Monday federal headlines – November 25, 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.

  • Nearly everyone who deals with it thinks the document security classification system is broken. Now the government is taking steps to fix it. Nearly a year has passed since the Public Interest Declassification Board sent 14 ideas to the White House. Late last week, board members met with White House staff for the first time. Chairwoman Nancy Soderberg wants the White House to get going and implement the board’s recommendations. High among them is reducing the number of classification categories to just two — top secret and everything else. (Federal News Radio)
  • Aaron Alexis’ employer revoked his access to classified material for two days in August. But the company never told the Navy about it. Six weeks later, Alexis shot and killed a dozen people at the Navy Yard. The incident is raising questions about whether the subcontractor, The Experts, could have tipped off Navy officials to Alexis’ mental problems and perhaps prevented the shootings. It also suggests the company violated U.S. rules about reporting behavior detrimental to security. The Navy is reviewing the matter. (Associated Press)
  • Acrimony in the Senate extended to the 2014 Defense authorization bill. Majority Leader Harry Reid put off votes on amendments, delaying any action on the bill itself. Reid wanted to avoid an amendment that would add penalties against Iran just as nuclear diplomatic talks were concluding. The two parties have offered 350 amendments. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) offered to pare the GOP amendments to a top 25. He and others called Reid’s move a power grab, upsetting an amendment-and-vote procedure in place for a half century. (Associated Press)
  • The Defense Department is asking for a big allowance. Based on the Future Years Defense Program that the department submits to Congress, the Congressional Budget Office says DoD’s 2014 spending plans would surpass Budget Control Act limitations and exceed rules under sequestration. The cost of DoD’s future plans will increase over 15 years, growing from $534 billion in 2014 up to $559 billion in 2018. (Congressional Budget Office)
  • While military leaders plead with Congress to revoke sequestration, commanders on the ground are making changes to prepare for long-term budget cuts. Installations have reduced training flights, drills and other exercises. The Army now focuses its training dollars on squads deploying to Afghanistan or other hostile areas. In fiscal 2013, it canceled seven Brigade Combat Team training exercises. The Naval Air Forces have trimmed back flight hours for aviators to the minimum requirement of 11 per month. (Associated Press)
  • As the ice caps are melting, the Defense Department builds an Arctic strategy. With the frozen terrain fast becoming a more navigable sea route, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel emphasizes the need to keep it secure. The Defense Secretary’s plan supports that of the White House, saying that as the world’s super powers attempt to access the region, the U.S. must pay more attention to its new frontier through study and preparation while keeping it conflict-free. (Defense Department)
  • The Centers for Disease Control has given itself mostly good grades. Under director Tom Frieden, CDC identified seven public health battles it would concentrate on winning. Three years on, Frieden says the agency has made good progress on most of them, but still faces a few challenges. It’s posted its self report card on its website. The CDC staff is pleased with progress against traffic fatalities, smoking, teen pregnancy and hospital deaths from infections. Food safety and reducing HIV infections still have a ways to go. (CDC)
  • A new bill would help senior citizens avoid being targets of health care scams. Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.) is sponsoring it. The Desert News reports, the bill could require the Justice and Health and Human Services departments to put their heads together. They would have to come up with a list of policy recommendations. The bill would also mandate a mailing program to alert seniors to possible frauds. Separately, Veterans Affairs has placed a warning on its facebook page. Telephone scammers have obtained phone numbers differing from those of VA call centers by one digit. Mis-dialers are asked for private banking and credit card information. The answering party may even transfer the caller to the VA after the caller’s information is obtained. Talk about chutzpah, in some cases the fraudsters transfer the callers to the actual VA call center. (Desert News)
  • More federal building managers will be paying utility companies to save energy, if new legislation becomes law. Reps. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.) have sponsored the House measure. There’s a similar bill pending in the Senate. They would expand agencies’ access to so-called performance contracts. The contracts spell out the energy savings through retrofits and other measures over many years. The lawmakers also are leading a campaign to extend President Barack Obama’s federal buildings energy efficiency initiative for another five years. (House)
  • In a landmark settlement, a major power company has pleaded guilty to killing eagles and other birds at two wind farms. Duke Energy will pay $1 million. It marks the first time the Justice Department has prosecuted a wind-energy company under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. But it may not be the last. The Fish and Wildlife Service is investigating more cases of bird deaths at wind-power facilities. It has referred about a half-dozen to the Justice Department. Also last week, the Obama administration drafted voluntary guidelines encouraging wind- energy companies to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service to avoid locations that would impact wildlife. (Fish and Wildlife Service)