McCain warns Trump: Tread lightly on torture

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

In today’s Top Federal Headlines, Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain is urging the Trump administration not to repeal the law against banned interrogation techniques.

  • Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) warned the Trump administration against overturning the ban on torture and other questionable interrogation methods.  Pointing to a legal prohibition on the use of torture, McCain said, “We are not bringing back torture in the United States of America.” McCain was tortured as a prisoner during the Vietnam War.  President Donald Trump said he believes torture works as his administration readied a sweeping review of how America conducts the war on terror.  Trump’s draft order calls for reinstating an executive order — “to the extent permitted” by current law — that President George W. Bush signed in 2007 and President Barack Obama later revoked. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) offered guidance to agencies on President Donald Trump’s hiring freeze. OMB acting Director Mark Sandy said anyone hired before Jan. 22, with a start date before Feb. 22 should report to work.  If no start date was determined, or if the agreed upon state date was after Feb. 22, Sandy said agencies should revoke the positions.  (Federal News Radio)
  • The Veterans Affairs Department said it intends to exempt frontline caregivers from President Donald Trump’s hiring freeze.  Military Times reported acting VA Secretary Robert Snyder as saying the VA will continue hiring anyone it deems necessary for the public safety, including doctors and nurses.  White House Spokesman Sean Spicer said Tuesday the freeze includes VA, but there appeared to be some backtracking on Wednesday.  Even Trump’s choice to head the VA was at odds with the President’s order.  Dr. David Shulkin has repeatedly cited the need to hire more caregivers at the VA to cut wait times. He said he was looking for ways around the Trump freeze. (Military Times)
  • President Donald Trump told the Homeland Security Department (DHS) to begin planning and construction of a wall along the Mexican border.  Cost of the project is estimated to be $15 billion.  DHS said it will use existing funds to start the project, but House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mike McCaul (R-Texas) said Congress could reprogram DHS or authorize emergency funding to pay for the project up front. The order also authorizes DHS to hire another 5,000 border patrol agents. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Defense Department said it is changing its Reduction in Force (RIF) policy for civilian employees. The Pentagon said any future layoffs of civilians will be based on job performance, not how long they’ve been working for the government.  The change was mandated by Congress.  Defense officials said there are no imminent signs of RIFs on the horizon, and the new policy had nothing to do with President Donald Trump’s order to downsize the federal workforce through attrition. Among other changes, officials said the new policy downgrades the importance of veterans preference. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Navy said it will soon ask industry for bids to manage the second largest IT network in the world.  Only the internet is larger than the massive Navy intranet, and the Navy has decided to split the contract into two segments. The first contract will provide end user hardware like cellphones and computers. The second will be for a company to act as administrator for the network. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Navy said it is revamping its training paths for officers and enlisted leaders to better emphasize personal attributes that could be beneficial to the service.  The new framework for talented sailors focuses on developing character along with competency in skills as previous programs did. The plan expands on the work former Defense Secretary Ash Carter started during his tenure of breaking down some of the uniformity in military leaders and making room for creativity. (Federal News Radio)
  • The government agency responsible for setting measurement standards for science and technology said it is updating a key cyber framework. After two years, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) said it’s time to update the Framework for Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity. NIST released a request for comments to continue the dialogue with industry and other experts. NIST led the effort in 2013 to develop a voluntary, risk-based framework to help telecommunications, banking and other sectors improve their cybersecurity. NIST wants comments across five areas, including applying the framework to the supply chain and metrics for using the standards. Comments are due April 10. (Federal Register)
  • The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has made postal reform a top priority for this Congress. As usual, the big issue is balancing the Postal Service budget. Despite an increase in revenue last year, the Postal Service posted a $5.6 billion loss for fiscal 2016.  The focus of reform would be dealing with a $6 billion payment for retiree benefits that dwarfs its controllable income of $610 million. (Federal News Radio)
  • A former Senior Executive Service member of the Interior Department lied about his military record and federal employment experience to get a high level job. Interior’s Inspector General said James McCafferty, the former deputy director of the Office of Acquisition and Property Management, spent four years as an SES before retiring in June 2016. Investigators said his boss, Debra Sonderman, knew about McCafferty’s dishonesty while he was still in a probationary SES status and took no action. The IG made no recommendations and gave the report to Interior executives. (Interior Department)

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