Thursday federal headlines – January 28, 2016

The Federal Headlines is a daily compilation of the stories you hear discussed on the Federal Drive.

  • The Department of Justice rules on one of the biggest cases of disability fraud in the Veterans Affairs Department’s history. Dennis Paulsen was convicted of stealing more than $1.5 million from the VA. He exaggerated the extent of his multiple sclerosis diagnosis and received benefits from the VA that he didn’t need. He faces up to 20 years in prison, $500,000 in fines, and $1.5 million in forfeiture. (Justice Department)
  • D.C. area federal offices will once again open under a three-hour delay today with unscheduled telework and liberal leave. Overnight temperatures dropped dramatically, which led OPM to be concerned about freezing roadways and sidewalks. Stay with Federal News for all the latest news regarding operating status. (Federal News Radio)
  • Army commander of NATO land forces Lt. Gen. John Nicholson Jr. has been selected as the next commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. He suceeds Army General John Campbell. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said he believes Nicholson will build on Campbell’s work to secure a bright future for the Afghan people, calling him an accomplished soldier with extensive command experience in Afghanistan and around the world. (Defense Department)
  • The White House asks DoD experts with experience working with the Zika virus to assist the Department of Health and Human Services in its efforts to fight the mosquito-borne disease. Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work attended a meeting with President Barack Obama and directors of several health agencies to discuss steps that are needed to combat the illness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a travel alert on several South American and southern North American countries. (Defense Department)
  • President Barack Obama’s selection to lead the Food and Drug Administration is facing headwinds. A third senator vows to block Dr. Robert Califf’s nomination.  Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) cites what he calls Califf’s ties to Big Pharma. Manchin cited 2014 financial disclosures that Califf filed as a clinical researcher at the Duke University School of Medicine. They list consulting fees he received from a half-dozen pharmaceutical companies plus salary-supporting drugmaker grants as his reason for the filibuster. Other members of Congress like Sens. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) and Edward Markey (D-Mass.) have vowed to block it as well for similar reasons. (Sen. Joe Manchin)
  • Defense Secretary Ash Carter is encouraging U.S. Cyber Command to “intensify the fight” against the Islamic State. Carter and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., visited Cybercom headquarters at Fort Meade to discuss efforts to degrade ISIL’s messaging campaign. The secretary also met with personnel directly engaged in cyber operations to ask them to quote “do what they can to intensify the fight against ISIL.” (Defense Department)
  • The Agriculture Department awarded seven contestants a total of $63,000 dollars for their winning entries in the USDA-Microsoft Innovation challenge. USDA asked app developers to take open data and create tools that can help make America’s food supply more resilient in the face of climate change. Out of 33 submissions, USDA awarded the grand prize to Farm Plenty, an app that lets farmers analyze agency data about crops grown within five kilometers of their farms to make better decisions about their own crops. (USDA)
  • The Air Force will use a large portion of Defense spending on upgrading aging weapons systems. The Center for Strategic and International Studies finds the Air Force’s modernization plans will increase to almost $35 billion in 2023. At the same time, the Navy’s modernization budget will be decreasing steadily from about $36 billion to $25 billion dollars in 2030. (Federal News Radio)
  • VA secretary Bob McDonald calls on Congress to help him with an important goal. McDonald wants to simplify the appeals process for veterans denied benefits. He says decades of layered laws and regulations have made the process cumbersome and clunky. And he wants legislation to clean it up. McDonald also called for more funding to help VA clear its inventory of appeals, now at 440,000. It’s all part of a hoped-for transformation of VA under the MyVA initiative.

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