Friday federal headlines – June 20, 2014

The Morning Federal Newscast is a daily compilation of the stories you hear According to the Washington Business Journal, only some divisions of the Falls Church-based government contractor issued a memo about vacation time. (Washington Business Journal)

  • The Veterans Affairs Department says it’s contacted about 70,000 veterans across the country to get them off of wait lists and into clinics. According to the VA, the number of appointments has increased by almost 200,000 between May 15 and June 1. This information is part of VA’s bi monthly data updates. On Wednesday, Acting Secretary Sloan Gibson revealed that about 10 percent of veterans seeking medical care at VA hospitals and clinics have to wait at least 30 days for an appointment. That’s more than twice the percentage of veterans as originally stated. (Veterans Affairs)
  • The Supreme Court hands public employee whistleblowers a victory. The court overturned the firing of an Alabama community college professor. He’d testified in a local court against a no-show state lawmaker on the school payroll. The court ruled Edward Lane was protected from retaliation by the First Amendment right of free speech. The ruling ran against precedent that public employees are not protected when divulging information they learn at work. But Justice Sonia Sotomayor writes, Lane’s testimony was constitutionally protected because he was speaking as a citizen on a matter of public concern. (Associated Press)
  • The IRS wins an important Supreme Court victory. Justices rule that taxpayers receiving a summons from the IRS don’t get an automatic right to challenge the agency’s motives in court. The Wall Street Journal reports, the Supreme Court justices unanimously upheld a lower court ruling. But Justice Elena Kagan says taxpayers can still get a court hearing if they can name “specific facts or circumstances plausibly raising an inference of bad faith” by the IRS. The case concerned an investment group which claimed the IRS was retaliating against it for refusing to give the IRS more time to investigate its members.(Wall Street Journal)
  • Dozens of employees of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are under monitoring for possible anthrax exposure. The CDC says some 75 people are receiving antibiotics just in case. In a statement, the agency says researchers in a biosafety lab were preparing anthrax samples to be shipped to three other labs with lower safety ratings. The purpose was to test detection methods. But the researchers didn’t properly neutralize the samples before moving them. They ended up being handled by people without proper protection gear. Two of the labs were decontaminated because CDC officials worry the live anthrax may have been sprayed as part of the experiment. The incident occurred at the Roybal Campus in Atlanta.(CDC)
  • A House Appropriations Subcommittee is showing displeasure with the IRS the only way it can — by proposing to cut the agency’s funding back to 2008 levels, GovExec reports. The initial version of the 2015 financial services and general government appropriations bill does just that. It cuts $341 million from this year’s IRS spending levels, bringing the total to just under $11 billion. The bill also has restrictions. It would bar the IRS from several activities relating tax exempt political groups and it would place restrictions on employee bonuses and conference spending. (GovExec)
  • The Federal Communications Commission is preparing to hit a Chinese company with the biggest fine in the agency’s history. CTS Technology will face a fine of $35 million for what the FCC says is illegal marketing of GPS signal jamming gear. Travis LeBlanc is the acting chief of the FCC’s enforcement bureau. He says jammers are illegal, in part, because they pose a threat to first responders who use GPS. He says the company sold high-powered jammers to undercover FCC buyers. LeBlanc says its marketing materials falsely claimed the jammers received approval from the FCC.(FCC)
  • The Army is giving women access to 33,000 more jobs, the Army Times reports, Army Secretary John McHugh signed off on the decision in a new memo. Women still cannot fight on the front lines, but they can fill previously denied positions in infantry battalion headquarters. The positions include chaplain, intelligence analyst, healthcare specialist, paralegal, signal sergeant and supply sergeant.(Army Times)
  • President Obama is sending up to 300 military advisers to Iraq. They will help the government in Baghdad combat the Sunni-led insurgents that have taken over towns and cities. Obama fears the situation can send Iraq into a civil war. The move comes after Iraq asked for military assistance to combat gains by the Syrian-based fighters known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. But he reassures the advisers are there to take targeted and precise military action if and when they determine the situation on the ground requires it. (Defense Department)