Thursday federal headlines – July 3, 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 weather may be hot, but the Office of Management Budget and the General Services Administration are trying to freeze the government’s footprint. The two agencies renew their push for federal agencies to reduce what they spend on operations and overhead, like rent. The latest tactic is taking agency performance benchmarks and comparing them to benchmarks from the most efficient agencies. A new White House report says lack of comparable data makes it difficult to know if the government is meeting its freeze-the-footprint goal. Performance goals are due to OMB by the end of the month. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Congressional Budget Office has some new ideas on how to reduce military pay and benefits spending: Cap increases in basic pay, replace some military personnel with civilian employees, increase TRICARE fees for retirees and get rid of concurrent receipt for disabled veterans, which would stop military veterans from receiving both their full retirement annuity and their disability compensation — a loophole allowing double pay for service. CBO also offered procurement ideas to cut spending without changing pay and benefits to service members. It says savings are comparable via that route but are smaller than if DoD makes cuts to compensation. (Congressional Budget Office)
  • Another senior leader is leaving the Veterans Affairs Department. Chief medical inspector John Pierce has retired. His departure comes a week after a tough Office of Special Counsel Report. It cited a troubling pattern of deficient patient care. It said Pierce and others downplayed whistleblower complaints. Pierce had been the medical inspector since 2004, and was deputy two years before that. He joins a growing roster of VA executives who have retired or were forced following revelations of long waiting times at VA hospitals. (Associated Press)
  • A dose of tough criticism has turned out to be the best medicine. The State Department’s top cybersecurity official says his budget has doubled in 2014 in order to address the recommendations given by the agency’s inspector general. Bill Lay is State’s chief information security officer. He says the IG report from last summer was “bad.” It said State was not doing enough to protect its networks. But as a result of the guidance, Lay has received the budget increase. A large part of that increase went to contract support to improve Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) compliance efforts. (Federal News Radio)
  • The company accused of defrauding the government over security background checks has won a big new contract. The Wall Street Journal reports, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services awarded U.S. Investigations Services a contract worth $190 million. An agency spokesman says the company has never been suspended or debarred. So, he says, it had to award the contract to the lowest bidder. The Office of Personnel Management oversees background-check investigations. A spokesman there tells the Journal officials are satisfied with steps taken by USIS to fix its problems. (Wall Street Journal)
  • An uptick in foreign airport security has some wondering whether there’s an actual relevant threat. Intelligence officials are concerned that al-Qaida is working on a new type of bomb. But there has been no hard and fast evidence that such a bomb exists. Officials in the past have been wary of non-metallic explosive materials being surgically implanted into a person’s body, undetectable in metal detectors and a pat-down. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson says the move is merely out of an “abundance of caution,” and it has nothing to do with the holiday. He says people should not overreact. British airports have also stepped up security in some foreign airports based on the warning. (Associated Press)
  • The Agriculture Department is trying to meet two goals at once: make sure all Americans have food and reduce obesity in the country. Researchers at the Food and Nutrition Service are testing ways to encourage recipients to buy fruits and veggies with their food stamps. Strategies that seem to work include providing manufacturer coupons for the healthiest items, developing a reward card that recipients can use at any retailer, and giving recipients a visual tool, like USDA’s My Plate graphic, to go shopping with. (USDA)
  • The Air Force is turning to an old strategy to close the gap between senior leadership and line workers. Middle management. The Global Strike Command plans to establish a new, mid-level position in its nuclear missile chain of command. Each of its three missile wings will get an assistant director of operations. That person will help translate strategies and high level orders down to the shift officers who man the Minuteman missile silos. The missileers corps has been rocked by instances of test cheating, drug use and poor readiness training. The 20th Air Force launched what it calls the force improvement program. One of the new positions will be filled by Maj. Scott Fleming. He’s now the legislative liaison for the commander of the Global Strike Command. (Air Force)