Wednesday federal headlines – January 15, 2014

The 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 Newsc...

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 House votes today on the $1 trillion-plus spending bill for 2014. It’s likely to pass. Lawmakers say they want to show voters they can do their jobs. The bill reflects compromise, with winners and losers. The FBI won extra money, including almost twice as much for background checks on gun buyers. The National Institutes of Health would get about $1 billion more than last year. The biggest loser may be the IRS. Post-scandal, it would get $500 million less than last year. The Federal Aviation Administration would get less than Congress enacted last year, but enough money to avoid furloughs and hiring freezes for air traffic controllers. (Associated Press)
  • The omnibus 2014 spending bill now before Congress includes the first increase in four years for the war in Afghanistan. Defense News reports, the $85 billion overseas contingency operations (OCO) part of the bill is $5 billion more than the Obama administration requested. It contains $6 billion in procurement funds for the Defense Department. The National Guard and Reserve get a billion of it for new planes, vehicles and other hardware. Critics call the war budget a slush fund to get around defense spending caps. The so-called OCO is immune from sequestration. (Defense News)
  • The House has dealt a victory to the Office of Personnel Management’s watchdog. It has passed a bill letting the inspector general access more money for investigations and audits, particularly of the services that OPM provides to other agencies. That includes background checks on job applicants. IG Patrick McFarland has long argued that he doesn’t have the resources to root out waste, fraud and abuse in those services. Under the bill, he could use money from OPM’s $2 billion revolving fund. The Senate has approved a nearly identical measure. (Federal News Radio)
  • The ghosts of St. Elizabeths continue to haunt the Homeland Security Department. An influential congressman is questioning whether DHS should continue with plans for a new headquarters on the site of the former mental hospital. Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) chairs a key Homeland Security subcommittee. He cites rising costs and stretching time horizons for the multi-billion dollar project. The Coast Guard occupied its new headquarters on the Southeast D.C. site in November. The rest of DHS headquarters occupy 7 million square feet scattered in 53 locations in the D.C. area. (Federal News Radio)
  • President Obama will nominate a former state official to run the Small Business Administration. Maria Contreras-Sweet was California’s secretary of Business, Transportation and Housing under Gov. Gray Davis. She is also founder of a Latino-owned bank in Los Angeles. In the late 1970s, she worked at the Census Bureau. Contreras-Sweet was born in Guadalajara, Mexico. If confirmed, she would fill out Obama’s last open cabinet position. She would succeed Karen Mills, who left in February of last year. (Associated Press)
  • There’s a new federal plan to fight human trafficking. More than 15 agencies are involved, with the departments of Health and Human Services, Justice and Homeland Security leading the effort. According to the plan, released by the White House, the agencies already help victims, but they don’t always work together to make sure those victims receive comprehensive care. Now they’ll do that and engage business, civic and tribal leaders to contribute. The plan lays out 250 tasks to achieve in the next five years. The International Labor Organization says there are more than 20 million people trafficking victims worldwide. (White House)
  • The Senate Intelligence Committee releases a report today on the 2012 Benghazi, Libya attack that killed four Americans. Agencies are preparing responses for what’s expected to be a rebuke. Reuters reports, a Pentagon spokeswoman says she hasn’t seen the report, but the department is implementing recommendations from an independent review board. She says it is better prepared for such threats today, giving as an example the department’s response to the embassy evacuation in Juba, South Sudan. The State Department may have a tougher time responding to the report. It’s expected to criticize the agency for poor security. (Reuters)
  • When it comes to the IT Dashboard, the White House has a back seat driver. The Office of Management and Budget and the Government Accountability Office disagree over how often the website should be updated. Launched early in the Obama administration, the dashboard gives graphic depictions of the status of federal agencies’ technology projects. GAO chides the administration for only updating the site after the annual budget is made public. That means updates can be as long as eight months apart. Auditors say that runs counter to the transparency and accountability the site is supposed to foster. Federal CIO Steve Van Roekel says constant updates would interfere with decision-making. (Federal News Radio)
  • We’re beginning to get a picture of the changes that could come to the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs. President Barack Obama will present his proposal Friday. But already he’s running up against opposition. Federal judges don’t want a privacy advocate at the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Speaking for the courts system, Former FISA Court head judge John Bates says it’s unnecessary and possibly counterproductive. He says some proposals could increase the courts’ workload, and then they need more resources. (Associated Press)

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