Thursday federal headlines – August 29, 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.

  • Thousands of Defense Department civilian medical employees quit this year because they were fed up with furloughs. That’s the assessment of Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho, the Army’s surgeon general. She tells USA Today, one in 20 civilian medical workers including doctors and nurses have voted with their feet. That comes to 2,700 people just in the Army department. Horoho says skilled technicians, scientists and researchers also left. Some went to the Veterans Affairs department, which was not hit by sequestration. Horoho says that because of furloughs, many civilians feel devalued. (USA Today)
  • The Pentagon’s top manufacturing official says sequestration is taking a heavy toll on industry. Deputy Assistant Secretary Brett Lambert tells Reuters, small and mid- sized firms are running out of cash. Banks are not lending to them because they have lost faith in the government. Larger companies are waiting to invest. They are also hiring less. But Lambert says once the military’s budget stabilizes, he expects a blitz of consolidations, particularly with foreign companies trying to acquire U.S. weapons makers. (Reuters)
  • More than 33 million workers qualify to have their federal student loans forgiven. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau says that’s because they have public service jobs. CFBP director Richard Cordray says Congress should review the loan forgiveness program. And he says government employers should help make sure employees know about it. Cordray says student loan debt is more than $1 trillion. He calls the debt a drag on the economy because people have to choose between paying their debts or buying a car or house. (Associated Press)
  • Switzerland is agreeing to help the Justice Department capture Americans who use Swiss banks to avoid paying taxes. Under the deal, the Justice Department would not seek penalties against the banks if they disclosed extensive information about their clients. Officials say the agreement could encourage more American tax evaders to come forward under a voluntary program to avoid criminal charges. In 2009, a whistleblower told federal authorities Swiss bank UBS was enabling Americans to evade taxes. UBS paid a $780 million fine and turned over account records on 4,500 U.S. customers to settle the case. (Associated Press)
  • A 23-year-old hacker has pleaded guilty to breaking into federal computer networks with plans to sell access to them. Court documents show Andrew James Miller bragged to an undercover FBI agent, he had broken into Energy Department supercomputers in Oakland. He said he had installed backdoors to enable future access to several government networks. He also tried to sell log-in credentials. Sentencing is set for November. Maximum penalty is 20 years in prison. (Justice Department)
  • The National Guard is using a predator drone to help firefighters battle the wildfire at Yosemite National Park. The MQ-1 aircraft gives the incident commander early views of new flare-ups across the remote landscape. It can be piloted remotely for up to 22 hours at a time. It flies alone over the fire’s path, but a manned aircraft escorts it outside the zone. Until yesterday, officials had relied on helicopters that needed to refuel every two hours. Officials now say they expect to fully surround the blaze in three weeks, but it will burn for much longer than that. The fire has destroyed 11 homes, 100 other structures and threatened ancient giant sequoias as well as San Francisco’s water supply. (Associated Press)
  • A long appeals process is beginning for Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan. A military jury has sentenced him to death for killing 13 people and wounding more than 30 in the 2009 attack. Now Hasan is going to death row at the Fort Leavenworth prison. He could spend decades there. The rules of military justice mean Hasan cannot represent himself during the appeals process, as he did during the trial. His stand-by lawyers have suggested that Hasan wanted the death penalty so he could become a martyr. But military appeals courts have overturned 11 of the 16 death sentences of the last three decades. The military hasn’t executed an active-duty soldier since 1961. (Associated Press)
  • The company that conducted Edward Snowden’s background check says it did what it was supposed to. U.S. Investigations Services tells the Wall Street Journal, the government accepted its work and did not ask for a deeper look at Snowden. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence reviewed USIS’ work. It said the company’s background check was inadequate. But in a statement, the company says it was the National Security Agency’s job to renew or deny Snowden clearance. Snowden, briefly working for contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, leaked a trove of NSA secrets to two newspapers. (Wall Street Journal)
  • If and when the United States strikes, the how and where isn’t likely to surprise the Syrian government. Military and administration officials have been openly discussing the weapons they’ll probably use and the targets they’ll probably hit. Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, names targets that enable the regime to conduct military operations. That includes the Assad government headquarters, Syrian air bases, and communications centers. The United States has four destroyers and two aircraft carriers positioned in the Mediterranean. The destroyers are armed with Tomahawk missiles. President Obama hasn’t yet made a decision on whether to hit Syria, accused of using chemical weapons in its civil war. (Associated Press)
  • A State Department special envoy headed to North Korea has a very specific mission. A spokeswoman says King’s mission is strictly humanitarian. He’ll be in Pyongyang to negotiate the release of Kenneth Bae. King was invited by the North Korean government, which has jailed Bae since last November. Bae is a tour operator who was leading a Christian missionary group in North Korea when he was arrested and charged with plotting a government overthrow. King won’t discuss the big issue the United States has with North Korea, namely the country’s nuclear arms program. (State Department)
  • The Pentagon has transferred two Guantanamo detainees to their native country. The Defense Department says it coordinated with Algeria to make sure the transfer followed security and was humane. The move follows a six-agency review of the men’s cases. The task force looked at security and other issues. President Barack Obama in 2009 directed the task force to conduct a comprehensive review of the cases. There are still 164 detainees at Guantanamo. (Defense Department)
  • The National Institute of Standards and Technology has given critical infrastructure operators something to talk about. NIST has published a discussion draft of its framework for cybersecurity. It includes a long list of proposed standards and guidelines to be used by the private sector. NIST will hold a workshop for critical infrastructure cyber officials next month in Dallas. The framework recommends companies make complete inventories of devices and software systems that could be hacked. And it recommends integrating cybersecurity and human resources to reduce insider threats. (NIST)