Thursday federal headlines – June 12, 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.

  • House and Senate members express optimism they can get a unified Veterans Affairs bill to the President this week. That’s after the Senate easily passes a compromise bill of its own. Both versions expedite health care from the private sector for veterans unable to get timely appointments with the VA. The Senate bill authorizes $35 billion over three years to hire more medical staff and open more clinics. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) calls the VA situation an emergency and that other reforms will be needed. FBI Director James Comey reveals VA employees are under criminal investigation for allegations they falsified records related to scheduling. (Associated Press)
  • The FBI is investigating employees of the Veterans Affairs Department accused of falsifying patient waiting lists. Director James Comey says agents in the bureau’s Phoenix field office are leading the investigation. They are taking their cue from the VA inspector general, who is conducting a national audit of VA patient schedules. Comey says, “we will follow wherever the facts take us.” He spoke at a House hearing. He received praise from members afterwards, several of whom had urged the bureau to look into potential criminal misconduct. (Associated Press)
  • The FBI says thanks, but no thanks, to a big taxpayer database supplied by the IRS. FBI Director James Comey tells the House Judiciary Committee, he returned the database to the IRS without the FBI having used it. Comey was being questioned in connection with allegations the IRS targeted conservative groups by delaying their tax exempt applications. The IRS delivered the million-page database in 2010, before mid-term elections. It contained private taxpayer information that is illegal to release without a judge’s order. The Wall Street Journal reports, Comey says agents looked no further than the table of contents. (Wall Street Journal)
  • Stung by the accidental outing of a CIA station chief, the Obama administration takes steps to avoid a replay. The moves come after review of the President’s Memorial Day visit to Afghanistan. A White House press release that day inadvertently identified the person’s name and his job. In the future, names of participants in events will be cleared with both the people themselves and with National Security Council. White House staffers will receive more training in the handling of sensitive information. (Associated Press)
  • A two-time federal chief information officer is about to start his third tour of federal duty. Sources confirm reports that Steve Cooper will be named CIO of the Commerce Department. Now in private consulting, Cooper was CIO of the FAA Air Traffic Control organization and earlier, of the Homeland Security Department. Cooper is now a principal at Deep Water Point consulting and a guest lecturer at the National Defense University’s iCollege. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Homeland Security Department is reviewing policies that have led it to free some immigrants convicted of crimes. DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson tells Congress he has asked his staff for a deeper understanding of the issue. He says the policies are based on a Supreme Court ruling. They direct the government to release criminal immigrants who cannot be sent to their home countries within six months. The Obama administration says it has released 36,000 criminal immigrants living in the country illegally. Nearly all of them still face deportation. They are supposed to check in with immigration authorities while their cases are pending. (Associated Press)
  • Advocacy groups accuse Customs and Border Protection of mistreating more than 100 children caught illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. The five groups have filed a complaint with DHS. They say border patrol agents have packed children into cold cells, forced them to sleep on hard floors and failed to provide them with medical care. The groups want DHS to investigate and set up an independent oversight body. CBP says it does not tolerate misconduct and is taking “extraordinary measures” to deal with the surge of unaccompanied children coming from Central America. The agency arrested 47,000 children on the border from October through May, up 92 percent from the same period a year earlier. Law requires the agency to transfer the children to the Health and Human Services Department within 72 hours of arrest. (American Civil Liberties Union)
  • The Defense Department’s top lawyer has been drawn into the controversy over Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. Chief Counsel Stephen Preston tells the House Armed Services Committee, the exchange of Bergdahl for five Taliban leaders is part of a long tradition. Preston acknowledges it’s not state versus state warfare because the Taliban isn’t a country. But, he says, the United States and the Taliban had detained combatants held by opposing forces. He says it wasn’t necessary to classify detainees as prisoners of war to make them eligible for an exchange. Last week’s switch-off left members of Congress from both parties upset with the exchange and that the administration didn’t notify them in advance. (Defense Department)
  • Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel tries to diffuse tension between Washington, D.C., and the states over potential cuts to the Army National Guard. In a letter to governors, Hagel defends the fiscal 2015 budget for the Guard. He says he does not support an independent commission to review the Army’s structure. Conflict has centered on plans to trim the Guard and Reserve and to give the Guard’s Apache attack helicopters to the active force. Governors have complained that the Army is trying to keep its budget request low by sacrificing the Guard. Hagel notes that the Guard would get other helicopters as part of the deal. (Breaking Defense)