Friday federal headlines – March 7, 2014

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 Merit Systems Protection Board rules in favor of an employee wrongfully terminated by the General Services Administration. It’s the second such decision in connection with the Western Regions Conference scandal. The Board exonerates James Weller, the former Region 7 commissioner of the Public Building Service. It orders GSA to pay him 19 months of back pay and give him his old job back. Last March, the Board ruled in favor of Paul Prouty, the former commission of Region 8. GSA appealed the Prouty ruling and says it may appeal Weller’s. The conference in question was sponsored by Region 9 in 2010. When excessive spending came to light in 2012, it caused the resignation of former GSA Administrator Martha Johnson and a shake-up throughout the agency. (Federal News Radio)
  • Top federal scientists and experts could get a bump in pay. The Office of Personnel Management publishes a final rule to bring salaries for employees who are SLs, for senior-level, or STs, for scientific or professional, more in line with what the government pays senior executive service members. Agencies must calculate pay based on performance and contribution to the agency’s mission. The rule has been a long time coming. It’s based on a 2008 law. (Federal Register)
  • Federal agencies should hire more employees without traditional college degrees, according to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). Rubio introduces a bill called the Alternative Qualifications for Federal Employment Act. It would require the Office of Personnel Management to designate certain jobs to be filled by people with occupational or trade school certificates. Agencies would not be allowed to make a traditional four-year degree a requisite. OPM would have to designate 25 jobs in 10 occupational fields under a pilot program. The test would run for five years. (Senate)
  • The Senate confirms three of President Obama’s Homeland Security nominees. R. Gil Kerlikowske is confirmed as the commissioner of Customs and Border Protection. He’ll oversee customs and immigration officers at ports of entry, and the Border Patrol. He’s the first permanent commissioner since before Obama took office in 2009. Kerlikowske was head of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. The Senate also confirms Suzanne Spaulding as deputy undersecretary for the National Protection Programs Directorate and John Roth as inspector general. (Associated Press)
  • Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel tells Congress, the Pentagon proposes no changes to military retirement in its fiscal 2015 budget. But on the same day, Military Times reports, the Pentagon considers plans to wean service members off of its fixed- income pension plan. Instead, the military would offer a three-part combo. It would include something like a 401K plus a cash-retention bonus at around 12 years, and possibly another payout upon retirement for those who stay in the military for decades. (Military Times)
  • The Senate will vote Monday on a bill to change how the military deals with both victims and perpetrators of sexual crimes. It would eliminate the good- solider defense in rape and assault cases. A service member’s character and military performance could not be used in a case unless it is directly connected to the allegation. It would allow sexual assault victims to challenge their discharges or separation from service. The bill also calls for a civilian service secretary review if a prosecutor and commander disagree over whether to litigate a case. Three female Senators are behind the bill: Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Kelly Ayotte (D-N.H.) and Deb Fischer (R-Neb.). The Senate rejects a bill sponsored by Sen. Kirstin Gillibrand (D-NY.). It would have removed commanders’ authority to prosecute sexual crimes. (Associated Press)
  • The Army investigates one of its top sexual-assault prosecutors for sexual assault. Lt. Col. Joseph Morse is suspended from his work training other military lawyers to handle sexual and physical abuse cases. He is accused of groping a female Army lawyer. The allegations come as one more blow for a military struggling to show it is tough on sexual assault. A bill to strip commanders of their authority over sexual assault prosecutions failed in the Senate. The Pentagon opposed the change. (Associated Press)
  • A federal appeals court green-lights lawsuits by soldiers who say they were harmed by a contractor’s waste disposal practices in Iraq and Afghanistan. The soldiers say Houston-based KBR and Halliburton poisoned the air and contaminated the water because they burned waste in open pits. A lower-court judge had dismissed the lawsuits last year. He ruled that the contractors could not be sued because they were acting as an extension of the military. The Richmond-based Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals overrules the decision. It says contractors are protected from lawsuits only if they follow explicit military instructions. The panel sends the cases back to the district court. (Associated Press)

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