Hein.

Under the 1988 Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, contractors are required to give employees 60 days’ notice before mass layoffs or facility closings.

New BlackBerry meets NIST security standard

BlackBerry maker Research in Motion announced last week that its new lines of smartphones and enterprise software has met a key government security standard.

This is the first time BlackBerry products have been certified pre-launch for meeting the government’s data encryption requirement. The certification is issued by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

The new BlackBerry products are expected to launch early next year.

NIST authenticates hardware, software and firmware used to encrypt data on mobile devices used in government. The Defense Department is holding off on widespread use of products such as Apple smartphones and tablets as they undergo NIST’s certification process.

USPS projects record holiday package deliveries

The U.S. Postal Service expects a record 20 percent increase in its package business this holiday season, Postmaster General Pat Donahoe announced last week.

The mail carrier will deliver a projected 365 million packages, up from about 300 million, between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve, Donahoe said at a holiday kickoff event.

The package business has been a rare growth spot for the Postal Service. For the third quarter of fiscal 2012, revenue from shipping and package services totaled $3.3 billion, up 9 percent from the same three-month period in 2011.

Coalition to Congress: If no deal, keep sequester

Despite concerns about the impact on national defense, Congress should “hold the line” on across-the-board budget cuts set to take effect Jan. 2, a coalition of 22 conservative groups told lawmakers in a letter last week.

Reversing the cuts or replacing them with “empty promises” would send a message that Congress is incapable of meaningful reductions, the coalition, which includes the National Taxpayers Union, the Club for Growth and Americans for Tax Reform, said in the letter.

The cuts, totaling about $109 billion, would be split equally between security and nonsecurity accounts. They are required under last year’s Budget Control Act unless Congress and the Obama administration can agree on a path to cutting $1.2 trillion from future deficits by 2021.

Contractor gets 87 months in jail for fraud

The owner of a Missouri construction company was sentenced last week to 87 months in federal prison for defrauding a federal contract set-aside program.

Warren Parker, 70, had previously pleaded guilty to posing as a service-disabled veteran and war hero to obtain some $7.5 million in Veterans Affairs and Defense Department contracts set aside for service-disabled, veteran-owned small businesses, according to a Justice Department news release.

Last year, the release said, Parker submitted a fraudulent résumé in which he claimed to have been awarded three Silver Stars and three Purple Heart medals for service in Vietnam, when in fact he had only served in the Missouri National Guard from 1963 to 1968, and never left the state during the six months he spent on active duty, the release said.

IG: Test answers leaked to contract employees

The contractor in charge of securing a National Nuclear Security Administration site in Oak Ridge, Tenn., cheated by giving employees answers before they took a security readiness test, the Energy Department inspector general says in a new report.

NNSA had developed the test as part of new security procedures after a July break-in at the Y-12 National Security Complex by three protesters, including an 82-year-old nun.

The IG found the test answers in the car of an employee for contractor Wackenhut Services Inc.

“The failure to properly safeguard the test prior to its administration, especially given the intense focus on Y-12 and the security concerns at the site, was, in our opinion, inexplicable and inexcusable,” according to the report.

The IG recommended that the facility enhance its controls over testing materials to prevent leaks from occurring.

A contractor security guard did not immediately respond to the July break-in, and when he did, he did not draw a weapon and permitted the intruders to roam the area, according to a September IG report.

Health insurance open season underway

Federal employees and retirees have four weeks to decide whether they want to change their health insurance coverage for 2013.

The Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan open season is underway through Dec. 10.

Because most plans will see benefits and premium changes, enrollees are encouraged to review their health, dental and vision plans to determine which plans best meet their needs.

Open season is also the time to sign up for payroll deductions to flexible spending accounts, where employees can set aside pre-tax contributions for out-of-pocket medical and dependent care expenses.

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