Thursday federal headlines – April 3, 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.

  • Citing tensions over Ukraine, NASA cuts most ties with Russia. It suspends all activities except the International Space Station. NASA employees cannot travel to Russia or host Russian visitors. The agency forbids them from emailing or holding teleconferences with Russian counterparts. In a statement, NASA says it is laser focused on a plan to launch human space flights on American soil and end its reliance on Russia to get into space. Given its budget, the agency says that will happen in 2017. Since ending the space shuttle program, NASA has paid Russia nearly $71 million for a seat on its rocket to the International Space Station. (Associated Press)
  • Some employees are pushing back against the Social Security Administration’s plan to stop giving printouts of social security cards and benefit verification forms. The American Federation of Government Employees joins with groups representing seniors, veterans and people with disabilities. They say Social Security needs to improve the other ways people would get the same information. They say people who call the agency’s 800 number deal with long wait times. They report people having login problems on the my SSA web portal. The changes are supposed to begin on Aug. 1. (Social Security Works)
  • The Office of Personnel Management says its human resources training website has saved $100 million 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 Obama administration is ordering the release of data about doctors that’s been kept secret for decades. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will post online the billing information of nearly 900,000 doctors. The American Medical Association has argued to keep the data secret. They’ve been upheld in court cases. But Medicaid Deputy Administrator Jonathan Blum tells the AMA, the data will come out as early as next week. He says it will lead to more innovation and lower costs for health care. Doctors worry they won’t have a chance to correct mistaken information before it is posted. (Associated Press)
  • The U.S. Mint has already sold out of gold coins it launched just a few days ago. To coincide with the opening of the baseball season, Treasurer Rosie Rios announced new coins to commemorate the Baseball Hall of Fame. Proof and uncirculated five-dollar gold pieces are already gone. They sold for about $425 each. The Mint was only authorized to strike 50,000 of them. But collectors can still buy silver dollars and silver-clad half dollars. Many of them won’t ship until June. Rios rolled out the Hall of Fame coins with much fanfare last week, joined by baseball figures and members of Congress. The coins commemorate the Baseball Hall of Fame’s 75th anniversary this year. They show a ball on one side and a glove on the other. (Treasury Department)
  • The Senate Intelligence Committee is expected to approve declassifying part of a secret report post 9/11 interrogations. The CIA and White House don’t want the report released. Critics of the release say the committee failed to interview the CIA officials who authorized or supervised the interrogations. Congressional aides and outside experts familiar with the document say it is deeply critical of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods. It says that such practices provided no key evidence in the hunt for Osama bin Laden. The CIA has disputed those conclusions. (Associated Press)
  • 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)