Friday federal headlines – February 21, 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 Obama’s 2015 budget proposal will include $56 billion in new spending and a tax hike. It leaves out something the President had agreed to earlier — namely, a less expensive formula for calculating cost-of-living increases for federal retirees and Social Security recipients. Obama is no longer calling for use of the so-called chained CPI. That measure has been opposed by retiree advocates. 100 Democratic House members sent Obama a signed letter calling for him to drop the chained CPI. (Federal News Radio)
  • National Park Service employees in our region form a bargaining unit. They elect the National Treasury Employees Union to represent them in talks with management. NTEU says the election results have to be certified. Then the park service employees will form a union chapter, elect officers and begin negotiating a contract with the agency. The 1,300 workers include park rangers, gardeners, maintenance workers and other tradespeople. NTEU already represents park service headquarters employees. (National Treasury Employees Union)
  • Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel orders an overhaul of programs to find and identify missing service members. Spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby says the various offices that handle the mission now will be merged into a single organization. Some of the things they do are redundant. Kirby says tens of thousands of remains around the world could be recovered with time, effort and resources. He says Hagel is willing to expend the resources but wants to do it in a more cohesive, holistic manner. Hagel has asked acting Undersecretary Michael Lumpkin to propose a plan within 30 days. (Defense Department)
  • Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno receives full military honors in a visit to China. He’s meeting with China’s top generals to help boost cooperation and to try and reduce tensions. Odierno says both countries have what he called “incredibly professional armies” and should work more closely together. His counterpart, Gen. Fang Fenghui, says he hopes for more substantial relations. Odierno’s trip comes after a top Navy intelligence official issued a warning. Capt. James Fanell is the intelligence director of the Pacific Fleet. He says Chinese ocean exercises are training its Navy to snatch uninhabited islands away from Japan. Fanell says such a move would trigger a military response by the United States. (Associated Press)
  • A Defense Department program for preventing psychological disorders has been expensive but not very effective. That’s according to a study by the Institute of Medicine, which the Pentagon commissioned. It’s the second of two studies. The first looked at programs for screening and treatment. The congressionally mandated studies focus on veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. The institute says DoD faces a number of challenges, including insufficient evidence to support its psychological interventions. And, it needs to improve its approaches for identifying who might be in need of psychological support services. (Institute of Medicine)
  • The Social Security Administration promises to tackle veterans’ disability claims faster. Beginning next month, it will fast-track veterans deemed permanently and totally disabled by the Veterans Affairs Department. Veterans have to show Social Security proof of the VA disability compensation rating. The agency cautions, just because VA qualifies a vet for disability does not mean Social Security will do the same. And it says the total application time depends on individual factors, like the nature of a disability and the medical evidence presented as proof. (Social Security Administration)
  • The White House takes executive action to stomp out patent trolls. The Patent and Trademark Office says it will use crowdsourcing to find information that can help patent examiners evaluate applications. It creates a pro- bono support network for inventors and small businesses who apply for patents but don’t have their own lawyers. It asks patent lawyers to volunteer, and it expands a training program for patent examiners so they can keep up with tech developments. (White House)
  • The inspector general launches a review of undercover operations run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The investigation focuses on storefront activities. The ATF runs sting operations to catch traffickers selling stolen weapons. Agents pose as buyers. In a statement, the IG’s office says recent allegations inspired the review. For now, the investigation focuses on ATF operations in four cities: Milwaukee, Pensacola, St. Louis and Wichita. The IG’s office says it may expand its review if necessary. (Justice Department)