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News briefs: Week of Sept. 23

Sep. 22, 2013 - 03:34PM   |  
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TSP to recognize same-sex marriages

The Thrift Savings Plan program will recognize same-sex marriages, regardless of where the couple now lives, as long as marriages took place in a jurisdiction where same-sex unions are legal, the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board said late last week.

The policy change, published as an interim final rule in the Federal Register, means that TSP participants in same-sex marriages no longer will have to specifically designate their spouses as beneficiaries, board spokeswoman Kim Weaver said. In addition, when a TSP participant dies, his or her same-sex spouse will be able to keep the account open instead of rolling the money over into an IRA or cashing out the account and closing it, she said.

The change, effective immediately, follows the Supreme Court’s June decision striking down the portion of the Defense of Marriage Act that barred the government from recognition of gay and lesbian marriages for purposes of awarding federal benefits.

Overcrowding heightens risk for prison employees

Federal prison employees are at growing risk because of understaffing and inmate overcrowding, a senior union official told a House panel last week.

Hundreds of inmate assaults on correctional workers have occurred at Bureau of Prisons facilities in recent years, including the stabbing death of a Pennsylvania guard in February, said Eric Young, president of the American Federation of Government Employees’ Council of Prison Locals, in prepared testimony submitted to the House Judiciary subcommittee on crime.

Since fiscal 2000, the number of inmates at the 119 BOP facilities has increased 41 percent while the number of correctional workers has grown only 19 percent, Young said. The union is urging BOP officials to expand a pilot project to allow guards who work in highly dangerous areas at all prisons to carry pepper spray.

OMB: Plan for shutdown

Agencies should plan for the possibility of a government shutdown, according to Sylvia Burwell, the director of the Office of Management and Budget.

The current continuing resolution that authorizes agency spending expires at the end of September, and Congress has failed to pass any spending legislation for the new fiscal year.

Burwell said that while the administration is working to make sure the government is funded, “prudent management requires that agencies be prepared for the possibility of a lapse.”

DLA drives billions in cost savings

Defense Logistics Agency Director Vice Adm. Mark Harnitchek announced plans in August to slash $13.1 billion in operating and material costs over the next six years.

On a director’s call last week, Harnitchek said he expects DLA will find savings beyond the $13 billion, according to agency reports.

“We’re about a $45 billion outfit here; about $5 billion is the buildings, the people, warehouses, salaries and [information technology],” Harnitchek said. “The big number is the money we spend to buy things.”

He said one of DLA’s strengths going forward is its plan to reduce material costs, which is a large portion of its budget. “We’re in good shape because our leadership knows we’re really leaning forward with regard to taking money out,” he said.

“It’s uncertain what [fiscal] 14 is going to look like,” he said. “My commitment to you is that as soon as I know it, you’re going to know it. … I don’t want you to have to make things up.”

One area where DLA expects to drive savings is reverse auctions. Unlike a typical auction, vendors lower their prices as they compete to win a contract. Harnitchek said reverse auctions have saved DLA more than $1.6 billion over the past 14 months.

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