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

  • A bevy of House bills are hitting Veterans Affairs officials’ pockets and pride. The chamber approved a measure to cap VA employee awards and bonuses at a collective $345 million. The Hill reports, that’s a 14 percent cut. Another bill would create a commission to find out why the VA continues to have a high backlog of disability claims. It would recommend fixes to be implemented by 2015. A third bill establishes an Economic Opportunity Administration within VA to help veterans transition to civilian life and expand foreclosure protections for service members. Additional legislation gives honorary veterans status to members of the National Guard and Reserves. (The Hill Newspaper)
  • Members of the National Guard and Reserve who are serving at least 20 years but have not yet been called up for active duty may soon be granted full veteran status. The bill proposed by Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.) passed the House unanimously. The Congressional Budget Office says the bill is cost neutral and military retirees who would fall under the bills jurisdiction would receive no extra benefits besides being legally recognized as veterans for their two or more decades of service to our country. The bill now heads to the Senate. (House)
  • Rep. Mel Watt’s (D-N.C.) future is in limbo. The White House is telling the Senate, hurry up and confirm Watt as head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency. President Obama nominated Watt nearly six months ago. Watt might have to hold his breath longer. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R- S.C.) now says he’ll block all presidential nominees. The ranking Republican on the foreign relations committee, Graham says he wants more witnesses to last year’s attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya to testify. He wants a joint select committee formed to investigate the departments of State, Defense and the CIA’s roles. (Associated Press)
  • NOAA wants to understand how people respond to severe weather warnings so it can deliver more effective messages in times of crisis. NOAA is spending almost $2 million under the Sea Grant program to enhance the public’s ability to effectively plan, prepare and respond to natural disasters. NOAA says many of the deaths caused by superstorm Sandy were a result of choices made in the face of emergency mangers, community leaders and the media. States receiving Sea Grant money are Connecticut, New York and New Jersey. Meanwhile, as the one year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy approaches, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell puts $160 million behind 45 restoration and research projects to better protect Atlantic Coast communities from future powerful storms. The money will go toward restoring marshes, wetlands and beaches, rebuilding shorelines, and researching the impacts and modeling mitigation of storm surge impacts. (NOAA)
  • The Syrian Electronic Army seized control of an online tool used by an advocacy organization for President Barack Obama and redirected links sent from Obama’s Twitter and Facebook accounts. The pages carried links that were intended to take readers to a Washington Post story on immigration, but as a result of the hack, redirected readers to a video of the Syrian conflict instead. The hacked link shortener is used by Organizing for Action, a group that evolved from Obama’s re- election campaign. Obama’s Twitter account itself was not hacked. The SEA has undertaken several high-profile hacking attempts in the United States. Last month it appeared to have struck a Marine Corps recruiting website. The FBI has also warned that the group might intensify its internet attacks after U.S. military strikes against Syria in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack by the Syrian government against its people. (Associated Press)
  • A British man is arrested and charged with hacking into computer systems of the Army, NASA and other federal agencies. On Monday, a grand jury indicted a British man and his three partners for stealing information about government employees with the intent of disrupting federal government operations. Lauri Love allegedly hacked thousands of systems including the Missile Defense Agency, the Army Corps of Engineers and the EPA. For almost a year Love was able to infiltrate systems, compromising personal data of military personnel and defense budgets. Prosecutors says the Army’s Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland was one of the hacked systems. Love faces up up to 5 years in prison for each offense. (Associated Press)
  • New FBI Director James Comey says he’ll direct all new agents to visit the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial to remind them that the Bureau should not abuse its power. He says there are “dangers of becoming untethered to oversight and accountability.” Comey addressed more than 3,000 FBI employees and guests in a ceremony at the agency courtyard. President Barack Obama and Former Attorney General John Ashcroft attended. Comey gained national recognition as a Justice Department attorney under Ashcroft. He rushed to Ashcroft’s hospital bed to urge him to sign off on a surveillance program they viewed as illegal. Comey took over last month for Robert Mueller. (Associated Press)
  • Director of National Intelligence James Clapper authorizes the declassification and public release of a number of additional Intelligence Community documents. They detail certain sensitive intelligence collection programs undertaken under the authority of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Clapper says the harm to national security from the release of these documents is outweighed by the public interest. (Tumblr)
  • The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction is asking agencies for help keeping tabs on the reconstruction. SIGAR says it’s concerned about the impact of the drawdown and the shrinking oversight access. Special Inspector General John Sopko says SIGAR was unable to visit infrastructure projects in northern Afghanistan valued at $72 million and notes that significant portions of Afghanistan are already inaccessible to oversight officials. In his letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, the Defense Department and USAID, Sopko predicts that no more than 21 percent of Afghanistan will be accessible to U.S. civilian oversight personnel by the end of the transition, a 47 percent decrease since 2009. (SIGAR)