Wednesday federal headlines – February 12, 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.

  • Military retirees will get every penny they’ve been promised, under a bill that sails through the House. It restores full cost-of-living increases to military pensions. It’s a relatively modest difference that only hurt retirees under 62 years old. But it adds up to about $7 billion over a decade for the government. Some members argued against the repeal. Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) says the bill “punts” on the hard choices and could eventually hurt military readiness since the money has to come from somewhere. (Associated Press)
  • The Air Force is dusting off some old ideas as it tries to revitalize its nuclear missile crews. Nearly 100 launch control offers have been suspended for test cheating. That’s sparked a broader look into the mission and the people who carry it out. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is considering higher pay, more recognition and lighter workloads. Those were also suggested in 2009 but never took effect. Both Hagel and Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James have visited Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont. They heard from the crew members and tried to reassure them of the importance of the nuclear mission. (Associated Press)
  • The U.S. Special Operations Command leader says he wants to recapitalize the force. Adm. William McRaven says Special Ops has been spending heavily on operations and training, but not enough on future capabilities. Defense News reports, McRaven wants to rebalance the budget to invest more in research, development, testing and evaluation. He’s looked a several scenarios for doing this. The individual service special ops chiefs suggested plans for small boats, submarines and all sizes of ground vehicles. McRaven is also considering platforms for improved ISR — intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. (Defense News)
  • The head of the House panel overseeing veterans affairs wants to make it easier to fire senior executives. Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) sponsors a bill to let the VA secretary demote or outright remove SES members for poor performance. The bill says nothing about due process. Miller says it brings much-needed accountability to the VA following some preventable deaths of patients at VA medical centers. The Senior Executives Association says the bill sets a “terrible precedent” and threatens to “politicize” what is supposed to be a non-political career path. (House)
  • Veterans Affairs IT officials are looking to cloud computing to help ease the high cost of data storage. VA Enterprise Operations offers data center services throughout the department and other agencies. If there’s a request for information to industry, officials say they need to meet ever-rising demand for storage in a way that doesn’t break the bank. They say cloud storage on demand would reduce VA’s maintenance costs, and capacity on demand would help mitigate the effects of fluctuating demand. VA is looking for a contractor to operate the storage, but have it located in the department’s data centers. VA would only pay for what it is using on any given day. (FedBizOpps)
  • The FAA has banned commercial pilots from using personal electronics while on duty. That means wireless gadgets like cell phones and tablets. The new rule also applies to ramp and maintenance crew. It’s final and goes into effect in 60 days. It was called for in an FAA modernization law Congress passed in 2012. The FAA says the rule builds on its so-called sterile cockpit rule dating back to 1981. That rule prohibits any distracting behavior during critical phases of flight, such as takeoff and landing. (Federal Aviation Administration)
  • The IRS cannot regulate tax preparers. It doesn’t have the authority. The U.S. Court of Appeals for D.C. upholds a lower court ruling. It sides with an advocacy group that argues regulations would put mom-and- pop tax shops out of business. The IRS says it’s reviewing the decision. The agency had proposed exams and other rules for as many as 700,000 people who make a living preparing tax returns. It says that would help weed out incompetent preparers. It staked its legal case on a Civil War era law that helped soldiers seeking compensation for dead horses. (Associated Press)
  • The Fish and Wildlife Service bans the sale and purchase of elephant tusks. It’s part of a new national strategy to combat wildlife trafficking. Officials say demand for wildlife products has reached record highs. The commercial trade is largely unregulated. That’s given cover to illicit deals. The administration says the strategy will build international cooperation. Success depends on a series of administrative actions, including tougher enforcement of laws already on the books. For one, the Fish and Wildlife Service is clarifying the definition of the word “antique” to meet certain items that are at least 100 years old. (The White House)
  • The government’s largest contractor for security background checks faced a tough House Oversight Committee. Members are probing how U.S. Investigative Service got away with allegedly giving the OK to hundreds of thousands of people it never actually checked. Ranking member Elijah Cummins says a second USIS contract let the company check the quality of its own work. CEO Sterling Phillips says all of the employees involved were let go and a new team brought in. Cummings says he wants a broader review of USIS, including its holding company Altegrity. (Federal News Radio)