Thursday federal headlines – December 26, 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.

  • Charles Rothwell has been named the new director of the National Center for Health Statistics. NCHS, which is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, monitors the nation’s health. It gathers related information for research, policy and programs. Rothwell’s previous job was director of the NCHS Division of Vital Statistics. He succeeds Dr. Edward Sondik, who stepped down in April to retire. Federal News Radio named Rothwell one of its Top Leaders in Federal Service last February.
  • A Veterans Affairs Department employee has won this year’s SAVE Award. Kenneth Siehr of Milwaukee received 16,000 of the 33,000 votes cast for his idea to let outpatients at VA facilities track their medicine prescriptions online. The hope is that the change will help avoid thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of phone calls to VA pharmacies. Siehr was one of four finalists in the White House’s annual competition. SAVE stands for Securing Americans Value and Efficiency. Each year, the winner gets to meet the President personally in the Oval Office.
  • Veterans Affairs staff and veterans’ groups are gearing up for the annual census of homeless vets. Each January they comb city streets to locate and tally up those sleeping outside or in shelters. They then try to get them into permanent housing. Employees from Housing and Urban Development also help. The Obama administration has set a deadline to end veteran homelessness by 2015. The most recent estimates put the number of homeless veterans at about 58,000.
  • The bipartisan 2014 budget awaiting President Barack Obama’s signature has provoked a firestorm among veterans groups. They object loudly to the idea of curbing the growth of military pension costs. Two-million retirees cost $4.5 billion per year. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says something has to give. Under the current system, only service members who serve for 20 years are eligible for pensions — about 17 percent of the current force. The fight is over those who retire from active duty after 20 years, but long before they reach age 62. Someone who joins the military at age 18 and stays for 20 years could end up getting a pension for 40 years or longer. Critics say 40 years of pension for 20 years of work is overly generous, but retirees say they deserve it for doing risky jobs that are tough on them and their families, and that the overwhelming majority of Americans don’t volunteer for.
  • The Postal Service is finding that what goes up can come down. It won approval from the Postal Regulatory Commission for a $0.03 increase in the price of a first class stamp. But the hike to $0.49 is only temporary. It’s designed to help USPS recover the $2.8 billion worth of mail volume lost between 2008 and 2011. Commissioners say once that figure is recovered, the price will drop back. In the meantime, commissioners ordered postal officials to report quarterly on revenues generated by the price hike.
  • The National Security Agency is collecting so much data it’s swamping the agency, according to a former employee interviewed by The Wall Street Journal. William Binney retired in 2001 after helping create the very computer code the NSA is using to keep track on worldwide Internet traffic. Documents released by Edward Snowden have confirmed the data overload problem. The NSA is moving ahead on plans to complete a gigantic data center in Utah to house it all.