Thursday federal headlines – July 31, 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.

  • A new bill to reform federal technology acquisition comes from four members of the House. It would more than triple the simplified acquisition threshhold, to $500,000, for IT purchases from small and disadvantaged companies. The bill would make permanent the Presidential Innovation Fellows program. And it would replace the White House office of E-government with a new office. The Digital Government Office would be headed by a federal chief information officer requiring Senate approval. Representatives Anna Eshoo (D- Calif.) and Eric Sawlwell (D-Calif.) are co-sponsors, along with Richard Hanna (R- N.Y.) and Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) (Congresswoman Anna G. Eshoo)
  • Anne Rung moves another step up on the ladder to her new job. The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee approved her bid to become the next administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy. Rung is currently a senior advisor at the Office of Management and Budget. Her first hearing took place last week. Rung still faces a vote by the full Senate. If confirmed she would replace Joe Jordon. The post has been vacant since December. (Federal News Radio)
  • The House overwhelmingly passes a bill to fix the Veterans Affairs Department. A Senate vote is likely Thursday. The $16.3 billion package would let the VA hire thousands of doctors and nurses and open 27 new clinics. It would let VA pay outside health care providers for veterans who live more than 40 miles from a VA facility. The vote ended speculation that conservative Republicans would derail the bill. The final tally was 420 in favor, with only five nay votes. VA’s new secretary, Robert McDonald, was sworn in yesterday. (Associated Press)
  • Government auditors blame management failures for the rocky launch of the website hosting the federal health insurance exchanges. The Government Accountability Office says it wasn’t technical problems as much as sloppy planning and lax oversight at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that led to glitches at GAO says the agency did not give contractors coherent directions. The result cost the government money, time and credibility. A GAO contracting expert testifies today before a House panel. The second open- enrollment season begins this fall. (Government Accountability Office)
  • Pentagon personnel officials say they have made progress designing a new appraisal system for civilian employees. In a report to Congress, they describe a three-level performance system that links people’s evaluations to their organizational mission. Officials offer no timetable for rolling out the new system. But they say it will apply to the majority of the department’s 748,000 civilians. It will not apply to Senior Executive Service members, nor to those in the intelligence community. Congress called for a new appraisal system in the 2010 Defense authorization act. (Defense Department)
  • President Barack Obama is signing an executive order to push federal contractors to treat their employees right. The White House says the order, to be signed this Thursday afternoon, will require companies that want large contracts to divulge any labor violations in the preceding three years. The companies also will have to give employees information to help them know their paychecks are correct. And companies pursuing contracts could not force arbitration upon workers with claims of sexual assault or civil rights violations. A similar law applies to Pentagon contractors. (Associated Press)
  • How did a boy sneak into the underbelly of a military cargo plane in Africa? The stowaway’s case has raised security concerns and prompted an Air Force review. Secretary Deborah Lee James says they will look at security protocols and find out what was done to protect the plane. The boy’s body was found over the weekend when the C-130 landed at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. Initial reports suggest he boarded in Mali, and died of asphyxiation. (Ramstein Air Base)
  • The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction warns a window is closing in that country. It says less than a fifth of Afghanistan will be accessible to U.S. oversight personnel once the military withdraws in December. But there’s much oversight to be done. In a report to Congress, the auditor details a pattern of poor planning, shoddy construction, mechanical failures and poor oversight. It says the Army refuses to suspend or debar supporters of the insurgency. (Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction)