Friday federal headlines – June 6, 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 Office of Personnel Management makes big strides in cutting the longstanding backlog of pending retirement claims. In the first half of 2014, OPM says claims are down by 38 percent to about 14,500. OPM processed nearly 10,500 retirement applications last month. This is the third time in a row the agency has cleared more than 10,000 cases in a single month. OPM says it wants to have the claims inventory down to a more manageable level, so it can begin processing 90 percent of cases within 60 days. (Federal News Radio)
  • Senators announce a bipartisan deal to address the crisis at the Veterans Affairs Department. The bill authorizes $500 million to hire more doctors and nurses. It also allows veterans to use hospitals outside the VA health care system and gives more authority to the secretary to fire employees for incompetence. The agreement merges about a dozen major proposals advanced by House and Senate lawmakers in recent weeks. Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) announced the bill late Thursday. (Associated Press)
  • The Office of Special Counsel is looking into allegations that Veterans Affairs superiors punished employees who tried to report patient mistreatment. Thirty-seven workers across the nation say managers retaliated against them, often by threatening to suspend them without pay or reassigning them to lesser jobs. The employees had gone to officials or the inspector general with stories about improper scheduling and coding procedures. One tried to blow the whistle on colleagues who used patient restraints, violating VA rules. These new complaints come on top of 49 others that the office is already investigating, for a total of 80 claims. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Senate has confirmed Sylvia Mathews Burwell as Health and Human Services secretary. She won in a bipartisan show of support, 78 to 17. She had been director of the Office of Management and Budget. Burwell will have little time to settle in. Although millions have enrolled in government-run health care exchanges, some two million have data discrepancies in their applications. The next enrollment period starts Nov. 15. The President has nominated Shaun Donovan, now the secretary of Housing and Urban Development, to replace Burwell. (Associated Press)
  • Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has tapped the top commander in Afghanistan to be the next Marine Corps commandant. The choice of Gen. Joseph Dunford comes as no surprise. He was the assistant commandant before heading to Afghanistan two years ago. But it’s not clear who will take his place as the military withdraws from Afghanistan. Speaking at a NATO meeting in Brussels, Dunford says he’s confident 12,000 allied troops will remain in the country to train and assist Afghan forces. He says the Afghans need to improve their air force, logistical systems and abilities to plan for, budget and buy needed equipment. (Defense Department)
  • Those who were in the know have issued an explanation for why most members of Congress were kept in the dark about negotiations between the United States and the Taliban. Two unnamed senior officials from Congress and the White House say they worried the Taliban would kill their captive, Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, if word got out. In a deal that’s proven controversial, Bergdhal was exchanged for five top Taliban leaders. They were released from Guantanamo Bay and shipped to Qatar. A federal law requires Congress to be told 30 days before a prisoner is released from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. (Associated Press)
  • The administration’s new version of its open government plan emphasizes access to federal scientific collections. It directs agencies with sets of physical objects to come up with plans to make them more accessible and to manage them more carefully. Those plans are due Sept. 20. The revised strategy envisions improvements at the Veterans Affairs Department. It directs Presidential Innovation Fellows to focus on what it calls a 21st century veterans experience that’s digital by default. The public will get to meet science and technology leaders virtually in Google-plus hangouts called “We the Geeks.” (Federal News Radio)
  • The situation for the Border Patrol on the Mexico border is going from bad to worse. Deputy Chief Ronald Vitiello warns the White House, last week’s calculation of the number of unaccompanied minors crossing into the United States was too low. He’s upped the estimate from 60,000 this year to 90,000. He says next year the number could hit more than 140,000. Vitello’s memo to the National Security Council was obtained by the Associated Press. It describes an overwhelmed Border Patrol having to fly some migrants out of Texas to other border states where agents aren’t as busy. (Associated Press)