Friday federal headlines – June 21, 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 Small Business Administration has finalized rules raising the size limits of companies in a variety of industries. That means 17,000 more companies now qualify for federal set-aside contracts and access to SBA loan guarantees. SBA raised the ceilings in four sectors — agriculture, finance, management, and arts and entertainment. It also raised them for mining support industries. The SBA says it’s reviewing size standards in all industries. That’s required by the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010. It says the task will take several more years to complete. (SBA)
  • The government’s lead background check contractor is under investigation. The Office of Personnel Management’s inspector general told a Senate subcommittee, his office has been looking into the company, USIS, since late 2011. Neither Patrick McFarland nor his deputy, Michelle Schmitz, would give details. Schmitz said USIS conducted regular re-checks of Edward Snowden, the leaker of NSA secrets. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), chairman of the Financial and Contracting Oversight Subcommittee, said USIS is under criminal investigation. The company said it was cooperating but has never been told it was under criminal investigation. (Federal News Radio)
  • President Barack Obama is making it official today: he wants James Comey to run the FBI. Comey, a Republican, served as deputy attorney general under President George W Bush. He’s best known for rushing to John Ashcroft’s hospital bed to convince the attorney general not to approve a warrantless wiretapping program. Comey was a federal prosecutor in Manhattan before that time. Since then, he’s had stints at Lockheed Martin, hedge fund Bridgewater Associates and Columbia University among others. Current FBI Director Robert Mueller steps down in September after a dozen years at the job. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Veterans Affairs Department said it’s managed to cut its backlog of disability claims by 13 percent since March. Now it has about 530,000 older cases. VA also said it has nearly eliminated the really old cases, those pending for two years or longer. It has 2,000 of those left. VA said it made progress mainly by brute force, requiring claims processors to work overtime and moving the oldest claims to the the top of the pile. A spokesman said VA has finished installing a long-awaited computer system that should help speed up future claims processing. Still, Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, renewed calls for an independent commission to examine the root causes of the backlog. (Federal News Radio)
  • After a brief pause, The Guardian newspaper has done it again. It’s published more classified documents about the National Security Agency’s handling of information about U.S. citizens. The two documents are submissions to the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court signed by Attorney General Eric Holder. They outline how the NSA must target a foreigner and limit data collected on U.S. citizens and residents. But, the rules say, the NSA may store data from or about Americans for years if that material contains significant intelligence or evidence of crimes. (The Guardian)
  • The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction is warning several agencies their contractors may be hoarding government funds rather than paying subcontractors. John Sopko said the departments of State and Defense and USAID need to police contractors better. He said they should make full use of remedies in current law, including suspension and debarment. He said the nonpayment issue has held up an Army Corps of Engineers project and contributed to violence, corruption and theft. (SIGAR)
  • Women veterans are getting extra attention from the Labor Department. It’s launched a website to help them find jobs. And it’s looking for an expert manager to lead the way. The department says unemployment among female vets is higher than among male veterans. Women veterans are more likely to have service-related disabilities. They’re nearly twice as likely to be divorced or single parents. And, while overall veterans tend to make more money than non- veterans, female vets make less than their male counterparts. (Labor Department)