Wednesday federal headlines – August 27, 2014

The Federal Headlines is a daily compilation of the stories you hear discussed on the Federal Drive and In Depth radio shows each day. Our headlines are updated twice per day — once in the morning and once in the afternoon — with the latest news affecting federal employees and contractors.

  • The Defense Department released a long-anticipated request for proposals to modernize its electronic health records. The project could be worth as much as $11 billion to the winning contractors. Christopher Miller, the program executive at Defense Healthcare Management Systems, said DoD hopes to not only update its records system, but also modernize how it delivers health care. Officials have had a series of meetings with contractors leading up to the RFP. Bids are due Oct. 9. Officials hope to award a contract by the third quarter next year. (Federal News Radio)
  • Spending $600,000 for elevator posters? Or $25,000 for entries to public relations contests? Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) wants to know how the Labor Department could spend these massive sums of money on what he called a frivolous manner. Issa sent a letter to Labor Secretary Thomas Perez this week criticizing the charges and calling into question the Labor Department’s lack of spending controls. The Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which Issa chairs, is also asking for documents from Perez. (House)
  • President Barack Obama was on the defensive Tuesday about widespread failings by the Veteran Affairs Department. In a speech at the American Legion’s national convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, the President called the lengthy wait times experienced by veterans “outrageous and inexcusable.” But he promised a culture of accountability at the VA under new secretary Bob McDonald. Obama says his administration is also “clear-eyed” about problems needing to be addressed. The speech included steps going forward to strengthen access to mental health care for members of the military, improve the transition from care by the DoD to the VA as service members leave the military and enhance suicide prevention. (Associated Press)
  • is getting a new boss. Kevin Counihan will join the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services as Marketplace CEO. He’ll move from Connecticut, where he is CEO of the state’s healthcare insurance exchange. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell says she wanted new management in place before this year’s open enrollment, which starts in October. Burwell also named Lori Lodes as director of communications for CMS. Besides the exchange website, Counihan will oversee the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight. It regulates health insurance at the federal level. He’ll report to CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner. (Health and Human Services)
  • The Justice Department is now stepping into a case involving reported payouts to an Amtrak employee by Drug Enforcment Agency personnel. Justice’s inspector general’s office announced its investigation Tuesday. The agency’s involvement comes after Amtrak’s own IG found that DEA agents had paid an Amtrak secretary more than $850,000 over two decades to obtain confidential information about train passengers. The drug-fighting agency could have legally, and for free, gained access to the type of passenger information it paid to access. (Associated Press)
  • FBI agents are locked in a turf battle with rival agencies who go after violent crime. The Wall Street Journal reports, an internal memo says many of the FBI’s field offices have severe or moderate conflicts with other agencies. The memo summarizes findings from a survey conducted by the Criminal Investigative Division. It says FBI agents have the most trouble with those from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and from Homeland Security Investigations. It says jurisdiction encroachment is a disturbing concern. An FBI spokesman told the Journal, director James Comey disavows the memo, saying it doesn’t reflect the views of the FBI’s leadership. (Wall Street Journal)
  • A federal climate-satellite program at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has substantial cybersecurity flaws that leaves it open to attack. The findings are part of a new report by the Commerce Department inspector general. The IG report says that the joint polar satellite’s system had more than 23,000 incidents of high-risk vulnerabilities in the second quarter of fiscal year 2014. That amount is way up from fiscal year 2012, when the system had about 14,000 high-risk vulnerabilities. The key satellite gathers and routs data from numerous satellites to users across the globe. The IG also slammed NOAA for failing to act quickly. While the agency should remove high-risk vulnerabilities within 30 days, it took 11 to 14 months in this case. (Commerce Inspector General)
  • The Bureau of Land Management wants to halt the practice of swinging from ropes at two popular Utah landmarks. It proposes a two-year ban on rope-swinging from the Corona Arch and Gemini Bridges near Moab. They’ve received complaints that the screaming swingers disturb other tourists. At least two rope swingers have been killed and others injured. Officials also say the rock formations are starting to show signs of damage. BLM also proposes banning rappelling, ziplining and high-lining. (Associated Press)
  • Earthquake faults have environmental activists worried in regard to California’s last operating nuclear plant. Advocacy group Friends of the Earth filed a petition with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission requesting a hearing on seismic risks at the Diablo Canyon plant. The group is concerned about whether the plant’s reactors can withstand strong shaking if a big quake were to strike. The 92-page petition was filed after it was disclosed that a federal nuclear expert is urging the NRC to shut down Diablo Canyon until it can determine the plant’s ability to survive a major earthquake. Pacific Gas and Electric owns the nuclear plant, and its reactors are almost 30-years old. (Associated Press)
  • A Coast Guard boat operating in international waters in the Arabian Gulf fired at an Iranian dhow-type sailboat. Officials of the U.S. Fifth Fleet in Bahrain said the shot was a defensive move. The Coast Guard crew was operating an inflatable vessel dispatched from the Patrol Boat Monomoy. It was headed to the Iranian dhow in international waters, to check it out. Crew on the dhow trained a machine gun on the Coast Guard crew with what U.S. officials said was hostile intent. After the Coast Guard fired, the dhow sailed away. U.S. officials said they didn’t know whether the dhow was hit. (Defense Department)