Monday federal headlines – December 30, 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.

  • The Obama administration says more than 1 million people have signed up for health insurance using the federal online exchange. Most signed up in December, after Health and Human Services spent two months getting the website to work. The federal site serves 36 sites. Numbers from the 14 state-run exchanges aren’t yet in. Some experts estimate the state exchanges will bring the total to 2 million. The administration had predicted 3 million would sign up by year-end. 55 million Americans are estimated to lack health care insurance. (Associated Press)
  • The number of reported sexual assaults in the military rose by more than 50 percent this year. Officials say the increase probably reflects more willingness by victims to come forward. Some 5,000 assaults were reported in fiscal 2013, compared to 3,300 a year earlier. The Defense authorization bill for 2014 contains sweeping changes in how the military deals with sexual assault. One provision criminalizes retaliation against anyone reporting an assault. (Associated Press)
  • The federal government’s legal tangle concerning Hurricane Katrina is over. U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval Jr. has dismissed dozens of lawsuits against the Army Corps of Engineers and one of its contractors. His move comes more than a year after a federal appeals court overturned his earlier ruling. Stanwood had held the Army Corps of Engineers liable for flooding caused by lax maintenance of a shipping channel. The channel flooded and nearby levees failed during the 2005 storm that killed 1,400 and left much of New Orleans under water. (Associated Press)
  • The legal debate over the National Security Agency’s telephone surveillance escalates. Federal Judge William Pauley III has ruled the program legal. He dismisses a challenge brought by the American Civil Liberties Union. Pauley’s rule counters one by a D.C. circuit judge who ruled the surveillance unconstitutional two weeks ago. The administration is expected to appeal that ruling. Experts say the different rulings mean the Supreme Court will almost certainly have to decide once and for all. Meanwhile, three other suits against the NSA are pending in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in California. (Wall Street Journal)
  • A German magazine lifts the lid on the operations of an elite National Security Agency’s hacking unit. Der Spiegel’s revelations cover an NSA division called Tailored Access Operations. The TAO consists of hackers specializing in stealing data from the toughest targets. Der Spiegel reports, U.S. spies intercept computer deliveries so they can exploit hardware vulnerabilities. They use bugs in the operating systems of popular network equipment from companies such as Cisco Systems and China’s Huawei Technologies. They’ve also hijacked Microsoft’s internal bug reporting system. The magazine doesn’t say whether its reporting is based on documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. (Spiegel Online)