Thursday federal headlines – August 21, 2014

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

  • The Securities and Exchange Commission chief information officer is leaving. Thomas Bayer will leave the SEC in October. He’s led the Office of Information Technology since 2010. (SEC)
  • The laws and regulations the federal government uses to transition veterans to civil service can be complicated and confusing. That’s why the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board is out with a new report that clarifies the preferences in hiring that federal agencies can or must give to veterans and their relatives. In a 2010 survey of federal employees, 6.5 percent said they had observed inappropriate favoritism toward vets. The MSPB report is meant to combat this misinterpretation of the law. (MSPB)
  • Reports of telework abuse at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office are leading to swift action. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said he is investigating the agency. On Tuesday, he requested documents from Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker. A Washington Post article earlier this month described misconduct within the agency’s telework program and efforts by officials to conceal wrongdoing. Specifically, the Post found that patent officers routinely lied about their work and logged thousands of unaccounted hours. In response, Issa sent a letter to Pritzker calling for documents and saying that the reported abuses are unacceptable. (House Oversight and Government Reform Committee)
  • Nearly three dozen sailors have been kicked out of the Navy for taking part in a cheating ring. It operated for at least seven years at a nuclear power training site. Ten others are under criminal investigation. Adm. John Richardson, the director of naval reactors, said the dismissed sailors cheated on qualification exams to become certified as instructors in the operations of reactors. Richardson said no reactor was ever operated unsafely, but he called the cheating a stunning violation of Navy ethics. (Associated Press)
  • The Labor Department has ordered a Hanford Nuclear Reservation contractor to reinstate a fired whistleblower. Washington River Protection Solutions must also pay the worker $220,000 in back pay and expenses. The ruling comes from the Occupational Health and Safety Administration. It said the employee was fired for raising concerns about nuclear and environmental safety back in 2009. The company said the dismissal was for poor performance. A spokesman won’t say whether the company plans to appeal the OSHA decision. (Associated Press)
  • The Energy Department is investing heavily in potential scientific breakthroughs in the area of nuclear energy. The agency on Wednesday announced nearly $67 million in nuclear energy research and infrastructure enhancement awards. That money will pay for 83 projects selected with the hope that they will strengthen the nation’s energy security and reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions. Of the $67 million, DoE is directing $30 million to support 44 university-led nuclear energy research and development projects. (Energy Department)
  • Spending more money to fight fires has come at the expense of the Agriculture Department’s conservation efforts. The toll is explained in a new report by USDA. On the one hand, staffing to fight fires has more than doubled since 1998. Yet that’s caused a number of maintenance programs to suffer financially. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said spending to restore vegetation and watersheds after a fire has dropped 22 percent since 2001. And spending on maintenance to thousands of recreational buildings and sites managed by the U.S. Forest Service has fallen by two-thirds. (Associated Press)
  • A federal judge has ordered the Justice Department to give Congress a list of documents concerning the defunct Fast and Furious gun-walking operation. U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson gave Justice until Oct. 1 to come up with the list. Justice must deliver it to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The committee and the White House have been at a standoff over documents relating to Fast and Furious. The program ended in 2010 when a gun was found at the scene of a murdered Border Patrol agent. (Associated Press)
  • A powerful Republican senator is promising to stop the Obama administration’s agenda cold next year if the GOP gets control of the Senate. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told Politico, he would make sure every spending bill has riders to restrict the activities of the bureaucracy. McConnell cited the EPA, saying global warming policies there have slowed economic growth. He also said he would restrict the agency from carrying out its green agenda. McConnell said he won’t try to defund Obamacare as part of a must-pass spending bill. (Politico)