Monday federal headlines – November 9, 2015

The Federal Headlines is a daily compilation of the stories you hear discussed on the Federal Drive and In Depth radio shows.

  • Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald’s statements are called into question regarding how many VA employees would be punished for manipulating scheduling at VA facilities.  According to documents obtained by the Arizona Republic, only 24 employees were actually slated for disciplinary action.  This conflicts with McDonald’s statements late last week that his agency sought to punish 300 employees.  A footnote at the bottom of a spreadsheet provided to the House and Senate committees on veterans affairs revealed the error. (Arizona Republic)
  • House lawmakers want the Government Accountability Office to conduct a status check on the Census Bureau’s plans for the 2020 count. Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) wrote to GAO asking for regular reports on the program’s progress. Chaffetz and Cummings want GAO to check five areas, including the bureau’s cost estimates and models, and efforts to re-engineer field operations. The congressmen are concerned that Census will not be ready for the 2020 count and it will cost a lot more than projected. (House Oversight and Government Reform Committee)
  • The IRS isn’t doing enough to secure external connections. The Inspector General for Tax Administration reports many IT interconnections in use between the IRS and state and local agencies and the private sector do not have the proper authorization or security agreements. Auditors said the IRS is required to have written agreements that specify the technical and security requirements with each partner. But the IG said it found 31 systems that are missing these written agreements.  The IRS agreed to take six steps to better secure the data transfers. (Treasury Department)
  • Prominent members of the House Intelligence Committee are calling on the White House to begin clarifying international law and regulations around cyber war and attacks. Lawmakers sent a letter to National Security Advisor Susan Rice and Secretary of State John Kerry. The letter calls for using the Geneva Convention as inspiration for new rules of cyber conduct.  At least 29 countries now dedicate full military and intelligence units to cyber warfare. (Rep. Jim Himes)
  • The Federal Salary Council voted to add two new locality pay areas for 2017, one in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and another in Burlington, Vermont. The Council also said it will look at the number of federal employees who commute to a specific location, rather than the number of General Schedule employees at that location, to help it make future decisions about locality pay. (Federal News Radio)
  • A new bipartisan bill aims to improve how veteran-owned and service-disabled veteran-owned small businesess contract with the Veterans Affairs Department . It’s set to be marked up by the House Small Business Committee. The Improving Opportunities for Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Businesses Act of 2015 streamlines the verification process and comes after an update of a 2013 Government Accountability Office report that revealed challenges facing these veterans. The bill is supported by the American Legion and Vet-Force.
  • The Senate takes final action tomorrow on the Defense authorization bill, tweaked to reflect the budget deal that Congress reached with the White House. President Barack Obama vetoed an earlier version because it sidestepped military spending caps while domestic ones remained intact. The measure also would continue to prohibit closing the military prison at Guantanamo Bay and continue to prohibit transferring detainees to the U.S. Although Obama opposes those provisions, he’s expected to sign the bill into law.