Wednesday federal headlines – January 29, 2014

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.

  • President Barack Obama’s plan to raise the minimum wage for contractor employees gets unqualified praise from unions, especially the Service Employees International Union. The SEIU has helped millions of low-wage employees organize protests and strikes. But the wage hike may affect only 10 percent of the estimated 2.2 million contractor employees. It wouldn’t take effect until 2015. New contracts could specify fewer low-wage employees to compensate for higher costs. Obama’s order will raise the minimum from $7.25 an hour to $10.10. (Associated Press)
  • Problems with have dragged down the index showing how satisfied citizens are with federal government services. The satisfaction index had been rising since 2010. In 2013 it dropped 3.4 percent. The American Customer Satisfaction Index report says visitors found federal websites more difficult to navigate and less reliable than in earlier years. Satisfaction with Health and Human Services fell sharply last year. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Homeland Security Department suspends an overtime program for many employees just a day before a Senate hearing on the issue. Full-time training instructors and headquarters staff won’t get extra pay under the Administratively Uncontrollable Overtime program. DHS officials call abuse of the program “troubling.” It’s meant for border guards and other law enforcement officers on duty. Whistleblowers say employees with desk jobs in Washington or training responsibilities routinely file for overtime and sit around watching TV or surfing the internet, at a cost of at least $8.7 million a year. (Senate)
  • President Barack Obama says U.S. troops will stay in Afghanistan beyond this year, but he did not say how many troops in his State of the Union speech. They, and NATO allies, would continue to support Afghan forces and pursue remnants of al-Qaida. The United States is waiting on Afghanistan to sign a security agreement that would let about 10,000 U.S. troops and 6,000 allies remain. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has refused to sign it until after the country’s elections in April. (Associated Press)
  • The Army is sending the equivalent of a squad to the Olympics in Sochi, Russia, next month. Nine soldiers in the Army’s World Class Athlete Program will be members of the U.S. Olympic Team. Four will compete in the bobsled and two will compete in the luge. The other three will be coaching bobsled, luge and skeleton. All are men. Seven have competed in earlier Olympics either as athletes or coaches. The Olympics start Feb. 7. The United States team will consist of 105 women and 125 men. (Defense Department)
  • A U.S. cargo ship has set sail on a mission to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons. The Virginia-based Cape Ray left last night for its two-week trip. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel bid the crew good luck in doing something untried before: destroying, at sea, one of the world’s largest stockpiles of chemical weapons. Officials estimate the number at 700 tons of chemical weapons. The Cape Ray carries two hydrolysis systems to break down the chemicals and make them inert. The Navy assumed command of the ship Monday night. It belongs to the Transportation Department. (Defense Department)
  • The cheating scandal inside the Air Force’s nuclear missile corps is expanding. The number of service members implicated has jumped from 34 to more than 60. That means 14 percent of the nuclear launch control officers are suspended from duty. Investigators suspect cheating on written tests designed to make sure officers can properly handle emergency war orders. The cheating is alleged to have occurred at Malmstrom Air Force Base, home to a third of the nation’s 450 ICBMs. Last year the missile force commander, Maj. Gen. Michael Carey, was fired out for misbehavior while part of a delegation to Russia. (Associated Press)
  • The Drug Enforcement Administration has joined state and local officers in Pennsylvania to track down the source of tainted heroin. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports, 22 people have died after using the drug. Authorities believed it’s laced with a potent anaesthetic. A similar case in 2006 killed dozens of drug users in Detroit, Philadelphia, Chicago and St. Louis. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
  • President Barack Obama is expected to announce Navy Vice Adm. Mike Rogers as the next leader of the National Security Agency. Rogers heads the Navy’s Cyber Command. He’s been long considered the frontrunner for the position. But NSA Director Army Gen. Keith Alexander is retiring in March, putting pressure on the White House to make the decision official soon. The President can appoint Rogers to the NSA without Senate confirmation. But the second half of the job, to lead U.S. Cyber Command, requires a Senate vote. (Associated Press)
  • Five House Republicans and one Democrat are calling for the President to fire National Intelligence Director James Clapper. The congressmen say Obama cannot restore trust in the NSA’s security programs and increase transparency as long as Clapper has the top job. They say he lied to Congress, under oath, about the bulk-data collection programs in March. House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa is leading the call for Clapper’s dismissal. (House)
  • The Federal Communications Commission promises a case-by-case approach to regulating internet competition. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler describes the tactic in a State of the Net speech. Reuters reports, Wheeler promises an approach that will evolve with technology. A federal appeals court struck down the agency’s so-called net neutrality rules two weeks ago. The ruling gives service providers more flexibility to charge for heavy internet use, like streaming videos. Wheeler says the FCC is considering an appeal. (Reuters)