Friday federal headlines – April 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 users more information about the stories you hear on the air.

  • Vendors on the General Services Administration’s multiple award schedules program have been scammed for more than $1.5 million. Thieves impersonating federal contracting officers have been buying toner cartridges and laptop computers. They’ve used spoofed email credentials, stolen credit card numbers and fake phone numbers. The spear phishing has been under investigation by three agencies’ inspectors general since 2012. The scammers have targeted employees at the EPA, Fish and Wildlife Service, Census Bureau and National Institutes of Health. (Federal News Radio)
  • House Speaker John Boehner throws his weight behind a bill targeting civil service leaders at the Veterans Affairs Department. He promises a vote soon. The measure would make it easier for the VA secretary to fire or demote senior career executives. Supporters of the bill contend red tape stifles the process. SES members get 30 days’ notice and the right to appeal. The Senior Executives Association acknowledges problems at VA, from backlogs to preventable patient deaths. But the group says the bill would politicize the workforce. It says VA removed more than 3,000 employees last year, including several senior executives. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Veterans Affairs Department has shelled out more than $200 million to settle wrongful death claims since the 9/11 attacks. That’s according to the Center for Investigative Reporting. CIR reports, payments went to nearly 1,000 families. The report cites a litany of misdiagnoses, botched surgeries and people being turned away from VA medical centers. A VA spokesman says each death is investigated with an eye towards improvement. She says the 1,000 vets are a tiny fraction of the 6 million who received treatment in the same period. The House Veterans Affairs committee holds a hearing next week on preventable deaths. (Center for Investigative Reporting)
  • Congressional hearings are next for a social media operation run by the U.S. Agency for International Development. Using shell companies and foreign bank financing, USAID constructed a Twitter-like service in Cuba. The idea was to get Cuban students to sign up and give the United States an avenue to foster dissent. The so-called Zun-Zuneo network drew tens of thousands of Cuban users and lasted two years. Democrats on the intelligence and judiciary committees say they were never informed about the project. USAID Chief Rajiv Shah insists they were. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) called the project dumb. (Associated Press)
  • Two senators introduce a bill to eliminate the National Technical Information Service. The Commerce Department agency sells official government documents. But Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) say the agency is selling items available for free on the internet. They say the agency loses more than $1 million per year doing so. They call their bill the “Let Me Google That For You Act.” Coburn says even his own free annual report on government waste is for sale by NTIS. A bipartisan companion bill is introduced in the House by Reps. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.) and Henry Cuellar (D-Texas). (Senate)
  • The Smithsonian’s busiest museum is getting a makeover after receiving the largest corporate donation in the institution’s history. Boeing has pledged $30 million to redo the National Air and Space Museum’s central exhibit. The two-year project will be the first overhaul since President Gerald Ford opened the museum in 1976. Highlights will include Charles Lindbergh’s “Spirit of St. Louis,” John Glenn’s Mercury capsule from his first Earth orbit and an Apollo Lunar Module recalling America’s first moon landing. The project also marks the start of a renovation of the entire building. That will go until 2020 and require federal funding. (Smithsonian Institution)
  • The Office of Personnel Management says its human resources training website has saved $100 in its first three years. OPM lets agencies post, share and participate in the courses offered through the online system called HR University. Classes include Tips on Avoiding Discrimination and Bias, Basic Benefits and Addressing Poor Performance. Director Katherine Archuleta says it is a creative way to offer quality, affordable training to employees. It was created by the Chief Human Capital Officers Council. (Office of Personnel Management)
  • The Supreme Court stands by the government’s expansion of federal jobs deemed sensitive to national security. Bloomberg reports, the high court refused to hear an appeal in a case stemming from the demotion of a Defense Department employee. He managed a commissary and did not have access to classified information or a security clearance. But the government considered his job “sensitive,” barring him from appealing the demotion to the Merit Systems Protection Board. (Bloomberg)
  • Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel asks for patience while the military tries to determine why a soldier opened fire at Fort Hood this week, killing three and wounding 16 before killing himself. Investigators say the gunman, Specialist Ivan Lopez, may have been mentally unstable. An argument could have set him off. But Hagel says it’s too soon to draw broad conclusions about safety at military bases. He promises the Pentagon will look for lessons in Wednesday’s tragedy. The department is still implementing changes recommended in the wake of last year’s Navy Yard shooting. (Defense Department)
  • The Defense Department is enlarging a Marine Corps response force based in Spain, and it will send a Navy ship to the Black Sea to conduct exercises with nearby U.S. allies. A Pentagon spokesman says 175 Marines from Camp Lejuene, N.C., will be added to the Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force. That will bring the total to 657. The task force is stationed at Spain’s Moron Air Base, but the new Marines will be located in Romania. They’ll join a contingent there who are part of the Black Sea rotational force. The spokesman says the additional troops are not in response to tensions over Ukraine and Russia. The Navy ship is another matter. It’s going there for the purpose of reassuring countries surrounding the Ukraine that the United States is committed to the region’s security. (Defense Department)