Tuesday federal headlines – February 4, 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 FederalNewsRadio.com users more information about the stories you hear on the air.

  • IRS union employees will get their bonuses this year. The agency and the National Treasury Employees Union reach an agreement the union says will keep them out of court. The bonuses will come from a pool equal to 1 percent of union employees’ salaries. Last year, acting Commissioner Danny Werfel canceled bonuses after sequestration budget cuts. NTEU President Colleen Kelley says this year’s bonus amount is less than originally negotiated. She expects the checks to come in the spring. (Federal News Radio)
  • Veterans Affairs executives would get no performance bonuses for five years under a bill that has passed the House. The measure requires more paperwork for employees traveling abroad. VA Hospitals would have to meet stronger infectious-disease reporting requirements. And health clinics would have to tell patients about hidden cameras. The bill also lets veterans on the GI Bill receive in-state tuition rates at any public college or university. (Associated Press)
  • Federal law enforcement officers push back against new limits on overtime pay at the Homeland Security Department. The Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association says the restrictions came with little warning and create financial hardship for officers. The association says DHS buckled to congressional pressure. The department made its decision shortly before a Senate hearing on accusations of widespread abuse of the overtime policy. Whistleblowers say trainers and office employees routinely file for overtime pay and sit around watching TV or surfing the net. The association does not defend those employees but says the solution is better monitoring. (Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association)
  • The Environmental Protection Agency confirms it’s offering buyouts to hundreds of employees nationwide. Those who volunteer to retire by April will get a one-time payment of $25,000. John O’Grady is president of the American Federation of Government Employees local in region 5. He says the buyouts appear to be targeted at highly paid employees, GS-13s through GS-15s. The agency says buyout decisions in the 19 offices affected were made by local program and administrative officials. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Senate is expected to pass today a five-year farm bill and send it to President Barack Obama. Sponsors describe it as a compromise, at a cost of $100 billion a year. Most of that money goes to food stamps. There are savings to be had there, too. The bill gives the Agriculture Department more money to stop food-stamp trafficking. It places limits on college students who receive aid. It ensures people who have died do not receive benefits. The bill also prevents lottery winners, convicted murderers and sex offenders from receiving food stamps. (Senate)
  • While jetting home from Europe, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel conducts an hour-long conference call. He talks with six Air Force officers on duty in the 341st Missile Wing launch control centers. Hagel expresses appreciation for the work the missileers do. The wing, at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., operates the nation’s nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles. It’s been under a cloud. Scores of officers have been suspended for allegedly cheating on readiness tests. ICBM operators spend long hours waiting for nuclear attack orders that likely will never come. The officers say they appreciate the call and knowing Hagel is concerned about their mission. One calls the call surprising and really cool. (Defense Department)
  • The Pentagon keeps the possibility of an East Coast missile defense site alive, despite officials’ misgivings. Reuters reports, the Defense Department studies the environmental impact at sites in New York, Ohio, Maine and Michigan. Defense officials say the addition would be expensive and unnecessary. Long-range interceptor missiles at sites in California and Alaska can defend the country against strikes by Iran and other states. But Congress pushes the department to go forward with an East Coast facility in the 2013 Defense authorization bill. (Reuters)
  • The National Institutes of Health is organizing a consortium of ten big drug companies. Researchers will collaborate on finding breakthrough treatments for stubborn diseases like Alzheimer’s, lupus and diabetes. Instead of competing tooth and nail, the companies will share resources and scientific findings. The Wall Street Journal reports, NIH officials will announce the unusual arrangement today. The collaboration will last five years and include NIH researchers. The group will share its data with the public, allowing anyone to use it for experimentation. It has a price tag of about $230 million. (Wall Street Journal)
  • The Homeland Security Department came out on top of a protest to its EAGLE II services contract. The Government Accountability Office denied the protest brought by one of the losing bidders, ICF International. But there’s a long way to go. More than three dozen other companies have lodged protests. The GAO says Homeland Security officials conducted reasonable evaluations of the bids. And it said the evaluations followed the terms of the solicitation. EAGLE II has a $22 billion ceiling over seven years. Eleven companies won slots. (Federal News Radio)
  • Big internet companies release new data on how often they are ordered to turn over customer information to the government. The slightly more-detailed accounts follow an agreement between the companies and federal lawyers. They reveal how often the FBI, NSA and other agencies obtain data for secret national security investigations. Now the companies can also say how many individual accounts are involved. Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook, LinkedIn and Tumblr all post new reports. Several also post criticism of the government’s program for internet traffic surveillance. LinkedIn general counsel Erika Rottenberg says she’ll keep pressing for the right to publish even more detail. (Associated Press)