Wednesday federal headlines – April 2, 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.

  • The Veterans Affairs Department says it has cut its backlog of disability claims nearly in half over the last year. The number of applications more than four months old stands at 344,000, down from a peak of 611,000 in March 2013. In a statement, VA credits an automated processing system installed in every region ahead of schedule. Staff have worked overtime. And they’ve been able to off load some 100,000-plus cases involving exposure to Agent Orange during Vietnam. At the same time, veterans appealing their claims have had to wait longer for decisions — an average of two-and-a-half years. (Federal News Radio)
  • It’s time to scrap the 65-year-old federal personnel system. That’s the essential finding from a study by Booz Allen Hamilton and the Partnership for Public Service. The study calls the General Schedule system a “relic of a bygone era.” Booz Allen calls for replacing the 15-level grade system with five broad categories. Technical and managerial employees would be on parallel promotion tracks. The plan would overhaul the senior executive service and give agencies more hiring flexibilities. (Federal News Radio)
  • Metro riders: have faith. The National Treasury Employees Union holds out hope that Congress will restore full mass transit benefits to federal employees. The union lobbies the Senate Finance Committee to approve a bill today. It would raise the cap on transit benefits from $130 per month to $250. That would put the transit benefit on par with the maximum that drivers receive for parking. The measure would cover all of this calendar year and go through 2015. A similar law expired last year, dropping transit benefits to the current level and giving drivers a slight financial edge. (National Treasury Employees Union)
  • A new 2015 budget plan would require federal employees to contribute more to their pensions. The plan comes from Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the chairman of the House Budget Committee. It’s designed to curtail federal spending by more than $5 trillion over the next 10 years. Employees would contribute 6.4 percent of their salaries towards the federal pension program. That compares with the current rate of less than 1 percent for employees hired before 2013. Ryan’s plan would also eliminate the special supplemental payment for FERS employees who retire at the age of 62 and aren’t yet eligible for Social Security. The proposals would save about $125 billion over 10 years, according to Ryan’s projections. (Federal News Radio)
  • A House panel says the Commerce Inspector General’s office is retaliating against its own whistleblowers. Republican and Democratic members together urge the IG to fire two senior managers: his top legal adviser and the person who oversees whistleblower protection. In a letter to Inspector General Todd Zinser, the lawmakers say the two officials threatened employees with poor performance appraisals if they reported misconduct. Zinser, they say, has failed to hold his managers accountable. The members of the Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Oversight cite a report by the Office of Special Counsel. (House)
  • Secret Service Director Julia Pierson tries to reassure Senators she won’t tolerate misbehavior by agents assigned to protect the President. She tells the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee, the latest episode was an isolated incident. Several agents drank the night before their shift while on assignment in the Netherlands. One was passed out in a hotel hallway. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson attended part of the closed-door hearing to show support for Pierson. (Associated Press)
  • President Barack Obama nominates Air Force Maj. Gen. Wendy Masiello to lead the Defense Contract Management Agency and become a lieutenant general. As the Air Force Deputy Assistant Secretary for Contracting, Masiello reorganized staff after losing three dozen veteran contracting officers. Her approach was to crowdsource acquisition by pulling teams together from major commands across the globe. (Defense Department)
  • The Defense Department has granted a semiconductor manufacturer special status known as “trusted design.” That makes the company one of only a few to have trusted accreditations in three categories: design, foundry and broker. The designations are made by the Defense MicroElectronics Activity. The company, ON Semiconductor, makes custom integrated circuits, or ICs. It received its trusted certifications for a factory in Pocatello, Idaho. The trusted IC program is designed to make sure that circuits the DoD buys are secure from manufacturing through delivery. ON Semiconductor says now its design engineers can do their work without have a third party watching. (ON Semiconductor)