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News briefs: Feb. 18, 2013

Feb. 17, 2013 - 02:23PM   |  
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House votes to extend 2013 pay freeze

The House last week passed a bill that would freeze federal employees’ pay scales for the rest of 2013.

HR 273, which passed 261-154, now proceeds to the Democratic-controlled Senate, where it will have a tougher chance of passing. And the White House said last week that the Obama administration opposes extending the pay freeze, but stopped short of recommending a veto.

If it becomes law, the bill would overturn an executive order President Obama signed in December that would grant federal employees a 0.5 percent pay increase at the end of March. It would mean a third year of frozen pay scales.

Republican Reps. Frank Wolf of Virginia and Frank LoBiondo of New Jersey broke with their party and denounced the bill on the House floor. But Republican backers of a pay freeze said that the budget crunch is too dire to spend $11 billion on a pay raise this year.

Obama is planning to propose a 1 percent pay raise for federal employees in 2014, the Washington Post reported.

Study disputes cost benefits of LEED

Facilities built to LEED environmental standards are not always worth the cost, according to a new report.

The 2012 National Defense Authorization Act required the Defense Department to study the costs and benefits of various sustainable building certification systems and to submit a strategy for pursuing energy efficiency in military construction.

The National Research Council — which wrote the study — said that while all 25 environmentally friendly DoD buildings it studied produced savings ranging from tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, many buildings cost more to build than they save.

The NRC recommended, however, that DoD continue its policy of constructing all new buildings to achieve LEED Silver certification.

While some buildings earning LEED Silver certification did not outperform conventional buildings, the NRC determined that on average those buildings use less energy and water. LEED is a green building standard created by the U.S. Green Building Council and refers to the council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program.

Report: Wrongful Border Patrol arrests

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Border Patrol agents in western New York have been rewarded with cash bonuses and Home Depot gift cards in an incentive program that has grown at the same time as has an overly aggressive enforcement culture, a new study states.

While the study does not definitively link the incentives and the enforcement practices, the report from the New York University School of Law Immigrant Rights Clinic says that the Border Patrol culture — especially at Rochester bus and train stations — is one that “maximizes arrest rates.”

Between 2006 and 2010, close to 300 immigrants with legal status were arrested by Rochester-based Border Patrol agents then released, according to the study.

The rewards program in the Buffalo office of the Border Patrol, which oversees Rochester enforcement, was “ramped up from a few thousand dollars in 2003 to nearly $200,000 in 2011,” states the study.

In a statement Border Patrol officials said the agency “does not tolerate racial profiling.”

FAA seeks industry proposals for drone tests

The Federal Aviation Administration last week issued a request for proposals to develop and test drone aircraft at six sites around the country.

The request, required by last year’s FAA Modernization and Reform Act, is a step toward integrating drones into the nation’s airspace over the next three years. The sites are intended “to address research and development and operational issues,” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said in an attached letter to the aviation community. The agency will select the sites later this year and will also seek public comment to address privacy concerns.

The RFP was hailed as “an important milestone” by Michael Toscano, president of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, a nonprofit advocacy group. Whether helping in search and rescue operations or aiding scientific research, Toscano said, “unmanned aircraft extend the human reach and allow us to accomplish dangerous and difficult tasks safely and efficiently.”

Policies to deal with workplace violence coming

Agencies have four months to develop or improve policies addressing the effects of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking in their workplaces, according to a Feb. 8 Office of Personnel Management memo.

Agencies will then submit the policies to OPM for review and will be required to issue final policies within six months. OPM, in partnership with the Justice and Health and Human Services departments, will offer webinars over the next several months to assist agencies in developing their policies, the memo said.

SBA chief Mills to step down

Small Business Administration leader Karen Mills announced she’ll step down when a successor is confirmed.

With Mills in charge, SBA brought more than 1,000 additional community banks into its lending programs, which have hooked up 193,000 small businesses with more than $106 billion in federally guaranteed loans from 2009 through 2012, SBA said.

GSA administrator appoints new agency CFO

Michael Casella is the General Services Administration’s new chief financial officer.

Casella managed the development and humanitarian assistance budget at the U.S. Agency for International Development for the past three years and has worked at the Office of Management and Budget and Treasury Department.

“This experience promises to provide us with significant insights into the needs of our customers,” GSA’s acting administrator Dan Tangherlini said in a Feb. 13 blog post.

Former manager pleads guilty in bribery case

A former employee at Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany, Ga., pleaded guilty last week to allowing construction equipment to be stolen from the base and then profiting from its sale, according to a Justice Department news release.

Shelby Janes, who retired as a civilian inventory control manager at the base distribution management center, admitted to helping another person steal cranes, bulldozers and front-end loaders from the base. In some cases the equipment would be driven off the base while the other person — the owner of a commercial trucking business — would sell the items for tens of thousands of dollars. Janes admitted receiving kickbacks, which Justice said totaled $98,500 during the 15-month scheme. The total loss to the Defense Department was more than $1 million, Justice said.

Janes faces 15 years in prison when he is sentenced in U.S. District Court in Middle Georgia but agreed to make full restitution to DoD as part of his plea deal, according to Justice.

DHS guidance outlines IT career paths

New Department of Homeland Security guidance provides a defined career path for information technology professionals, managers and senior leaders.

The guidance includes career profiles for 11 IT areas across three career levels — individual contributor, manager and senior leader. And a career map shows relationships between certain jobs and functions across the department.

“This guidance provides employees with the framework to navigate the enterprise’s complex IT landscape to experience a long, meaningful career at the agency,” Richard Spires, DHS’ chief information officer, wrote in a blog post on CIO.gov.

DoE network hit by cyber attackers

The Energy Department suffered a cyber attack in mid-January that compromised the personal information of several hundred federal and contractor employees, the agency said in an internal email to staff this month.

The attack targeted computer networks at Energy’s headquarters, according to the email. Energy is working with federal law enforcement to determine the nature and scope of the attack and the potential impact on staff and contractors.

The department would not say what personal data was compromised but said no classified data was stolen.

The Washington Free Beacon reported the attack Feb. 4, citing unnamed officials.

Energy said it is increasing monitoring across all department networks and is deploying specialized defense tools to protect sensitive assets.

IRS vows faster help in identity-theft cases

The Internal Revenue Service has pledged to provide swifter help to hundreds of thousands of frustrated Americans victimized by tax fraud through identity theft.

It won’t be easy.

The IRS caseload — involving victims whose stolen Social Security numbers were used by thieves to collect unwarranted tax refunds — soared to 449,809 in 2012, up more than 80 percent from the previous year, National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson reported to Congress last month.

The IRS resolved more than 500,000 identity theft cases during the last calendar year, but still has just under 300,000 similar cases pending, IRS Commissioner Steven Miller said Feb. 7.

The agency, as of late 2012, had more than 3,000 employees working on identity theft-related issues, more than double the 2011 count, Miller said.

Senate panel announces subcommittees

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee last week announced subcommittee leadership assignments:

• Investigations: Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., and ranking member John McCain, R-Ariz.

• Financial and contracting oversight: Chairman Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and ranking member Ron Johnson, R-Wis.

• Efficiency and effectiveness of federal programs and the federal workforce: Chairman Jon Tester, D-Mont., and ranking member Rob Portman, R-Ohio.

• Emergency management, intergovernmental affairs and the District of Columbia: Chairman Mark Begich, D-Alaska, and ranking member Rand Paul, R-Ky.

Full committee leaders are Chairman Tom Carper, D-Del., and ranking member Tom Coburn, R-Okla.

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