Monday federal headlines – July 8, 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.

  • It seems sequestration is to blame for a pile of about 25,000 retirement claims that the Office of Personnel Management is still scrambling to process. OPM has fallen behind for the second consecutive month in its ability to process retirement claims. It processed a little more than 8,500 claims last month. That’s almost 3,000 fewer than it anticipated. The agency was forced to cut overtime for its employees in April. OPM says overtime was a key part of its ability to tackle the ongoing pile of retirement claims. An unexpected surge of about 60,000 new claims from January to April also contributed to the backlog. (Federal News Radio)
  • Today’s the day of reckoning for civilian defense workers. This week more than 700,000 employees will have the first of 11 days off without pay in fiscal 2013. Now Pentagon officials are starting to think about how sequestration in 2014 will affect the department. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel reports to senators with details this week. By shifting around funds this year, the department was able to minimize furloughs. But leaders worry that next year, they might have to resort to layoffs. Army Chief of staff Gen. Ray Odierno warns, a 2014 sequester would also cause a 100,000 person drop in active-duty and reserve uniforms. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Health and Human Services Department took the holiday weekend to quietly release more relaxed status rules for health insurance exchanges, Reuters reports. The move gives 16 states and the District of Columbia until 2015 to randomly check applicant income and employer-insurance status for eligibility in state health insurance exchanges. The Obama administration announced last week that it wouldn’t require employers with 50 employees or more to provide health benefits until 2015. (Reuters)
  • An internal Pentagon report details the near failure of the command charged with finding and identifying Americans missing in action. It says the Joint POW/MIA Command is so poorly mismanaged it risks descending from dysfunction to total failure. The new commander, Air Force Major Gen. Kelly McKeague, says he would not dispute that finding. He says he wants to clean up the command. A study showed that in some instances, old battlefields in North Korea were planted with skeletons for U.S. search crews to find. The report says the pursuit of MIA evidence is sluggish, wasteful and subjected to too little scientific rigor. The Associated Press obtained the study after Freedom of Information Act requests for it by others were denied. (Federal News Radio)
  • Federal Times reports the Office of Personnel Management is struggling to investigate a growing backlog of false background checks. Former customs service special agent Ramon Davila recently joined a list of 19 other background researchers who pleaded guilty or faced charges for falsifying security clearance background checks since 2008. OPM Inspector General Patrick McFarland said the agency has a lack of resources to properly address the backlog. He said there are at least 36 other cases that await investigation. (Federal Times)
  • After claiming success with its Open Government Initiative, the White House is moving on to Version Two. In a blog post, the White House says it wants public input. It reports that a Syracuse University professor already held a workshop on public participation and open government. And a group called the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation staged an online discussion about open government. Next will come input from federal agencies and the public using the Quora and Google+ platforms. The blog post carried the byline of Lisa Ellman and Hollie Gilman. (White House)
  • Chinese and American officials get together this week in Washington. Cybersecurity will be among the leading topics of the Strategic and Economic Dialogue. China is under pressure to reduce its cyberspying and apparent taking of intellectual property. Chinese leaders say they are victims of cyber espionage. The U.S. delegation to the talks is headed by Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and Secretary of State John Kerry. State Councilor Yang Jeichi and Vice Premier Wang Yang represent China. (AP)
  • Same sex couples can now sponsor their spouses for U.S. visa applications. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano ordered U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to immediately review immigration petitions from same-sex spouses in the same way it processes applications from opposite-sex couples. That’s according to statement DHS released last week. Napolitano says President Barack Obama asked federal agencies to implement their policies to same sex couples quickly and smoothly. (DHS)
  • The top special operations commander ordered military files about the raid on Osama bin Laden to be purged from Defense Department computers. For safekeeping, Adm. William McRaven had them sent to the CIA. The Associated Press found, McRaven’s acknowledgement of the move was purged from a Pentagon inspector general report on the matter. A CIA spokesman says the move was justified by the fact that during the raid, Navy Seals were operating under CIA command. He denied the move was engineered to put the records beyond reach of the Freedom of Information Act. (Federal News Radio)
  • The unemployment rate for post 9-11 veterans continued to fall for the fifth straight month. That’s according to statistics released from the Labor Department Friday. The jobless rate for Afghanistan and Iraq veterans dropped to from 7.3 percent in May to 7.2 percent last month. It was 11.2 percent in January. Post 9-11 vets still have the highest rates of unemployment among all veterans. (Military Times/BLS)