Wednesday federal headlines – May 21, 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 Homeland Security cyber officials are asking Congress to clarify their role governmentwide cybersecurity. They say the current fuzziness has delayed agencies’ response to threats such as the recent Heartbleed virus. Larry Zelvin, director of the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center, appears before a House Homeland Security subcommittee Wednesday. He’s expected to make the case for DHS to have more authority for civilian agency cyber matters. In particular, DHS wants faster deployment of its Einstein III intrusion detection gear throughout the government. Congress has been debating cybersecurity legislation for several years. (Federal News Radio)
  • Unionized Federal Emergency Management Agency employees now have a single bargaining representative, the American Federation of Government Employees. AFGE was certified following a ruling by the Federal Labor Relations Authority. The ruling gave the go-ahead for nine individual bargaining units to consolidate. Gerald Collins, the president of the AFGE local in Atlanta, was elected interim president of the FEMA group. The union says the new bargaining unit contains 2,500 employees, including those in the greater Washington D.C. Region. (AFGE)
  • The FBI is considering loosening a rule against hiring anyone who has smoked marijuana in the previous three years. Director James Comey says there’s a practical reason. The bureau needs to hire hundreds of cybersecurity and hacker experts, and many of them indulge in pot. Comey discussed the possible new personnel policy at a conference in New York. Congress gave the FBI authority to hire 2,000 new people this year. Many will be experts in cybersecurity experts, a rising priority for the agency. (Wall Street Journal)
  • The House will consider a measure to protect 170,000 civilian employees of the Defense Department from furloughs. A proposed amendment to the 2015 defense authorization bill would cover employees paid through working capital funds rather than appropriations. The includes people at the Defense Logistics Agency and Defense Finance and Accounting Service. During last year’s widespread furloughs, Defense officials said they had legal authority to include working capital fund employees. The measure to remove that authority was introduced by Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) and Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.) The House could take up the full 2015 National Defense Authorization Act Wednesday or Thursday. The president has threatened a veto for reasons unrelated to the furlough measure. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Social Security Administration is failing to take discrimination complaints seriously. Three senior Maryland lawmakers pen a detailed letter to the head of the Baltimore- based agency. They cite a report and more than 60 recommendations by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Social Security has moved on some but not all of them. The lawmakers say the agency continues to bury its equal-employment officers under layers of managers, rather than giving them a direct line to agency leaders. The officers complain of a lack of resources and training. (House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform)
  • The Forest Service is adding four planes to its fire- fighting fleet ahead of what the agency predicts will be a “catastrophic” wildfire season. In total, it will have 21 large airtankers and more than 100 helicopters. The agency expects to run out of money by July, however, two months before the end of the fiscal year. It is asking for an increase of $100 million to fight fires in fiscal 2015. The agency wants another $954 million for a disaster funding pool to avoid draining its fire-prevention programs. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says the government needs to think about forest fires in the same way it considers natural disasters like tornadoes, floods and hurricanes. (Associated Press)
  • Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki would have more authority to fire or demote senior executives under a bill headed to the House floor. The bill targets about 450 career officials who serve as hospital directors or regional managers. It comes from Jeff Miller, the Republican head of the House Veterans Affairs Committee. The measure comes as pressure builds on the VA to respond to allegations of fatal delays at its health facilities. The agency’s inspector general has expanded his investigation to 26 facilities nationwide. That’s up from 10 last week. (Associated Press)
  • As immigration legislation stalls in Congress, the Pentagon considers a unilateral move to let some illegal immigrants serve in the military. It would only apply to those who have sought relief under the two-year-old Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. To meet the program’s requirements, they would have had to come to the United States as children. About half a million immigrants have benefited from the program, out of more than 11 million thought to be living in the shadows. House Speaker John Boehner has rejected a similar bill by Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) That bill would let illegal immigrants who serve in the military qualify for green cards. (Associated Press)