Tuesday federal headlines – June 24, 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 FederalNewsRadio.com users more information about the stories you hear on the air.

  • The Office of Special Counsel says Veterans Affairs managers often dismiss valid whistleblower complaints. And that’s masked cases of instances of patient abuse. In a letter to the White House, Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner questions what she calls VA’s typical harmless error response. The result is what Lerner calls a troubling pattern of deficient patient care. The Special Counsel probe shows problems at Veterans Affairs go beyond long wait times for appointments. Whistleblowers have revealed mishandling of surgical instruments and contaminated drinking water. So far 29 cases out of 50 have been referred to VA for investigation. (Associated Press)
  • IRS Commissioner John Koskinen tells the House Oversight committee, he’s seen no evidence of a crime in the loss of emails from the tax exempt division. Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) tells Koskinen, we have a problem with you and you have a problem maintaining your credibility. The tough exchanges took place in a four hour hearing last evening. One point of contention was an apparent IRS delay in telling the committee about computer crashes that destroyed the emails. The hearings continue today. Issa subpoenaed Jennifer O’Connor, the former IRS official who gathered documents for hearings over the past year. She now works in the White House legal office. (Associated Press)
  • One cliché about federal employment turns out to be true. Few people get fired from the government. That’s according to figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Federal Times reports, the percentage of federal employees has fallen in the last five years to less than one half of one percent. In the private sector, a full three percent of employees are fired each year. The greatest number of federal firings take place at the Transportation Security Administration. Low- wage workers are far more likely to be fired than middle or upper managers. Members of the Senior Executive Service are least likely to be booted out. (Federal Times)
  • President Obama wants the federal workplace to be more family friendly. He orders the Office of Personnel Management to make sure employees know about workplace flexibilities available to them such as non-standard hours and teleworking. Agencies have 120 days to come up with fresh plans for informing employees of their rights. Obama wants to make sure employees exercise options such as leave for child adoption, bereavement or the health emergency of a family member. The president views federal workplace flexibilities as a tool for attracting and retaining talent. He’s pushing for legislation to make some of the same benefits mandatory in the private sector. (White House)
  • Fewer than half of Americans who need mental health care receive it. With that in mind, the Office of Personnel Management tells agency leaders to talk with employees about mental health and well-being. Supervisors should pay attention if employees’ behavior changes. For example, they may become indecisive, miss deadlines repeatedly or come to work late. OPM encourages managers to refer workers showing symptoms of mental health problems to the confidential Employee Assistance Program. In a memo, OPM says do it quickly because you may be able to help someone and avert a crisis. (Federal News Radio)
  • The newly elected House majority leader already is picking a fight with the White House over a small agency that most people in the United States have never heard of. The White House rejects Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) idea of phasing out the Export-Import Bank. The agency guarantees loans and gives other financial assistance to foreign buyers of American-made products. White House spokesman Josh Earnest says the bank returned $1 billion to the Treasury last year. Its charter expires in September. If it is not renewed, the bank will not be able to back new loans. McCarthy says the private sector can do the job. It’s been a bumpy few months inside the agency. The Wall Street Journal reports, the Export-Import Bank has suspended or removed four officials. One employee is accused of accepting cash from a Florida exporter seeking financial help. Two employees are accused of improperly awarding contracts. The fourth allegedly accepted gifts on behalf of a company seeking financing. Agency officials will testify tomorrow before Congress. (Associated Press)
  • An F-35 Joint Strike Fighter caught fire just before takeoff. The incident occurred at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. Defense News reports, the pilot escaped safely and a ground crew put out the fire with foam. Eglin is where Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps pilots go to train how to fly the F-35. The plane is still in the development and test phase, not yet approved for combat. Another incident in June involving the F-35’s engine temporarily halted test flights. Prime Contractor Lockheed has delivered 100 of the jets. So far, none have been destroyed. The Pentagon plans to buy more than two thousand F-35s. (Defense News)
  • For your next vacation, you may want to try an Air Force test range. A Holiday Inn Resort has opened in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. It’s a pristine location, precisely because it’s on undeveloped Air Force property. In exchange, the Innisfree Hotel company has propped what looks like a large beach ball on the roof of the resort. It’s really a radar test station, just painted red, white, blue and yellow to not scare off guests. To the military, it’s known as Eglin Air Force Range Test Site A-5. The hotel has a secure conference room for classified meetings. The company pays about $190,000 a year in rent. (Associated Press)