Thursday federal headlines – February 27, 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.

  • A Senator with clout over the federal workforce tells a union what it wants to hear. Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) speaks to the National Treasury Employees Union’s annual legislative conference. He says compensation and image are two issues bedeviling the workforce. Tester is chairman of the subcommittee that oversees it. He promises to hold hearings in the spring to see if federal employee compensation is keeping up with private sector pay. This year and last, feds received pay raises averaging 1 percent. Union President Colleen Kelley says this year, employees should receive 3.3 percent just to track inflation. (Federal News Radio)
  • Homeland Security Department Secretary Jeh Johnson made his first appearance before his main House oversight committee. His main selling point? He’s not his predecessor, Janet Napolitano. He promised to work closely with the Homeland Security Committee. Chairman Mike McCaul said he would reciprocate. He noted the committee’s frustrations with Napolitano. Johnson didn’t outline any grand vision for DHS. He told members he would work on improving morale by constantly reminding employees of the importance of the agency’s mission. He said he’s reviewing the use of administratively uncontrollable overtime. And he’s asked the General Services Administration for new ideas for a single departmental headquarters building. (Federal News Radio)
  • Republicans push through the House a delay on proposed IRS rules on tax-exempt organizations. The agency drafted the rules after allegations that it mistreated conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status. The bill freezes the proposal until Congress and the Treasury Department finish their investigations. Meanwhile, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee wants former IRS Executive Lois Lerner to testify next week. Lerner refused to talk during her last appearance, citing her Fifth Amendment rights. She ran the division that handles applications for tax-exempt status. (Associated Press)
  • The House Small Business Committee wants to raise the bar for small business contracting. Not that federal agencies have met their goals as they stand now. But a new bill would set 25 percent as the procurement dollars to be set aside for small and disadvantaged business. The current goal is 23 percent. Chairman Sam Graves (R-Mo.) says the bill would steer another $10 billion a year to small businesses. That’s presuming agencies achieve the 25 percent goal. (Federal News Radio)
  • The FDA is skewered over surveillance of employees computers. A joint report from Congressional Republicans details how FDA officials intercepted emails of five scientists believed to be leaking information to the press. The scientists felt FDA was approving questionable medical devices. GovExec reports, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) says at a hearing, the monitoring is chilling to whistleblowers. Rep. Darrel Issa (R-Calif.) says it smacks of 1984. But Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) says the report only tells half the story. (GovExec)
  • The Army removes 588 soldiers from sensitive jobs because of sexual assault, child abuse and other misconduct. That represents 3 percent of the soldiers whose qualifications and records were examined. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel last year ordered all the services to review the qualifications and records of sexual assault counselors and recruiters. The Army enlarged its review to cover soldiers in positions of trust, like drill sergeants. Seventy-nine of the soldiers are leaving. It’s not clear what is happening to the others. In comparison, the Navy looked at 11,000 employees and found five unqualified. The Air Force reviewed a smaller number, about 2,500. It removed two sexual-assault victim advocates from their jobs. (Associated Press)
  • An Army survey shows just 8 percent of female soldiers want to fight on the front lines. And it suggests male soldiers worry that women cannot do the physical tasks required. The findings reflect nagging fears as the Pentagon prepares to open more combat roles to women. The Army is revising physical fitness requirements to be more gender neutral. In studies, commanders are forgoing counting pushups and sit-ups. Instead, they test soldiers’ abilities to do battlefield tasks, like dragging a wounded person to safety. In April, the Army opens 33,000 roles to women that were previously classified as direct ground combat. (Army)
  • NASA could have prevented a nearly tragic accident at the International Space Station last summer. That’s the conclusion in a report on the near-drowning of a space-walking astronaut. Luca Parmitano’s helmet filled with water. He barely made it back inside alive. But the panel says NASA should have known about the helmet flaw. It had happened before, but the space station team misdiagnosed it. NASA chief space station engineer Chris Hansen, chairman of the investigation board, says “there was a lack of understanding in the severity of the event.” NASA officials say they can and will do better. (Associated Press)