Monday federal headlines – March 17, 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.

  • Federal offices in the Washington area are closed today because of the snow. Emergency and tele-work ready employees required to work should follow their agency policy. Non- emergency employees are granted an excused absence unless they were required to telework or they’re on official travel. Emergency employees are expected to report for work. Baltimore federal executive board agencies will also be closed today. (Federal News Radio)
  • The White House is backing off its push for quick confirmation of President Obama’s pick to be surgeon general. Vivek Murthy faces opposition from the National Rifle Association. He’s a Harvard Medical School physician and also a political organizer for President Obama. He sent letters to members of Congress urging gun control after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings last year. At least one Democratic Senator, Mark Begich (D-Alaska), has come out against Murthy. Begich said he’s heard from constituents, and he questions Murthy’s experience. (Federal News Radio)
  • The U.S. government will surrender the last bit of its control over the Internet. The Commerce Department plans to end oversight of the non-profit that runs the Internet address system, I-CANN. By doing so, the U.S. will give up its veto power. The transition takes place in September 2015 when the department’s contract expires. Proposals for new I-CANN stewardship are being accepted this week. Assistant Commerce Secretary Larry Strickling says the United States won’t accept a proposal from another government. The plan to phase out the government’s control began in 1997. (Department of Commerce)
  • Defense attorneys say that the Army will drop sexual assault charges against a general. Brigadier General Jeffrey Sinclair will plead guilty to lesser charges. The plea deal marks the end of highly visible case. Sinclair is married. He’s already pleaded guilty to having improper relationships with three subordinate officers. They include the female captain who accused him of assault. He also pleaded guilty to adultery, a crime in the military. Now he’ll also plead guilty to improper use of a government credit card. But Sinclair avoids sexual assault charges, which might have required him to register as a sex offender. (Federal News Radio)
  • The federal government reached a record high over the past year in denying open-records requests, or limiting the information provided. The data shows that the Obama Administration falls short of its pledge to be the most transparent in history. The defense and intelligence communities cited national security as the reason to withhold information nearly 85 hundred times. That’s a 57 percent increase from over a year ago. More agencies use a “deliberative process” exemption to keep information about decision-making secret. On the flip side, agencies received a record number of Freedom of Information Act requests: more than 704 thousand. (Federal News Radio)
  • The U.S. Agency for International Development is seeking bids on a project monitoring contract for Afghanistan. It could be worth up to 170 million dollars. USAID wants to use a variety of technologies to observe work employees won’t be able to see in person once U.S. troops depart. Since 2001, USAID has spent 12 billion dollars on projects in Afghanistan. It’s been accused by Congress of weak oversight. Yet it could spend billions more in the next few years. Under the proposed contract, the agency would use smart phones, satellite imagery and surveillance cameras to oversee the work remotely. (Federal news Radio)
  • A new House bill would cut the defense civilian workforce by 15 percent, or 120 thousand people by 2020. Sponsor Ken Calvert (R-Cali.) says the legislation will create a more efficient labor force. It would let the Defense Department use buyouts and early retirements. It also tells DoD to consider job performance more and length of service less in laying off people. The American Federation of Government Employees calls it an ‘irresponsible excuse at governing.’ The union says the Defense Department would rely more on contractors if the bill becomes law. (American Federation of Government Employees)
  • The Pentagon plans to spend 1.5 billion dollars on a commercial electronic health record system commercial electronic health record system. The Defense Health Agency plans to field the new EHR in phases starting in 2016. It plans to finish by 2019. Budget documents show the agency requested $723 million in 2014 to run its current EHR system. It launched a procurement last month for a replacement. Last week Secretary Eric Shinseki said the VA would bid on the contract with its own EHR. Or else it would use whatever system the Defense Department ends up selecting. The two departments have failed in attempts to combine their electronic health records into a unified system. (NextGov)
  • The American Federation of Government Employees asks federal safety officials to investigate reports of Legionella at a VA hospital in Illinois. AFGE says some members are concerned that unsafe levels of the bacteria may be present. In a letter to Occupational Safety and Health Administration Director David Michaels, the union accuses the Veterans Affairs Department of having a poor track record of handling Legionella. Five veterans died after contracting Legionnaire’s disease at the Pittsburgh VA. (American Federation of Government Employees)