Thursday federal headlines – August 14, 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 Veterans Affairs Department has ramped up referrals to private doctors in order to get patients the care they need more quickly. Secretary Robert McDonald says VA has made more than 838,000 referrals in the past two months — an increase of about 25 percent over the same time last year. He spoke to the veterans’ group AMVETS, promising to hire more doctors, nurses and clerks at VA hospitals. He says if you have any names, send them to him. McDonald is on a tour of VA facilities. Today, he’ll stop in Memphis to speak with employees and managers. They’ve also faced complaints. In October, the inspector general said three patients had received substandard care in the hospital’s emergency room and died. (Associated Press)
  • Change the “acting” to “permanent” for the Interior Department’s chief information officer. The agency announced this week that Sylvia Burns will be its new CIO. Burns had been acting CIO since March. Prior to that, she served as the associate deputy CIO for policy, planning and compliance for the Office of the Chief Information officer. Burns joined the Interior in 2006. The announcement comes as the Interior pushes forward with major IT initiatives, such as data center consolidation. The hope is that Burns’ leadership will improve IT services while cutting back on costs. (Interior Department)
  • At Virginia Tech, bring on the drones, at least in the form of research on the unmanned aircraft systems. Virginia Gov.Terry McAuliffe and Michael Huerta, the head of the Federal Aviation Administration, gathered in Blacksburg Wednesday to witness the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership’s first flight. Virginia Tech was selected last year by the FAA to be a drone research site. And now that research will begin. The goal is to guide the agency as it introduces commercial versions of the unmanned aircraft into U.S. airspace. (Washington Post)
  • The Obama Administration denied releasing immigrant detainees because of sequestration last year, because leaders were in the dark. Immigration and Customs Enforcement never told the White House or Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano about plans to let detainees go or about its budget shortfall. That led Napolitano to deny media reports, which turned out to be accurate. The inspector general has confirmed ICE released 2,200 detainees in February of last year because it could not afford beds for them. Now, an ICE spokesperson says it is addressing the issues and has begun developing plans of action. The IG says, despite the agency’s missteps, staff in charge of actually releasing detainees “made reasonable decisions given the short time frame.” (Associated Press)
  • Shelters on military bases set up to house children coming across the U.S.-Mexico border have closed. A spokeswoman for the shelter at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland says children left Saturday. Doors shut for good earlier this week. Shelters at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and Naval Base Ventura County in California closed last week. They could reopen if there’s another surge of illegal immigration. About 7,700 children stayed at the bases since shelters opened in late spring. The average stay was 35 days. (Associated Press)
  • The case of a Chesapeake business owner who reportedly bribed two Navy officials is set to go to federal court today. The plea hearing for Jeremy Miller will take place in Norfolk. Miller is accused of paying bribes to two officials who work for Military Sealift Command so that he could steer Navy contracts to his company. The Navy officials involved in the deal, along with Miller’s former coworkers, have already pleaded guilty in the scheme. (Associated Press)
  • Athletic coaches must step up their role in helping to prevent sexual assaults at the U.S. Air Force Academy. That’s the sentiment being voiced by the academy’s superintendent, Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson, who took charge of the school a year ago. Johnson says coaches haven’t been involved enough in broader school discussions about sexual harrassment. She hopes to change that. The Air Force Academy is in the midst of a year-long campaign to curb sexual assault. The campaign comes after a January Defense Department report that diagnosed a culture of disrespect at the Air Force, Army and Navy academies. (Associated Press)