Tuesday federal headlines – September 29, 2015

The Federal Headlines is a daily compilation of the stories you hear discussed on the Federal Drive and In Depth radio shows. Our headlines are updated twice per day — once in the morning and once in the afternoon — with the latest news affecting federal employees and contractors.

  • Federal employees will learn today just how much their health care will cost in 2016. The Office of Personnel Management is expected to release the new rates for plans under the Federal Employee Health Benefit Program. Some experts said the rates likely will increase this year because OPM added the self-plus-one option to go with family and single plans. In 2015, feds saw an average increase of 3.2 percent. In each of the last three years, premiums rose on average by more than 3 percent.
  • Federal employees said they’re slightly more engaged in their jobs this year. The preliminary results of the 2015 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey are out. The overall employee engagement score is at 64 percent this year, up 1 percent over last year. Employees’ overall satisfaction with their jobs, organization and pay is also up 1 percent. NASA topped the list again as the agency with the most engaged employees. Engagement scores at the Homeland Security Department fell for the fifth year in a row. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Air Force reassured Congress that its system for posting, processing and disseminating intelligence information is not overstepping its bounds. The Air Force said parts of its information-sharing program are key to its growing intelligence capacity. Congress originally worried that after 12 years, the program may have strayed from the original mission. Congress also worried that those components may be a distraction to the original mission. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Defense Department’s spending on personnel and contracts is expected to be 28 percent lower in 2019 than it was in 2011, according to a new state-by-state analysis the Pentagon released about its own expenditures on Monday. The analysis found DoD’s spending on contracts within the U.S. has already fallen significantly over the two years: It was $320 billion in 2012, compared to $282 billion in 2014. Despite the decline, Defense spending still made up about 2.4 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product last year. And no surprise, it varied widely by state. Military pay and contracts were responsible for almost 12 percent of Virginia’s GDP. On the other end of the spectrum, only half of 1 percent of Oregon’s economy was directly tied to DoD. (DoD)
  • L-3 agreed to pay almost $5 million to the United States to resolve allegations of inflated labor hours spent by independent contractors. L-3 performed rotary aviation maintenance and support services for the Army in Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt and Kuwait. L-3 allegedly overcharged the government from 2006 to November 2011. (Wall Street Journal)
  • The Homeland Security Department is continuing to invest big bucks in cybersecurity. The Science and Technology Directorate awarded eight contracts worth more than $14 million. The funding to academia and companies is for research on technologies to defend against Distributed Denial of Service Defenses or DDoS attacks. Through the program, the winning organizations will focus on three areas: measurement and analysis to slow the growth of DDOS attacks, tools and techniques to let companies respond to the attacks collaboratively, and mitigation and defense techniques for non-traditional targets like cyber physical systems.  DHS S&T plans to award a total of $95 million for cybersecurity research this year. (DHS)
  • The Social Security Administration has not only failed to reduce its hearings backlog, but saw a huge spike over the last eight years. The SSA inspector general released a report that said as of March 2015, SSA had about 1 million claims awaiting a decision, and the average time to process a claim was approximately 450 days. In 2007, SSA’s backlog was 783,000 and the average time to process a claim was 512 days. The IG said the agency’s situation worsened because of four factors. Auditors said SSA saw an increase in hearing requests, a decrease in administrative law judge productivity, a decrease in senior attorney adjudicator decisions, and a recent decrease in the number of available law judges. SSA is developing a new tactical plan to reduce pending hearings, which includes performance measures to lower the backlog. (Social Security Administration OIG)
  • Two senior executives improperly used their positions at the Veterans Affairs Department to get about $400,000 in relocation expenses. The VA inspector general said the department paid a member of the SES nearly $290,000 to relocate from her job at the Veterans Benefits Administration to a job as the Philadelphia VA Regional Office Director. She kept her SES salary, even though her new position is two steps lower on the VA pay scale. The IG said another employee at the VBA Eastern Area Office created a new position with fewer responsibilities and then filled it herself. She kept her original salary. (Veterans Affairs)