Thursday federal headlines – June 19, 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 Veterans Affairs Department is getting a clearer picture of how long most vets wait for medical appointments. Acting Secretary Sloan Gibson says about 10 percent of them wait at least 30 days. That’s double the percentage VA reported last week. Gibson says the change is because of better statistics. He says schedulers are starting to report more accurate wait-time data. A full report on wait times is due today. VA has been stung by an inspector general report showing some vets wait months to get an appointment. Gibson directs all hospital and clinic heads to conduct monthly in- person reviews of scheduling practices. (Associated Press)
  • A new bill is aimed at increasing federal contracting for women-owned small businesses. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) introduced it, with cosponsorship from Sens. Maria Cantwell (D- Was.) and Kirstin Gillibrand (D-N.Y.). Shaheen wants to give teeth to a 2011 Small Business Administration initiative. The bill would remove restrictions on sole- sourcing with women-owned small businesses. That measure would bring the Women- Owned Small Business program parity with other set-aside programs. It would also move up the date of a study the SBA is supposed to do, measuring industries where women-owned businesses are under-represented in federal contractors. Now due in 2018, the Shaheen bill would move that to 2015. A similar bill has already passed the House. (Senate)
  • The IRS is trying again to set rules on how much money nonprofits can spend on political campaigns. Commissioner John Koskinen tells the Center for Public Integrity the rules would impact so-called “social welfare,” nonprofits and possibly labor unions and trade associations. The IRS, last month, scuttled its first attempt at the regulations. It received more than 150,000 public comments. Right now, the IRS has to make subjective decisions on whether nonprofits are too political to be exempt from taxes. (IRS)
  • The Federal Trade Commission spies a new weapon in its fight against robocalls. Later this summer,the FTC will appeal to hackers attending DEF-CON in Las Vegas. It will hold a contest to see who can use their tech savvy to catch the criminals who make those annoying recorded phone calls. The commission says it hopes someone will come up with an information system called a “honeypot” that will attract robocallers, so law enforcement can nab them. The FTC says it receives more than 150,000 complaints about robocalls each month. (Federal Trade Commission)
  • A conservation group sues the Obama administration over a rule change regarding wind farms and eagles. The Fish and Wildlife Service extended from five years to 30 years the period that wind farm operators have for immunity from eagle deaths. The American Bird Conservancy says the agency didn’t do a proper impact study. The administration says the rule change was administrative, which excluded it from an environmental review. Wind farms kill thousands of birds of all types each year. (Associated Press)
  • Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James says the readiness levels in her service have atrophied. She tells the Defense Writers Group, the number of units at full readiness has shrunk. She cites conflict in Ukraine and Iraq as situations the Air Force could be summoned to deal with. James says the Air Force can’t buy weapons of the future and the training to operate them if it’s saddled with legacy platforms Congress won’t let it retire. She’s also dealing with the need to reduce headcount in the Air Force. James says that if buyouts don’t do the trick, the Air Force will resort to layoffs. (Defense Department)
  • The Pentagon says it has recovered the remains of 17 service members whose plane crashed in Alaska more than 60 years ago. An Alaska National Guard helicopter crew had spotted the wreckage of the C-124 Globemaster back in 2012. Since then, Defense Department scientists have been working to recover and identify remains using forensic and circumstantial evidence. The remains of 35 others who were on board that fatal flight are still missing. The Defense Department says it continues to monitor the site. Nonetheless, the news marks a victory for the Pentagon’s troubled Joint POWMIA Accounting Command. An internal review last year found mismanagement had put the mission at risk. (Defense Department)
  • A former Marine who placed himself between a grenade and other service members in Afghanistan is receiving the Medal of Honor this afternoon. President Barack Obama will present the nation’s highest military award to Kyle Carpenter. Carpenter was wounded during the 2010 attack on his patrol base in southern Afghanistan. He lost his right eye and suffered other injuries. He retired last summer and now studies at the University of South Carolina. (Associated Press)