Monday federal headlines – December 23, 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.

  • Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel tells veterans that tough decisions will have to be made with regard to military compensation. The goal in the new budget deal passed by Congress last week is to reform veterans health and retirement benefits programs so they’re affordable but still attractive enough to entice future armed forces personnel. Veterans groups around the country say reducing any benefits to current military or veterans is breaking a promise to leave them untouched. At issue are the curbs in pension increases for military retirees under the age of 62. When Congress included this pension cut in the budget, they jumped the gun on a review panel studying military benefits modernization. The panel is scheduled to make recommendations in May. But after the barrage of protests from the military community, lawmakers say they will review the pension cut next year and possibly reverse it. (Associated Press)
  • Expect to see more headlines about contracting scandals at the Navy. That’s what Secretary Ray Mabus told reporters in his first press conference since a Naval investigator pleaded guilty in a bribery scandal involving a long-time ports contractor and several officers. Mabus says the Navy continued to work with Glenn Defense Marine Asia even after the probe began, in order to collect information. He says the service already has tightened rules and policies for contractors. (Federal News Radio)
  • President Obama says additional measures may need to be taken in order to protect U.S. citizens in South Sudan. Over the weekend, two military helicopters were fired at while on a humanitarian mission. The State Department says they are working to evacuate U.S. citizens as quickly as possible. So far, 380 U.S. officials and private citizens have been evacuated. The President continues to monitor the situation while on vacation in Hawaii. The State Department strongly recommends that U.S. citizens in South Sudan depart immediately. (Defense Department)
  • Tis the season for goodbyes. Many people retire in December and January. The Justice Department is issuing an early warning for next year. Its Executive Office for Immigration Review says roughly half of its 220 judges will be eligible to retire. There are already 32 vacancies and a backlog of 350,000 cases. The President’s 2014 budget calls for 30 new immigration judges to address the backlog. Funding for immigration courts is disproportionately low compared to funding for immigration enforcement and detention. (Associated Press)
  • The 2013 SAVE Award winner is Kenneth Siehr. He suggests the Veterans Health Administration let vets track shipments of their prescription drugs through the online portal MyHealthyVet. Siehr knows of what he speaks. He works at the Clement Zablocki VA Medical Center in Milwaukee. In a blog post, his boss, pharmacy chief Rick Purko, says the prize money will pay for the software programming. The White House seeks the best money-saving ideas from federal employees each year in the SAVE Awards. (Veterans Affairs)
  • The Senate confirms several key nominations before leaving for holiday break. On Friday, it confirmed John Koskinen to become IRS commissioner. Koskinen won a five-year term and will hopefully help the agency recover from the allegations surrounding the targeting of tea party and other conservative groups. The Senate also confirmed Alejandro Mayorkas to be deputy secretary of the Homeland Security Department. Janet Yellen moves one step closer to becoming the head of the Federal Reserve. She’ll have to wait to officially receive a confirmation after the Senate returns from holiday break on Jan. 6. (Associated Press)
  • We barely knew him. Joe Jordan, the administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, is leaving after just 18 months. His new employer, FedBid, broke the news. It’s an online marketplace. Jordan will run the public sector division. The company says he will grow and manage the federal-buyer base with another eye to state, local and education sectors. Deputy Leslie Fields will take over at the White House at the end of January. Once again, she’ll be the acting administrator. (Federal News Radio)
  • Recently released NSA documents reveal the very beginnings of National Security Administration’s massive dragnet of phone and internet records. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper declassified the initial authorization given to NSA by then President George W. Bush in 2001. The spying was part of the Terrorist Surveillance Program initiated after the 9/11 attacks. Bush extended the program every 30 to 60 days by presidential order. It was eventually replaced by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which requires a secret court to approve the spying operation. The documents were released as part of two long-running class-actions cases against the NSA in California. (Associated Press)
  • Lawmakers are taking bipartisan swipes at the Secret Service following a watchdog report. The Homeland Security inspector general found no widespread problem with misconduct, despite that high-profile prostitution scandal in Colombia. But Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) says the report “confirms that there is a certain subculture at the Secret Service that engages in risky behavior,” and “this behavior could put national security and the mission of the Secret Service at risk and tarnishes the good work of others.” On the other side of the aisle, and in the other chamber, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) says the report “exposes long-standing problems with Secret Service management.” He says, “the lack of consistent policy has led to an agency culture dominated by personalities instead of rules.” The inspector general made several recommendations. Thompson likes them. He says they are “a blueprint to achieve the desired change.” (House)