Wednesday federal headlines – June 11, 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 IRS adopts a first-ever taxpayers bill of rights. It lists 10 conditions citizens should be able to expect when dealing with the agency. IRS employees have a reference point when dealing with taxpayers. Commissioner John Koskinen says the bill of rights came after he spent the spring visiting 28 IRS offices and meeting with 10,000 employees. He also says he consulted with Nina Olsen, the national taxpayer advocate. Topping off the list: The right to a fair and just tax system. (Federal News Radio)
  • The House passes a bill to give veterans facing long waits at the VA access to private physicians. The Senate is expected to pass a similar bill this week. The House bill passed unanimously. It authorizes the VA to save hundreds of millions of dollars by ending bonuses for the next two years. VA would be authorized to spend the savings on hiring more doctors and nurses. The Senate bill goes further. It lets VA lease 26 new health facilities in 17 states, and spend $500 million on doctors and nurses. The congressional moves come in the wake of revelations that VA caused 57,000 veterans to wait more than three months for an initial appointment, and 64,000 requested appointments and never got them. (Associated Press)
  • A bill that would reform the Homeland Security Department’s acquisition process has been approved in the House. The bill would require DHS to report all project over- spending to Congress. Federal Times reports the DHS Acquisition Accountability and Efficiency Act would also 1) allow the chief acquisition officer to approve, stop or modify any acquisition program; 2) Construct an acquisition review board that would look over documents, cost and performance of major projects; and 3) require the program manager to notify DHS officials if the program is slated to be 20 percent over budget or 12 months behind schedule. (Federal Times)
  • For the first time, the Federal Aviation Administration says it’s letting commercial drones fly over land. It’s given the OK to energy producer BP. The company will use the unmanned aircraft to survey pipelines, roads and equipment on Alaska’s North Slope. Congress has told the FAA to let commercial drones access U.S. skies by Sept. 2015. The agency is not expected to finalize safety rules by the deadline. Administrator Michael Huerta says the task is complex because the rules must ensure that the large volume and diversity of manned aircraft in U.S. skies are protected. (Federal Aviation Administration)
  • The Air Force launches a campaign to fix the flaws in its nuclear missile corps. The moves come after a year of training failures, security missteps, leadership lapses, morale problems and breakdowns in discipline. The Air force will offer bonus pay to missileers and fill gaps in their ranks. They’ll offer a nuclear service medal. Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James is leading the effort. She took over last December, in the midst of the lapses. James has recommended raising the missile command’s top officer to full general. That will require approval from Congress. (Associated Press)
  • In a recent solicitation, the Department of the Navy wants to buy 37 million gallons of biofuels. It’s the latest step in a strategy to cut the Navy’s reliance on conventional fuels in half by 2020. The Navy is looking for blends that are between 10 and 50 percent biofuel. The request is part of a $3.5 billion solicitation for the eastern half of the United States. Bids are due in a month. The Navy expects biofuel deliveries to begin in April. Speaking before Congress last month, Navy Assistant Secretary Dennis McGinn says the acquisition “marks the start of the ‘new normal.'” (Navy)
  • Before the U.S. made the prisoner swap — five Afghan Taliban Guantanamo detainees in exchange for Sargeant Bowe Bergdahl — intelligence officials knew two of the detainees would return to senior Taliban positions. Classified analysis predicted two others of the five would also return, in some capacity, to the militant group. The Wall Street Journal reports that the Pentagon and other government officials defended the U.S. action to make the swap, even in light of the intelligence community’s assessment. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will face members of the House Armed Services Committee today at 10 a.m. in a public hearing to discuss the prisoner swap. (Wall Street Journal)
  • Nearly seven years have passed since American security contractors shot and killed 14 Iraqis at a Baghdad intersection. Now four former employees of Blackwater Worldwide will go on trial today. Nicholas Slatten is charged with murder. Three others are charged with voluntary manslaughter. At the time of the shootings, the men were under contract to guard State Department personnel. After an explosion, they began firing. They claim self-defense. The incident sparked international outrage, and caused Blackwater to change its name. The owner eventually sold the company. (Wall Street Journal)