Tropical Storm Michael nears hurricane strength, alerting federal responders in Florida

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  • Federal responders and support units are keeping their eyes on Tropical Storm Michael that rapidly formed off Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula over the weekend. The National Hurricane Center said the storm is expected to gain hurricane status tonight and could become a dangerous Category 2 hurricane with an expected midweek strike on the Gulf Coast in the Florida Panhandle.  Michael is the 13th named storm of the 2018 hurricane season, according to hurricane center spokesman Dennis Feltgen.  Florida Gov. Rick Scott issued an order for a state of emergency for 26 counties activating 500 members of the Florida National Guard.  (NOAA)
  • One year after a devastating series of wildfires ripped through Northern California wine country, destroying thousands of homes, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ first experience cleaning up after a wildfire has turned into an expensive mess and California’s top emergency official suspects fraud played a role.  In October 2017, state and local officials lacked the resources to quickly clear still-smoldering and toxic debris from 4,500 homes destroyed by a wildfire in and near Santa Rosa. So the Army was called in. The Army was in charge of awarding $1.3 billion in cleanup contracts to haul away the debris. The hauling companies were paid by the ton. The more they hauled, the more they earned. The first complaints started almost as soon as the first dump truck was loaded in November.  By summer, nearly 1,000 homeowners had flooded the Army with complaints that said workers were digging too deep and taking too much dirt from their lots, including perfectly good driveways, retaining walls and sidewalks. Corps spokesman Mike Petersen said no evidence of fraud has been reported. He said the Federal Emergency Management Agency was preparing a response. (Federal News Network)
  • President Donald Trump tapped Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Deputy Director Margaret Weichert to be the acting director of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). In making the announcement, Mr. Trump said she will continue her duties with OMB. Weichert replaces Jeff Pon, who had led OPM since March. It’s unclear what his next steps are. The news came as a surprise to employees at the agency. Multiple sources said email at OPM was down and employees learned of the leadership change through reporters’ tweets or inquiries.  (Federal News Network)
  • Authorities have taken a Navy veteran in Utah into custody on charges of threatening to use a biological toxin in letters sent to President Donald Trump and other leaders. The Justice Department said 39-year-old William Allen told investigators he wanted the letters to “send a message.” They contained ground castor beans, the substance from which the toxin  ricin is derived. And to help the authorities in their hunt for the perpetrator,  the letters contained Allen’s return address. Allen could face up to life in prison on the toxin charge, and additional time on ten counts of making threats through the mail. In addition to the president, Allen sent envelopes to FBI Director Christopher Wray, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and the Navy’s top officer, Adm. John Richardson. They letters were intercepted and no one was hurt. The FBI said all of the letters tested positive for ricin.  (Federal News Network)
  • The Navy undersecretary is rolling out a business operations strategy to focus the department  on the Pentagon’s National Defense Strategy and scrap any excess efforts. Navy Undersecretary Thomas Modly said the current mess of business systems opens the Navy up to all kinds of issues around data integrity, data fidelity, audit issues and cybersecurity. The business operations plan will create a long-term vision for the systems and how to handle those issues. (Federal News Network)
  • The Department of Transportation has fined Allegiant Air $225,000 for failing to provide passengers with a comfortable cabin temperature. The department’s Aviation Enforcement Office found that during the summer months of 2016 and 2017, Allegiant Air failed to provide passengers a comfortable environment 10 times while planes sat on tarmacs in Las Vegas, El Paso, Dayton and Albuquerque.  In one of these instances, Allegiant did not provide food and water to passengers in a timely manner or announce to passengers that they had an opportunity to deplane, as required by DOT rules. (DOT)
  • It’s Columbus Day,  one of 10 official federal holidays, which means federal workers get the day off. And because federal offices will be closed, so will banks and the bond markets that trade in U.S. government debt, though the stock markets will remain open. The District of Columbia, Virginia, Maryland and 21 other states give their workers Columbus Day as a paid holiday. Largely a day for celebration for those of Italian-American heritage, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt proclaimed Oct. 12 a federal holiday under the name Columbus Day.  It was moved from Oct. 12 to the second Monday in October starting in 1971. (Pew Research)

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