Wednesday federal headlines – May 28, 2014

  • Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has ordered what his spokesman calls a comprehensive review of the military health system. The order comes amid several ongoing investigations of health care service from the Veterans Administration. Hagel taps Jonathan Woodson, the assistant secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, to lead the DoD review. He’s got 90 days to complete the exam. It will look at whether access to military health care is up to snuff. And it will check on the safety and quality of health care. Hagel was scheduled to discuss the review today with the service secretaries. The military health system covers 9.6 million people. (Defense Department)
  • Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack designates eight watersheds across the country as Critical Conservation Areas. That means they’ll get extra attention from federal and regional authorities, working with interested groups. Each watershed has its own plan for cleanup and preservation. The Cheasapeake Bay watershed is among the eight areas. By USDA’s reckoning, it reaches from southern Virginia to central New York State. The top priority for the Chesapeake is reduction of nitrogen and phosphorus draining into it. Other designated areas include the entire Great Lakes region and the California Bay Delta. (U.S. Agriculture Department)
  • Troops will leave Afghanistan just about the same time President Barack Obama leaves the White House. The president outlines plans for final withdrawal. He plans to keep 10,000 troops there in 2015, but pull everyone out by the end of 2016. Some Congressional Republicans criticize the plan, saying it will embolden the enemy. Obama says Afghanistan will never be a perfect place and it’s not the United States’ job to make it one. Afghan president Hamid Karzai won’t sign off on Obama’s plan. But he’s leaving soon, and both candidates to succeed him pledge to go along with the plans. (Associated Press)
  • The Justice Department and the House Oversight and Government Reform committee are at a standoff. Yesterday, Jack Smith, the chief of Justice’s Public Integrity Section, was supposed to testify. His topic: Whether Justice aided the IRS is targeting conservative non-profits. Smith didn’t show up and the committee had no updated schedule. Justice sent a letter to Committee Chairman Darrel Issa (R-Calif.). It says Justice routinely turns down requests to have prosecutors testify. That’s to keep them out of politics. Chairman Issa has been insisting Justice and the IRS colluded to withhold tax-exempt status from certain applications before the 2012 elections. Justice officials deny the charge. (GovExec)
  • President Barack Obama is holding back an executive review of immigration policies to give Congress another chance to pass a bill. Senior White House officials say the President asked Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson not to release results of his review until the end of the summer. Johnson has been looking into ways to make deportation practices more humane. House Republicans say the review shows they can’t trust the president to enforce the laws. Johnson has been mum on details, except to say he is considering expanding a program that offers some relief to immigrants who came to the United States illegally as children. (Associated Press)
  • A computer hacker facing 20 years in prison goes free after helping federal agencies thwart cyber attacks. Hector Xavier Monsegur helped disrupt attacks on Congress, NASA, the armed forces and other targets. Prosecutors say he saved the government time and resources. U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska says Monsegur showed “extraordinary cooperation” in working against at least 300 computer hacks. Monsegur was arrested in 2011 for leading the criminal hacker group Lulz Sec. He spent seven months in prison. (Associated Press)
  • Tribal leaders say the federal government’s health care system is failing American Indians. Clinics run by the Indian Health Service mis-diagnose illnesses, deny payments and lack enough trained medical staff. The leaders accuse the agency of having a bloated bureaucracy. At a special Senate hearing in Montana, the leaders pressed lawmakers to overhaul the system. Indian Health Service acting director Yvette Roubideaux says the agency is streamlining its processes. She says more needs to be done but her $4.4 billion budget isn’t enough to do it. (Associated Press)