Wednesday federal headlines – July 2, 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.

  • Veterans groups aren’t sure what to make of the President’s choice to lead the Veterans Affairs Department. Robert McDonald was once an Army Ranger and former CEO of a major consumer products company. But he has no direct health care experience. The groups worry that the former Procter & Gamble chief will have trouble coaxing a far-flung bureaucracy of more than 300,000 employees to change. Paul Rieckhoff of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America says, “Procter & Gamble is going to feel like a Ferrari compared to the VA.” (Associated Press)
  • The Government Printing Office wants to reduce its headcount by five percent. It will offer buyouts to about 1,800 employees, hoping 100 will take up the offer. They’ll receive a one-time payment of up to $25,000. They’ll need to leave the agency by the end of December. GPO last offered buyouts in 2011. As it’s moved from ink-on-paper to digital publishing, the agency has gradually been shrinking. Its workforce has fallen 70 percent since 1980. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Health and Human Services inspector general raises new doubts about integrity of the federal health care insurance exchange. In a report, it finds that many of the 8 million Americans who signed up have to resolve questions about their personal information. The IG says HHS officials face the task reconciling potentially millions of inconsistencies. In some cases, people’s statement of income didn’t match what tax records say they earned. That could affect eligibility for subsidies. In some cases, differing Social Security Numbers weren’t resolved. An HHS spokesman says more than 400,000 errors have already been fixed. (Associated Press)
  • The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight board says a set of NSA surveillance programs is kosher. Members find Internet data collection on foreign terror suspects outside of the United States to be legal. The board looked at the so-called PRISM program, authorized under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, as amended in 2008. PRISM first become publicly known when revealed last year by former contractor employee Edward Snowden. It lets the NSA collect data from U.S. Internet and telecom service providers. Board members vote today to formally adopt their findings, but they’ve already published a preliminary report on them. (Associated Press)
  • The Navy has its first female four-star admiral. Michelle Janine Howard is promoted in a ceremony held at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. Howard becomes vice chief of naval operations, making her the number two admiral, just behind the CNO, Adm. Jonathan Greenert. A 32-year member of the Navy, Howard graduated from the Naval Academy in 1982. In 1999, she became the first African- American woman to command a Navy ship, the USS Rushmore. (Associated Press)
  • Work with what you’ve got. That’s the message Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, delivered during an all-hands meeting of troops stationed in Hawaii. Dempsey says many service members set their sights on the future, rather than focusing on the present. He tells troops, if you want to climb the career ladder, be the best specialist and team player that you can be right now. Build respect and trust with fellow service members. Dempsey says episodes of sexual assault and harrassment are so troubling to him because they break those bonds of trust. He is in Hawaii as 22 countries participate in Naval exercises. (Defense Department)
  • A record percentage of the students who reported yesterday for duty at the Naval Academy in Annapolis are women. A full quarter of freshmen, or plebes are female — 303 to be exact. Compare that to current Navy leaders. Sixteen percent of officers are women. The percentage is much lower in the Marine Corps, which also draws its officers from the Naval Academy. In the Marines, just 6 percent of officers are women. The Army’s West Point Military Academy also reports a record percentage of women in its class of 2018: 22 percent of its new cadets. (Naval Academy/West Point)
  • 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 State Department’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan is re-retiring. James Dobbins will leave this month, after having left retirement to take the job in the first place. Secretary of State John Kerry praises Dobbins, saying he has a lot to be proud of. But the departure comes at a time of turmoil as Afghanistan struggles to have a clean presidential election. Dobbins will be replaced by his deputy, Daniel Feldman. Feldman’s relationship with Kerry dates back to Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign. (Associated Press)