Wednesday federal headlines – August 20, 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.

  • Interim rules that shorten the process to fire senior executives at the Veteran Affairs Department are out. The Merit Systems Protection Board released the rules Tuesday. Congress gave the board the authority to make changes at the VA that would help fix organizational problems at the embattled agency. Under the new rules, senior officials dismissed by the VA secretary have one week to appeal the firing and then petition to be reinstated or moved to a different non- senior position. The interim rules are open for public comment until Sept. 18. (Merit Systems Protection Board)
  • Experience in Arizona shows the challenges VA has in outsourcing health care. The recently enacted Veterans Affairs reform bill lets VA send distant patients to private facilities. The Arizona Republic reports, a big challenge for private providers is connecting with vets referred to them by the VA. Phoenix-based Banner Health has made appointments with 550 veterans. But it says it has been unable to reach that many more referrals. The company’s contract with VA requires it to make appointments within three days of a request. (Arizona Republic)
  • A tax that Congress enacted to help pay for Obamacare is not performing as well as hoped. The Treasury Inspector General’s audit says the tax on medical devices is falling behind on its revenue target because thousands of companies simply aren’t paying the tax. The tax is on the sale of medical devices used mostly by doctors and hospitals. It took effect in January 2013. For the first six months of 2013, the IRS predicted it would collect $1.2 billion, but it only collected $913 million from the tax. (Associated Press)
  • Workers’ compensation costs at the U.S. Postal Service are way up in recent years, even after cuts to the agency’s workforce. The revelation comes from a new Inspector General report. In 2013, the Postal Service paid out $1.3 billion dollars in benefits to employees injured on the job. That’s a 35 percent increase since 2008. During that same time frame, the USPS workforce was cut back by 26 percent in the same period. The IG report recommends reforms that include state government practices, such as limits on workers’ comp duration and benefit amounts. (Postal Service Inspector General)
  • Advocacy group Cause of Action says it sued 10 cabinet agencies for withholding documents it requested under the Freedom of Information Act. The group says it also sued the Office of Management and Budget and the IRS on the same grounds. Cause of Action says it sought communications the agencies shared with the White House. It maintains agencies have been told to clear FOIA requests with the White House for political reasons. Dan Epstein is Cause of Action’s executive director. He says accountable and transparent government should not include having the White House clear agency FOIA requests. (Cause of Action)
  • The Pentagon issues a summary of partnering up to save dollars on big contracts. Federal Times reports, the pair of agencies signed a memorandum of understanding this week to create a specialized working group around contracts. The group’s charge is to identify cost-effective enterprise-wide solutions. GSA contracts the Air Force might be able to fold into its mission include the GSA’s Global Supply Special Order Program and its fourth party logistics program. (Federal Times)
  • The Obama administration promises to change the way travelers get themselves off the government’s no-fly list. But so far, officials are mum on exactly what the changes will be. A judge recently ruled there’s no meaningful way to to challenge the no-fly designation. That makes current rules unconstitutional. The Justice Department promises to update the process within six months. The list contains around 48,000 names. (Associated Press)
  • Drought, wildfires and invasive species are all plaguing Lake Tahoe. Federal lawmakers outlined the problems during the 18th annual summit, which brings together stakeholders to discuss protection of the iconic lake. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D- Calif.) and the other California and Nevada senators at the summit are pushing for legislation that would provide $415 million in federal money to fight the invasive species, fire and erosion issues. At the same time, federal and state officials signed a proclamation that supports timber reduction and wildfire prevention efforts near Lake Tahoe. (Associated Press)