Thursday federal headlines – July 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 users more information about the stories you hear on the air.

  • The House Oversight Committee considers legislation to make it easier to fire federal senior executives. Senior Executive Service members could lose their jobs or be forced to take leave for “efficiency” in addition to misconduct, according to the legislation. The House already has passed a measure to make it easier for the Veterans Affairs secretary to fire SES members at the department. This bill would apply to the entire government. The same panel also marks up a bill to require agencies to name senior officials in charge of records- keeping. The designated employees would have to report missing or destroyed records, including emails, to the archivist and the public. The bill directs agencies to fire employees who intentionally destroy emails and other records. Both bills stem from House Republicans’ frustration with the IRS over lost emails allegedly sent by former tax-exempt director Lois Lerner. She was an SES member until her retirement last year. (House)
  • The new Health and Human Services secretary continues revamping the department by looking to business. Sylvia Burwell has hired former Walmart colleague Leslie Dach for a new position of senior counselor. Burwell says Dach will work on the upcoming open health- insurance season, helping to avoid a repeat of last year’s botched rollout of Dach will work on other key policy challenges and build relations with outside stakeholders. At Wal-Mart, Dach was credited with improving the big- box store’s image by steering it towards more environment-friendly practices. (Health and Human Services)
  • Another general has weighed in with how sequestration budget cuts are harming military readiness. Gen. Dennis Via is commander of the Army Materiel Command. He tells the Defense Writers Group, although Congress added back some money in 2014 and 2015, sequestration returns in 2016. He says the combination of force reductions and maintenance cutbacks post a significant risk to the nation. Via says readiness requires the military to operate in a band of excellence. Otherwise, it can’t respond on short notice. The longer readiness declines, the harder it is to reverse. Via likens readiness to a car sitting in the garage. After three months it may start when you turn the key. After nine months, it’s likely to be dead. (Defense Department)
  • Thanks to an aging workforce, skimpy budgets and antiquated systems, Social Security is ill-equipped to meet challenges it will face in the next 15 years. That’s the conclusion of the National Academy of Public Administration. Social Security commissioned the examination after prompting from Congress. NAPA says old software code hinders the deployment of online services. And fewer people will be around who understand the code. NAPA also notes a hiring freeze dating to 2010. The NAPA report points out that the agency is facing a growing workload as tens of millions of baby boomers reach retirement age. It names 10 focus areas where Social Security needs to improve. (Federal News Radio)
  • A $300 million new computer system at the Social Security Administration doesn’t work. Officials say they aren’t sure when it will. Six years after embarking on the project, it’s still in the testing phase. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee yesterday asked Social Security for all documents related to the Disability Case Processing System. Members want to know if the agency tried to suppress a report commissioned from McKinsey & Co. to give an independent view of the project. McKinsey found that no single person was in charge from the beginning. (Associated Press)
  • Federal auditors warn: NASA will miss a deadline for launching its new $12 bllion rocket program because it doesn’t have enough money. The Space Launch System is scheduled for an initial test flight in 2017. The Government Accountability Office, citing NASA officials, says the agency has just a 10 percent chance of meeting the date. GAO says Congress hasn’t given the space agency enough funds for the massive project. It needs $400 million more. The space launch system will consist of massive rockets designed to send astronauts to asteroids and Mars. (Associated Press)
  • The State Department’s global database for issuing travel documents has crashed. That potentially delays the passport documents of millions of people waiting for passports or visas. State officials say unspecified glitches occurred in the Consular Consolidated Database. They say the problem is worldwide, not localized in any one country. Spokeswoman Marie Harf says the slowdown has created a significant backlog. (Associated Press)
  • The Navy says female enlisted sailors will serve on attack submarines within six years. The service tells the Navy Times, it has a plan for integration to Congress. It is not sharing details publicly until it finishes discussions with lawmakers. More than 50 women now serve as officers on some subs. Those will be the first to integrate enlisted women, beginning in 2016. Officials say they’ll adjust course based on feedback from submarine crews. (Military Times)