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News Briefs: Jan. 21, 2013

Jan. 20, 2013 - 03:22PM   |  
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House to vote on bill to extend pay freeze

The House is expected to vote this week on a bill that would freeze federal pay scales for the rest of 2013.

HR 273 would cancel President Obama’s 0.5 percent pay-scale increase for federal employees, which is slated to go into effect at the end of March unless Congress votes otherwise. The bill’s 28 co-sponsors say further freezing pay would save taxpayers $11 billion over 10 years.

“The president has once again demonstrated his penchant for unrestrained spending by giving federal employees an across-the-board pay hike and sticking the rest of us with the $11 billion bill,” said Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla. “We simply cannot afford this unnecessary and unilateral action by the president.”

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., criticized the 0.5 percent pay-scale raise for including federal employees who receive poor performance reviews from their supervisors.

“As President Obama continues to say one thing and do another on deficit spending, it is appropriate for Congress to challenge his unilateral decision to spend $11 billion on nonmerit-based pay raises for federal workers,” Issa said.

Employee groups blasted the bill, and called for the freeze, in effect since January 2011, to end. “Federal pay should not be politicized in this way,” said J. David Cox, president of the American Federation of Government Employees.

President’s 2014 budget request will be late

The Obama administration’s fiscal 2014 budget request, due on Capitol Hill by Feb. 4, will be late, according to the acting head of the White House Office of Management and Budget.

Because of revenue and spending uncertainties created by the “fiscal cliff” negotiations that were partially settled only early this month, the administration had to hold off on some of its budget preparations, which will in turn delay submission of the request to Congress, Jeff Zients said in a Jan. 11 letter to House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

Zients did not give a revised timetable, saying only that the White House will submit the request “as soon as possible.”

Zients’ letter, released last week by the committee, came in response to a query from Ryan on when the request would be delivered. A postponement had been widely expected. While delays are not unusual, some analysts predict that lawmakers probably won’t see the 2014 submission until March.

Ryan tweeted that it would be a “small step toward fiscal sanity” to propose a budget on time.

Another year without a clean federal audit

For the 16th straight year, the federal government has failed to get a clean audit opinion on its consolidated financial statements.

In its audit of the 2011 and 2012 statements, released last week, the Government Accountability Office again cited problems with the Defense Department’s books, the government’s inability to reconcile intragovernmental balances among federal agencies and an “ineffective process” for preparing the statements.

GAO noted, however, that almost all major agencies continue to receive clean audit opinions. In addition, the Treasury Department has stepped up efforts to deal with intragovernmental reporting issues and the Defense Department is continuing to work toward a 2017 goal of full “audit-readiness.”

Obama: No pay for feds if debt ceiling not raised

Federal employees and military service members will not get paid if Congress does not raise the debt ceiling, President Obama said last week.

The government also would not be able to honor its contracts with small-business owners, and Social Security checks and benefits for veterans would be delayed, Obama said during a news conference.

Obama reiterated his stance that he will not negotiate with Republicans — who are demanding spending cuts in exchange for raising the debt ceiling.

“We are not a deadbeat nation,” Obama said. “Republicans in Congress have two choices here. They can act responsibly and pay America’s bills, or they can act irresponsibly and put America through another economic crisis. But they will not collect a ransom in exchange for not crashing the American economy.”

The federal government reached its debt limit Dec. 31, but Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner said last month he could finagle another two months or so by taking so-called “extraordinary measures” before the debt ceiling would have to be raised. Among them is temporarily halting reinvestment of up to $156 billion in bonds in the Thrift Savings Plan’s G Fund. Those bonds count against the debt ceiling, so the suspension leaves the government with additional “headroom.” Treasury began the suspension Jan. 15, Geithner told Congress in an official notification last week.

By law, the government must later restore any interest to the G Fund lost because of the suspension. “Federal retirees and employees will be unaffected” by the suspension, Geithner said in the letter.

Obama challenged on whistle-blower stance

President Obama appears to undermine whistle-blower protections in a statement accompanying his signing of the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, a bipartisan group of lawmakers said in a letter to Obama last week.

The law extends whistle-blower protections to defense contractor employees and establishes a pilot program to protect other contractor employees, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said in the letter.

They take issue with Obama’s statement that he would interpret the law to allow him “to direct the heads of executive departments to supervise, control and correct employees’ communications with Congress.”

They urge Obama to enforce the law as written. “Federal employees and government contractors have the right and obligation to bring information to Congress in a lawful manner,” the lawmakers wrote.

Library of Congress expands info acquisition

The Library of Congress is extending its acquisition services for information resources governmentwide.

The Federal Library and Information Network, a unit within the Library of Congress, manages the acquisition of books, newspapers, and other information products and services for more than 90 agencies and bureaus. Initially, the expanded program will provide contracts for legal information and science, technology, engineering and medical content to agencies that opt in.

The effort aligns with the Federal Strategic Sourcing Initiative, a government-wide push for better pricing by purchasing office supplies and other products in bulk. FEDLINK said its services could save the government between $140 million and $555 million over four years.

Contractors detained for not paying Afghan taxes

The Professional Services Council is urging the federal government and the International Security Assistance Force to enforce agreements that exempt U.S. contractors from paying taxes to the Afghan government.

As recently as Jan. 15, three employees from the firm Supreme Group were arrested and detained by Afghan officials after refusing to pay taxes they did not owe, PSC President and CEO Stan Soloway said in a statement.

“It is vitally important that the relevant U.S. and ISAF officials make clear to the Afghan government that this kind of intimidation, and the dangers it creates, cannot be tolerated,” Soloway said.

The detained employees were released Jan. 16.

Ex-FEMA exec pleads guilty to conflict of interest

The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s former human resources director pleaded guilty last week to a charge of violating conflict-of-interest rules.

Timothy Cannon admitted to pursuing a lucrative job with a company that was contracting with FEMA while he was still employed there. He will be sentenced April 9, and he faces up to five years in prison.

According to a document the Justice Department filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Cannon got FEMA to hire the unnamed company in 2008 to poll employees and provide consulting services. Around the same time, Cannon was talking to the company’s CEO about hiring him as a partner, with a salary of $175,000.

While the Jan. 2 Justice document does not name the company, a Justice suit filed in the court in November names Cannon as a co-defendant in a case against the Gallup Organization that cites more than 200 instances where Gallup inflated prices on $13 million in contracts with FEMA, the U.S. Mint and the State Department.

While Cannon was pursuing a job with the company, Justice said, he got FEMA to add at least $1.6 million to the original five-year contract, which started out at $6 million. The company offered to hire Cannon in February 2009, at which point Cannon announced his retirement from FEMA. The company withdrew Cannon’s offer a month later, Justice said.

GSA increases mileage reimbursement

Federal employees will be reimbursed 56.5 cents per mile — a one-penny boost — for driving their own cars for federal business effective Jan. 1.

The increase matches that approved by the Internal Revenue Service for private-sector workers. The General Services Administration can set the rate for federal workers lower or can match it but cannot exceed it.

GSA administrator outlines 2013 goals

The General Services Administration aims to help agencies save money in 2013 by cutting real estate costs and expanding strategic sourcing, under which agencies combine their purchases to get bigger discounts.

That goal is one of six that acting GSA Administrator Dan Tangherlini listed as 2013 priorities in a blog post last week. Other goals:

• Simplify procedures to make it easier for agencies to use GSA services.

• Encourage contracting with small businesses across the government.

• Make GSA more environmentally friendly.

• Promote a flexible and open workplace to shrink the federal real estate footprint and save on leasing costs.

• Provide GSA employees with the training and resources they need and emphasize greater cooperation across the agency.

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