Friday Federal Headlines — May 9, 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.

  • A group of cabinet secretaries has vowed to take on the problem of low employee morale. The group was convened by the Partnership for Public Service as part of Public Service Recognition Week. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson says the perception is spreading that the federal bureaucracy doesn’t work for the public. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker frets about the notion that the federal government doesn’t matter. Labor Secretary Tom Perez promises to restart programs to recognize employees with non-monetary rewards. Johnson says he’s working to fill vacant leadership position. (Federal News Radio)
  • Sylvia Mathews Burwell, President Obama’s nominee for Health and Human Services secretary, is getting support from Republican senators. But that doesn’t stop them from challenging her on the Affordable Care Act. In her first confirmation hearing, Burwell defended Obamacare. She says the measure has improved the economy and expanded coverage. Senator Lamar Alexander tells her Republicans would like to repair the damage the ACA has done. Still, Republican John McCain says he’ll vote for Burwell and calls her a tremendous asset. Burwell is currently director of the Office of Management and Budget. (Associated Press)
  • The House Judiciary and Intelligence committees have approved a bill to end the National Security Agency’s collection of Americans’ phone records. The bill would strengthen privacy protections and require more transparency in how often companies cooperate with the NSA. A full House vote on the measure could take place this month. The Senate Judiciary Committee is still working on its bill. Chairman Patrick Leahy says it could be ready for debate this summer. (Associated Press)
  • The House Veterans Affairs Committee has jumped into the hospital scandal engulfing the VA. It has voted unanimously to subpoena records related to the waiting list at the VA’s Phoenix hospital. The subpoena has a May 19 deadline. A whistleblower says 40 people died there while waiting to get medical help. VA Secretary Eric Shinseki has ordered a nationwide audit of access policies. He brushes aside calls for his resignation. House Speaker John Boehner has also expressed support for Shinseki’s. (Associated Press)
  • About 200 U.S. special operations forces and support staff will participate in training exercises across Europe. Locations will include the three Baltic nations. It’s part of U.S. efforts to reassure allies spooked by Russian moves on Crimea and other parts of the Ukraine. The Pentagon says about 40 special operations forces are now taking part in the two-week Exercise Spring Storm in Estonia. About 140 will participate in Exercise Flaming Sword in Latvia and Lithuania this month. A third exercise, called Namejs, will also take place in Latvia. The Pentagon says small teams of U.S. commandos will take part in language, cultural skills and tactical training in the next two months. (Associated Press)
  • The Justice Department has accused 11 federal employees of making false workers’ compensation claims. The Manhattan U.S. attorney says some of these employees exaggerated injuries they incurred on the job. Some failed to report other income while collecting disability payments. All but one of the accused works for the Postal Service. U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara says all of the defendants “showed remarkable strength and vigor,” considering they were thought to have debilitating injuries. In one case, a postal service employee who claimed to have severe Carpal Tunnel Syndrome was seen at a gym lifting free weights and boxing. (Justice Department)
  • Service members would get annual mental-health check-ups under a new Senate bill. Indiana’s Joe Donnelly says it could help prevent suicides. The Defense Secretary would give Congress an annual report on the number of troops referred for further mental health care and services, and the bill would establish a working group to focus on the mental health care of members of the National Guard and Reserves. The most recent data shows more suicides among Guard and Reserve members while the numbers are going down everywhere else in the military. (Senate bill)