Thursday federal headlines – March 6, 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.

  • One of the shoemaker’s children is asking for a bigger allowance. Comptroller General Gene Dodaro testifies in favor of a 4 percent budget increase for 2015. That would let the Government Accountability Office restore shrunken staffing levels. GAO funding is already on the mend. This year it will operate on $505 million, up substantially from 2013. For next year, Dodaro is seeing $525 million. He tells a House appropriations subcommittee, the agency’s staff had fallen to levels not seen since 1935. Next year, he would like to get the headcount to full staffing, about 3,200 people. Dodaro says GAO would use some of the increase to improve computer systems and fix up its Massachusetts Avenue headquarters. (Federal News Radio)
  • Top federal scientists and experts could get a bump in pay. The Office of Personnel Management publishes a final rule to bring salaries for employees who are Sls for senior-level, or STs, for scientific or professional, more in line with what the government pays senior executive service members. The pay raise has to be backed up by a performance-based assessment. OPM proposed the rule in 2011, based on a 2008 law. (Federal Register)
  • In a repeat performance, a former IRS official pleaded the fifth rather than testify to the House Oversight and Governmental Affairs Committee. Lois Lerner is at the center of a controversy in which the IRS held up tax exempt status applications from conservative groups. She resigned last year after pleading her rights against self-incrimination. Yesterday she appeared again, only to refuse to answer questions from chairman Darrell Issa. Afterwards, Issa said the investigation might stall without testimony from Lerner. Her lawyer says the hearing was too partisan for Lerner to get a fair shake. (Associated Press)
  • Eight Democratic Senators joined 44 Republicans to block an Obama nominee to a key Justice Department job. Attorney Debo Adegbile had been named to run the civil rights division. It opened up last year when Thomas Perez became secretary of labor. Opponents of Adegbile cited his Supreme Court argument in favor of convicted cop- killer Mumia Abu-Jamal. President Obama condemned the vote. He says representing an unpopular defendant should not disqualify a lawyer from high office. Adegbile spent much of his career at the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund. His nomination was opposed by the National Fraternal Order of Police. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Senate votes today on whether to strip military commanders of their power over sexual assault prosecutions. The Pentagon opposes the bill. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says commanders must be responsible for their troops’ conduct. The measure would let military prosecutors, rather than commanders, decide whether to pursue courts- martial for the most serious sexual charges. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) has sponsored the bill. She says enough Senators support her bill to break a filibuster. (Associated Press)
  • An Army general accused of sexually assaulting a junior officer will plead guilty to three of four charges against him. Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair maintains innocence on the most serious charge of forced sex. His accuser is a female captain with whom he had an affair. Adultery is a crime in the military. His defense lawyers say his accuser lied under oath about her handling of an iPhone containing photos and text messages. Sinclair’s lawyer says the general will plead guilty to having improper relationships with two other female Army officers and to committing adultery. He’ll admit violating orders by possessing pornography in Afghanistan. And he’ll admit to conduct unbecoming of an officer and a gentleman. Sinclair is the former deputy commander of the 82nd Airborne. He faces life in prison if convicted of the remaining sexual assault charges. (Associated Press)
  • The CIA is looking into allegations that officers spied on Senate Intelligence Committee members. Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein says the agency inspector general has opened an investigation. The allegations concern whether during the George W. Bush Administration, the CIA monitored Senate staff using CIA computers to access top-secret documents about agency detention and interrogation programs. CIA Director John Brennan says the Senate claims are “wholly unsupported by the facts.” (Associated Press)
  • A group representing U.S. diplomats says it will sue the State Department over documents on President Barack Obama’s choices for ambassadorships. The American Foreign Service Association gives the department until the close of business today to comply with an open-records request. The group wants to see candidates’ “certificates of demonstrated competence.” AFSA says it’s concerned about certain nominees’ qualifications. A handful of nominees embarrassed themselves at their Senate confirmation hearings by getting facts wrong about their countries of destination. The choices were high-dollar campaign fundraisers for President Obama. (Associated Press)
  • A key engineer of the Affordable Care Act is resigning from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Bloomberg Businessweek reports, Gary Cohen leaves his job as director of the Center for Consumer and Information and Insurance Oversight at the end of the month. That’s also the first open enrollment deadline. Cohen’s office monitors private insurers and helps states with their online marketplaces. CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner credits Cohen with leading the policy work on the health care exchanges. (Bloomberg Businessweek)