Friday federal headlines — May 16, 2014

The Morning Federal Newscast is a daily compilation of the stories you hear frustrated Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. Washington Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) says the VA needs decisive action to restore veterans’ confidence. Shinseki promised a preliminary report within three weeks on treatment delays and falsified patient logs. He says in both 2012 and 2013 the agency “involuntarily removed” 3,000 employees — or 1 percent of its workforce — for poor performance or misconduct. He says they were reassigned, retired or fired. (Associated Press)

  • Divorcees are cheating the IRS out of its share of alimony. The inspector general, in examining tax returns for 2010, found nearly half, or 47 percent, of those in which someone claimed an alimony deduction were wrong. Their numbers didn’t match up with the income reported by their ex-spouse. The IG says there’s a tax gap of $2.3 billion and that the IRS needs a better way to flag discrepancies. The agency says it is improving its computer filters to catch mismatches. But budget constraints prevent it from fulfilling other recommendations like sending taxpayers notices when the numbers don’t add up. (Inspector General)
  • The Defense Department fired or disciplined nearly 500 employees for sexual harassment in 2013. More than 100 of the complaints involved repeat offenders. That’s according to the first formal DOD report on sexual harrassment, which says that nearly 1400 complaints were filed involving about 500 offenders. In most cases, the victim was a young, lower-ranking woman and the offender a senior enlisted service member. The most frequent location for the harrassment was a military base. Punishments ranged from court martial or firing to pay cuts, demotions and letters of reprimand. The report points out that outright sexual assault is often preceded by harrassment. (Associated Press)
  • Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson says he’s looking to revise a program used to identify illegal immigrants who commit other crimes. He tells a public television show that the Secure Communities program needs a fresh start. It allows Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to ask local police to detain people whose fingerprints match a database of immigration violators. Immigration advocates say it’s led to people being deported for minor offenses, while some local police officials say it hinders cooperation from people afraid of being deported. (Associated Press)
  • The FCC voted along party lines to propose rules for so-called net neutrality. The rules are favored by Chairman Tom Wheeler and the other two Democratic commissioners, while the two Republicans oppose the measure. Wheeler wants to let internet service providers charge heavy users for priority, high-speed access and to classify them as common carriers, so their services can be regulated like phone companies. Internet companies are divided over the proposal, with content creators generally opposed. Wheeler wants the rules in place by the end of the year. But there will be a comment period for the next 120 days. (Associated Press)
  • The Air Force will give select airmen three years off to start families. The Air Force Times reports on a pilot program to launch later this year that will include 20 officers and 20 enlisted airmen, both male and female. The service wants to provide an option for members who might otherwise leave or delay having children. Officials say they’ll choose participants selectively since they want people with high potential. They are still working out the details but insist the participants will not miss out on promotions or career opportunities. (The Air Force Times)
  • Republican House members worry U.S. astronauts will be stuck on Earth if Russia makes good on its latest threats. GOP leaders of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee send a letter to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden saying they may have to re-evaluate the long-term prospects of the International Space Station and suggesting that Bolden is being naïve. NASA has downplayed comments by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin. In Tweets Rogozin has said Russia will end the partnership in 2020. A NASA spokesman says the agency has not been told of any changes and it relies on the Russian Space Agency to send astronauts to the station. (House)
  • State Department officials acknowledge they could have acted sooner to designate Nigeria’s Boko Haram as a foreign terrorist group. They say they deferred doing so because of objections from the Nigerian government. Africa specialist Robert Jackson, in appearing before a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee, says it’s impossible to know whether an earlier terrorist designation would have had much impact. During questioning by Sen. Marco Rubio, the officials say the Boko Harram question came up two years ago. At that time. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made the decision to withhold the designation. Alice Friend, the Defense Department’s principal director for Africa, tells senators, Nigeria has failed to take on Boko Haram. (Associated Press)