Wednesday federal headlines – June 12, 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.

  • A new bill in in the Senate is aimed at cutting improper payments by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. It’s called the PRIME Act, and it has both Democratic and Republican sponsors. By one government estimate, waste, fraud and abuse costs CMS $44 billion a year. The bill targets payments made to illegitimate beneficiaries. The PRIME Act would require CMS to more closely track and prevent overpayments. Now it mostly discovers them after the fact and tries to recover. The bill would also require contractors to meet certain accuracy requirements or face penalties. A similar bill in 2011 died in committee. (Federal News Radio)
  • Revelations about National Security Agency surveillance have spawned their first lawsuit. The American Civil Liberties Union has sued the Obama administration. It’s asking the government to stop a phone-tracking program that collects the telephone records of millions of Americans. The ACLU says the program is unconstitutional. It wants all phone metadata purged. It filed the suit in federal court in New York. Defendants include intelligence director James Clapper and FBI Director Robert Mueller, also Attorney General Eric Holder and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. The NSA has been gathering the data under an order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. (Federal News Radio)
  • One ambassador says he did nothing wrong and the State Department denies it is hiding misconduct by diplomats abroad. The agency is on the defensive after CBS News revealed an internal memo alleging interference with probes of misconduct. The department has asked outside experts to look into the charges made by its inspector general. An agency spokeswoman says the IG did not review case files before accusing diplomats of wrongdoing and senior officials of trying to cover it up. Meanwhile, Reuters reports the ambassador to Brussels, Howard Gutman, has issued a pre-emptive statement saying he did nothing wrong. (Federal News Radio)
  • Many members of Congress were briefed by the Obama administration about electronic surveillance. But even more were not. They are dazed by the revelations that the National Security Agency has been gathering data on the electronic and telephone habits of millions of Americans. Lawmakers voiced confusion and concern following full-House briefings from FBI and intelligence community staff. Some are calling for the end of sweeping surveillance. Others were aware of the programs but say they’re stunned by the scope of digital information gathering. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) said Congress was asleep at the wheel. But hearings in both the House and Senate, scheduled for this week, are designed to get everyone up to speed. (Federal News Radio)
  • It’s not budget cuts, it’s just the host is too busy to picnic with lawmakers. The White House says it may reschedule President Barack Obama’s annual summer bash for September. Obama is traveling overseas twice this month. Officials say the lack of a picnic won’t undercut the president’s recent efforts to reach out to congressional Republicans and Democrats. Earlier, the White House canceled other events, like public tours, blaming sequestration. (Federal News Radio)
  • Federal firefighters could go from seasonal to permanent employees under a bill sponsored by Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.). The measure would let firefighters working for land-management agencies leverage their federal experience to compete for permanent positions. According to Tester’s office, seasonal workers now have to quit once they reach their annual limit of hours worked. Tester notes, wildfires don’t operate on our schedule. He says the bill would also lessen land- management agencies’ dependence on contract workers. (Sen. Jon Tester)
  • The White House says President Barack Obama will veto the defense authorization bill working its way through the House unless lawmakers make major changes. Among the objections, the measure bars the Pentagon from planning another round of base closures. It does not include changes to the TRICARE fee schedule that the White House sought to control costs. And it goes beyond the Pentagon’s request for a 1 percent pay raise. The White House says, fatter paychecks for service members will mean cuts to troop levels, readiness and modernization accounts. (White House)