Thursday federal headlines – August 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.

  • Talk about swallowing your own medicine: The Office of Personnel Management has published a proposed rule explaining how members of Congress and their staff will choose health coverage for next year. No longer will they have access to the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan. Instead, lawmakers and their direct hires will pick a plan through the new health care exchanges that go online Oct. 1. That’s because Congress included the requirement in the Affordable Care Act. Unlike the general public, those on Capitol Hill won’t be able to take advantage of tax credits. But they’ll still get contributions from the federal government, as their employer, to defray the cost of the insurance premiums. (Federal News Radio)
  • A leading Senate Republican will no longer stand in the way of President Barack Obama’s pick to lead the Office of Personnel Management. Federal Times reports Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) is lifting his hold on Katherine Archuleta’s nomination. Coburn had blocked a vote on Archuleta to pressure OPM. He wanted the agency to explain how the Affordable Care Act would impact federal employees’ health coverage. OPM did so this week. Archuleta probably will have to wait at least a month for a final vote because Congress is on recess. (Federal Times)
  • The Veterans Affairs Department is telling vets, don’t worry, your health care won’t change a bit under the Affordable Care Act. But if that answer doesn’t satisfy, the VA has launched a new website. It explains that veterans do not have to do anything different come Oct. 1 when the law’s major provisions start. The Department says most uninsured veterans are eligible for VA health care and should apply for it. But their family members may be able to get coverage through the new health insurance marketplace. (Veterans Affairs)
  • The sequester is forcing Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda to make cuts in patient care. Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) tells our sister station WTOP, patients are being discharged earlier and not getting to surgeries when they need to. He says Walter Reed will have to contract out care. The outpatient pharmacy has closed on weekends. Staff describe morale as “awful.” USA Today first reported Walter Reed was sending patients to private doctors or delaying treatments because of furloughs. Walter Reed had closed more than half of its operating rooms on Fridays, when many civilian employees were on furlough. (WTOP)
  • About 170,000 veterans and their families won’t have as many TRICARE Prime options come Oct. 1. The Defense Department says its cutting the number of TRICARE Prime service areas. But it did not detail just how many. TRICARE recipients who live within 40 miles from a military hospital or clinic received a letter about the changes. Defense officials say recipients are not losing their benefits. They say the service area cuts do not affect active duty members, their families and most of the 5 million people enrolled in TRICARE Prime. The department says it’s for planned the cutbacks since 2007. (Defense Department)
  • An injured Army vet has won an employment discrimination lawsuit against the FBI. Justin Slaby of Stafford lost his hand to a grenade explosion during an Army training accident. He then applied to be a special agent with the FBI. Slaby says trainers at the FBI Academy in Quantico discriminated against him. He says they forced him to shoot a gun with his left hand but did not impose the same requirement on other candidates. The FBI has transferred one supervisor involved in the incident. It has refused to comment on the ruling. (Associated Press)
  • The Pentagon is carving new lines between gay military couples who are married and those who are not. Officials are considering ways to give health care, housing and other benefits to same-sex spouses of military members by the end of this month. But the Defense Department may reverse course on a plan to provide benefits to gay partners who are not married. The Associated Press has seen a draft DoD memo. It says the Pentagon is considering giving gay service members up to 10 days of leave so they can travel to states where they can marry legally. Earlier, officials said they would let gay partners receive limited benefits without a marriage license. (Associated Press)
  • The Defense Department is launching its own DoD news feed. Defense officials say milWire aggregates user-generated content, news and information based on topics and people users choose to follow. milWire is located behind a secure firewall, and only Defense employees can access it. The new tool is part of milSuite, a package of four social media-like platforms that gives Defense employees a place to access and share information. (U.S. Army)
  • Why would the IRS talk with the Federal Election Commission about politically active groups applying for tax exemptions? That’s the latest angle House investigators are pursuing as they look into the IRS treatment of the organizations. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee says FEC officials have emailed the IRS for information. In particular, they’ve gone to former division director Lois Lerner. The committee is pressuring Lerner to return to Capitol Hill to testify. She invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in an earlier hearing.(House)
  • About two dozen corrupted emails were sent to senior members at the Education Department. That’s according to the new results of a Freedom of Information Act request from the Federal Times. The report says it happened back in 2011 when education officials clicked links in an email. And on first glance, the messages looked legitimate. They came from Federal Times says the the Education Department Inspector General would not disclose just how much and what kind of data the hackers found. (Federal Times)