Friday federal headlines – July 25, 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 House Oversight and Government Reform Committee approves a bill that’s tough on federal executives. The Senior Executive Service Accountability Act is sponsored by Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Tim Walberg (R-Mich.). It would require agencies to set performance metrics before hiring an SESer. It would double their probation period to two years, and it would make firing senior execs easier. Reps. Steve Lynch (D-Mass.) and Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) removed two of the harshest measures. One would have cut the notice-of-firing time in half to 15 days. The other would have required SES members to use unpaid leave while on probation. (Federal News Radio)
  • Congress is scheduled to recess in a week, but the House and Senate are far apart in their competing bills for Veterans Affairs reform. Both chambers back off from earlier plans to spend up to $35 billion for more doctors and facilities. The Senate version, sponsored by Bernie Sanders (I-Vt,), has a $25 billion price tag. The House version, lead by Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), would cost $10 billion. The White House says it wants something just about midway between the two. VA has been hit with reports of long waiting times, poor care and whistleblower retaliation. Acting Secretary Sloan Gibson tells Senators, a new patient scheduling system won’t be ready before 2016. (Associated Press)
  • More members of Congress are asking why the Homeland Security Department would award a contract to a company facing charges of faking thousands of security-clearance reviews. Sens. Tom Carper (D- Del.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), both in key positions on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, want answers from Secretary Jeh Johnson. In a letter, they say the Citizenship and Immigration Services awarded a $190 million contract to U.S. Investigative Services. The Senators say the agency evaluated the company’s proposal as “low risk,” even though it faces fraud charges. The letter echoes concerns voiced last week by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md,). (Senate)
  • President Obama names a long time employee of the National Institute of Standards and Technology to be its new head. He nominates Willie May to be the next undersecretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology. May is now the the acting director as well as associate director for Laboratory Programs. He joined the agency in 1982, working in research and measurement service programs for chemistry and biology. He holds leadership positions in several international scientific committees, and he’s a member of the Board of Visitors for the University of Maryland, where he received his Ph.D. (National Institute of Standards and Technology)
  • With new safety protocols in place, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention resumes transfer of high-risk bio materials. The first lab to get back into business is one that works with tuberculosis. CDC Director Tom Frieden, along with the agency’s new director of lab safety, and a new working group vetted the lab’s safety plan. The working group is reviewing procedures at every lab in the agency. The CDC also is creating an advisory group of outside experts. It will look at the agency’s culture, as well as its safety procedures. Earlier this month, Frieden learned that two labs had improperly shipped samples of anthrax and the flu. Those labs remain closed. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
  • Navy Secretary Ray Mabus says operating costs for the service’s newest ships will decline and “become more normal” over time. The Navy designed the littoral combat ships to have smaller crews and cost less than other surface ships. But the Government Accountability Office puts operating expenses at $79 million a year per ship. That’s 1.5 times the yearly cost of a frigate, which is larger and carries more sailors. Mabus says the government watchdog is always concerned about operating costs. He spoke while touring the USS Independence in Hawaii. It’s the second littoral combat ship to be commissioned. (Associated Press)
  • The military is revamping its mail operations to save $4 million a year. James Clark of the Military Postal Service Agency says the changes begin this fall. They will better align the system with the U.S. Postal Service. In the biggest change, the agency will cut four steps out of the cumbersome process of forwarding mail when a recipient has moved. No longer will someone have to manually re-label the addresses. It will be automated. Success depends on military families remembering to file their new addresses with USPS, too. (Defense Department)
  • The Army War College is drawn into a brouhaha over a Senator and former student in a tough election fight. College officials say they’ll investigate allegations that Sen. John Walsh (D-Mont.) plagiarized large sections of his master’s degree research thesis. In a statement, the college says its own analysis of the paper showed reasonable cause to refer the case to its academic review board. Montana Gov. Steve Bullock appointed Walsh this year to replace Max Baucus, who became ambassador to China. The New York Times reported large passages in Walsh’s thesis from 2007 are nearly identical to material published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Walsh is the only Senator who is a veteran of the war in Iraq. (Associated Press)