Tuesday federal headlines – September 10, 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 FederalNewsRadio.com users more information about the stories you hear on the air.

  • Federal employees who make illegal or improper purchases with government charge cards will get more than a slap on the wrist. Under new guidelines from the Office of Management and Budget, they could get fired. Director Sylvia Burwell laid out new rules to carry out the 2012 Government Charge Card Abuse Prevention Act. Agency heads have until the end of the month to certify they have internal controls in place. They’re also asked to develop penalties for employees who violate charge card policies. The legislation got bipartisan backing after reports of credit card abuse adding up to hundreds of millions of dollars. (Federal News Radio)
  • House Republicans plan to tie a short-term spending bill to forcing the Senate to vote up or down on dismantling the Affordable Care Act. It’s an unusual maneuver designed to avoid a government shutdown on Oct. 1. The Senate wouldn’t have to vote one way or the other. In effect, the CR and health care overhaul funding would be de-coupled upon reaching the Senate. The House vote could come as early as this week. (Associated Press)
  • A top Veterans Affairs official says he supports a review of the department’s performance awards to employees. Federal Times reports, Undersecretary for Health Robert Petzel made the remarks at a Congressional hearing. House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller asked Petzel whether he agreed that the bonus system needed a top-to-bottom review. Miller has criticized the VA for giving a presidential rank award to a health official who oversaw the Pittsburg hospital where an outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease killed five people. Petzel answered, the review would be “appropriate.” (Federal Times)
  • The Justice Department is releasing hundreds of classified documents on the secret spy court that authorizes domestic surveillance programs. It’s expected to happen this afternoon, today being a court-mandated deadline. The Electronic Frontier Foundation sued the department after it failed to comply with a Freedom of Information Act request. The group expects to receive seven years’ worth of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court orders and opinions. It will upload them to its websites. (Associated Press)
  • Newly released documents reveal the strategy and planning that goes into the Homeland Security Department’s searches and seizures of electronic devices belonging to people coming in and out of the country. They show agents waited for months until Army Pvt. Chelsea Manning’s friend, David House, left the country. Upon his return, border agents seized his laptop. They kept it for months before returning it and admitting he had broken no law. House sued to have the documents released. The executive branch has long maintained people crossing into the United States are not protected by the Fourth Amendment. (Associated Press)
  • Apple is expected to unveil its new iPhone today. The likely designation will be iPhone 5S. InformationWeek predicts the phone will include a feature common on other phones. Namely, a fingerprint reading app for authentication. Notebook computers have had them for nearly 10 years. The new phone is not expected to include nearfield communications. That technology is used for commercial transactions, but is considered a security risk. Apple will also likely introduce a plain-Jane version of the iPhone in many colors for sale at low price. Open battle has broken out among smart phone vendors for federal business. (InformationWeek)
  • Facebook and Yahoo want to set the record straight on how much they cooperate with the National Security Agency’s requests for users’ information. They’ve appealed to the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for help. They want permission to release more information on national security orders. They say they want to correct false claims. Google and Microsoft have similar motions pending with the court. All four companies give the NSA access to customer data under the program known as PRISM. (Associated Press)
  • Sometimes people do know when you’re a dog on the internet. The Agriculture Department is cracking down on dog breeders who sell puppies online. They’ll now have to apply for federal licenses. That means they can only sell pups that have been viewed by USDA inspectors or the buyers themselves. Internet sellers have classified themselves as retail pet stores, so they can skirt the license requirements of wholesale breeders. The new rules apply to anyone breeding more than four females and selling them online. The department is responding to a 2010 inspector general’s report of sick or dying dogs being sold to unwitting buyers. (Associated Press)
  • Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents returned gold artifacts and an ancient vase to Afghan officials during a ceremony at the Afghanistan Embassy. It’s the fourth time in eight years that ICE agents have captured valuable Afghan artifacts being smuggled into the United States and have been able to repatriate them. A task force intercepted this shipment at the Newark airport. It was headed to a New York business suspected of dealing in looted cultural property. The vase is a Roman wine pitcher that’s at least 1,400 years old. The gold foil dates from the fifth century B.C. (Immigration and Customs Enforcement)
  • Why are the military’s operations in Africa based in Germany? The answer isn’t clear to government auditors. The Government Accountability Office says the Pentagon hasn’t made the case for keeping AFRICOM in Stuttgart. Rather, GAO says the Department’s decision lacks the solid analysis and facts to back it up. The six- year-old command began in Germany, with the plan of moving to Africa. The Defense Department later deemed that too hard. But officials admitted moving AFRICOM to the United States would save money. They chose to keep it in Germany for operational reasons. (GAO)
  • Acting Air Force Secretary Eric Fanning toured the Everett, Washington factory where the new refueling tanker is under construction. He pronounced the program on time and on budget. Boeing is building two prototypes under a contract awarded in 2011. They’re scheduled to begin test flights next year. The Air Force plans to buy 179 of them in the first batch. Dubbed the KC-146, they’ll replace the KC-135, in service since the 1960s. Fanning says having clear and firm requirements is helping keep the new plane on schedule. So is the fact that the tanker is based on an existing plane, the 767, that’s been around since the 1980s. (Air Force)
  • What happened to Dag Hammarskjold? The September 1961 plane crash that killed the UN Secretary General is one of the great unsolved mysteries of the cold war. Now the chairman of a commission doing the latest study says the National Security Agency may hold the key. Commission Chairman Stephen Sedley says radio intercepts are the last hope of solving the case. He says those transmissions lie somewhere in the archives of the NSA. Hammarskjold was heading to the Congo to try and broker peace when his plane crashed near the airport. Eyewitnesses said it looked as if the DC-6 had been been shot down. (Associated Press)