Wednesday federal headlines – December 18, 2013

The Morning Federal Newscast is a daily compilation of the stories you hear Federal Drive hosts Tom Temin and Emily Kopp discuss throughout the show each day. The Newscast is designed to give users more information about the stories you hear on the air.

  • The Senate heads for a vote today on a bipartisan budget authorization bill. Majority Leader Harry Reid says he has the votes to pass it. Several Republicans say they support the bill engineered by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). The House passed it last week. It raises federal spending by $45 billion in 2014 but makes up for it with several measures. These include an increase in pension contributions for newly hired federal employees. The bill also authorizes 2015 spending. President Obama says he’ll sign it. (Associated Press)
  • In his annual report on government waste, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) aims his biggest guns at Congress itself. Wastebook 2013 says Congress blew $400 million in 2013 to do next to nothing. Lawmakers passed few laws and failed to complete their budget work on time. The book names 100 programs with a total cost of $30 billion that Coburn judges to be ill-spent. Even making money can be wasteful. Coburn cites the Bureau of Printing and Engraving. It spent $30 million printing its new generation of $100 bills. They came out too smudged to be used. (Federal News Radio)
  • NASA again tops the list of best big agencies to work for. Commerce comes in second. The rankings are done by the Partnership for Public Service and Deloitte. They’re based on answers to an annual survey by the Office of Personnel Management. The authors say overall, the rankings reflect a disturbing picture. Federal employees are increasingly unhappy at work. Trouble can be found at the EPA and the Housing and Urban Development Department. Employee satisfaction plunged at both agencies. On the bright side, the FCC, the International Trade Commission and the Federal Housing Finance Agency bucked the trend and got “most improved” superlatives. (Federal News Radio)
  • When it comes to paychecks, federal employees keep falling behind people doing the same jobs in the private sector. It’s slightly worse this year than last year. Data presented at a Federal Salary Council meeting shows feds earn, on average, 35 percent less than private-sector counterparts. A 1 percent raise next year could narrow the gap a little bit. These latest numbers come from the Office of Personnel Management and the Labor Department. But the pay gap is widely disputed. Several think tanks have looked at the issue and come up with widely varying conclusions. (Federal News Radio)
  • Kathryn Medina is leaving her position as executive director of the Chief Human Capital Officers Council. She’ll join the public relations firm APCO Worldwide as its senior human resources executive. Medina has worked at the Office of Personnel Management since 2009. Her last day at OPM will be Friday, Jan. 3. She’s the third director since the council was formed. She succeeded John Salamone, who is now with FMP Consulting. In 2011, Medina received Federal News Radio’s Causey Award for excellence in federal government human resources. (Federal News Radio)
  • has a new sheriff. Former Microsoft executive Kurt DelBene will serve as the top adviser to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. It’s a volunteer role. He’ll stay on for at least six months, watching over the continuing fixes to the health insurance exchange portal. DelBene takes over from Jeff Zients, who is leaving to head the National Economic Council. Zients says he has met his goal. The site is working smoothly for most users. (HHS)
  • The basic military housing allowance will rise about 5 percent in 2014. That translates to $80 more for rent each month. Cheryl Anne Woehr is the Pentagon’s program manager for the Basic Housing Allowance. She says the higher rates will cost the Pentagon an additional $20 billion next year. Housing allowances vary by pay grade, family situation and location. They are derived from surveys of local housing costs and vacancy rates. Not every place will go up. Rents have fallen in Sacramento, Calif., and Yuma, Ariz. Rates will also drop at Altus Air Force Base, Okla. (Defense Department)
  • A top Navy criminal investigator has pleaded guilty in a massive bribery scheme, suggesting more pleas could be coming. John Beliveau II faces a maximum of 20 years in prison. He admits that he kept a long-time defense contractor up-to-date on a years-long fraud investigation. In exchange, according to the plea deal, the head of Glenn Defense Marine Asia paid for plane tickets, hotels and prostitutes for Beliveau. The scandal has ensnared at least six Navy officers and led to a service-wide investigation of Navy contracts. (Associated Press)