Monday federal headlines – August 26, 2013

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 Pentagon could lay off 6,200 civilian employees next year if sequestration continues. That’s according to a draft planning document obtained by Bloomberg News. The Defense Contract Management Agency would take the biggest hit. The Army and Navy would lose about 2,300 employees each. The Pentagon would cut its research and procurement budgets by 16 percent and operations, maintenance and military construction by 12 percent. No final decisions have been made. (Federal News Radio)
  • Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is making the rounds in Asia. In Malaysia over the weekend, Hagel praised the country and its military for helping regional security. Hagel pointed to its counter-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden, saying they help economic growth by reducing terror and lawlessness. Hagel pledged further cooperation with, and assistance to, Malaysia’s military. Hagel’s trip include visits to Indonesia, Brunei and the Philippines. (Defense Department)
  • Economists usually disagree with one another, but they mostly all worry about federal deficits. A survey by the National Association of Business Economics shows members think deficits between now and the 2030s make up the country’s top fiscal challenge. The economists generally like policies the Federal Reserve has been pursuing. But that’s where the unanimity ends. Economists are divided over what to do about deficits. Some favor tax hikes and spending cuts, others spending cuts only. A third group thinks growth-stimulating policies are the way to go. (Associated Press)
  • Federal prosecutors have charged a former EPA official with stealing nearly $900,000 from the agency over more than a decade. John Beale was the deputy assistant administrator in the Office of Air and Radiation until earlier this year. Prosecutors say he stole the money by collecting bonuses and extra salary. Beale worked at the EPA for more than two decades under several presidents. He was a top deputy to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, who used to head the Air and Radiation Office. (Associated Press)
  • The Homeland Security Department says the employee operating a racist website has been put on paid administrative leave. Ayo Kimathi is an acquisition officer for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Kimathi joined DHS in 2009. His web site, War on the Horizon, predicts what it calls an unavoidable clash with the white race.The stated goal of the site is to prepare black people. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups, first reported on Kimathi’s role in running the site. (Associated Press)
  • One thing secrets-leaker Edward Snowden did well was cover his digital tracks. National Security Agency insiders tell the AP, Snowden did a masterful job erasing or bypassing network activity logs that would reveal exactly which classified documents he removed and sent to newspapers. The forensic investigation is partially stymied by Snowden’s ability to beat the safeguards. The revelation comes as all agencies are under pressure to install continuous monitoring tools, in part to help them catch insiders gone bad. (Associated Press)
  • The Interior Department and Indian tribes are working through new draft rules for recognizing tribes. At stake is land, economic development and the rights to build casinos. The rules, first floated in June, would make it somewhat easier for tribes to receive federal recognition. Since then, the Bureau of Indian Affairs has been conducting field hearings in California, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan and Oregon. Comments closed last week. One proposed change would set 1934 as the base year for a tribe. That’s the year the United States repudiated earlier land allotment and assimilation policies. So far, the federal government has recognized 566 American tribes. (Associated Press)
  • The Veterans Health Administration hands out performance bonuses to 80 percent of its contracting physicians and dentists. But it can’t prove why. The Government Accountability Office says VA should demand that its medical centers show evidence that the doctors deserve bonuses. The auditors visited four centers. They even found providers who were practicing without a current license or leaving residents unsupervised during surgery had received performance pay. (GAO)
  • The Army psychiatrist convicted of the Fort Hood shooting today begins the sentencing phase of his trial. A jury panel will decide whether Maj. Nidal Hasan should get the death penalty. Hasan has insisted that he continue representing himself. His standby attorneys say they believe he wants to be sentenced to death. No American soldier has been executed since 1961. Many military death row inmates have had their sentences overturned on appeal. Hasan killed 13 people dead in the worst mass shooting ever on an U.S. military installation. (Associated Press)
  • A pair of engineers at the University of Michigan are trying to make sure computers at hospitals don’t come down with viruses or other malware. It’s part of a national research project funded by a $10 million National Science Foundation grant. Kevin Fu and Michael Baileys will document how widespread the problem of computer viruses at hospitals has become. The interdisciplinary team involves experts with backgrounds in computer science, business, behavioral health, health policy and health care IT. The team is lead by researchers at Dartmouth. It also includes the University of Illinois and Johns Hopkins University. (University of Michigan)
  • Nasdaq officials are still sorting out what caused an interruption in trading that lasted for hours last week. The Securities and Exchange Commission released a statement from chairman Mary Jo White. She promises to convene exchange leaders for ideas on increasing reliability. White says she’ll push new proposed rules for market computer safeguards. The consensus among experts is that the glitch was not a cybersecurity issue but rather a purely technical one. The Wall Street Journal reports, a connectivity failure between the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq triggered the shutdown. (Wall Street Journal)