Thursday federal headlines – August 28, 2014

The Federal Headlines is a daily compilation of the stories you hear discussed on the Federal Drive and In Depth radio shows each day. Our headlines are updated twice per day — once in the morning and once in the afternoon — with the latest news affecting federal employees and contractors.

  • If Congress doesn’t get its act together, the Defense and Energy departments face big budget cuts in 2015. The Office of Management and Budget also says the FBI would be forced to take a hit. In its annual sequestration report, OMB says the three agencies will need to slice $34 million in discretionary spending, unless Congress passes a new budget. That’s because defense agencies would be operating under existing budget caps. Congress has yet to approve any of the 12 appropriations bills for 2015. The new fiscal year is just over a month away. Congress doesn’t return until Sept. 8. It will have 17 working days before the end of the fiscal year. (Federal News Radio)
  • Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) says he’s fed up with Defense contractors who don’t pay their taxes. He tells James Clapper, the national security director, to take action. He wants a message going to delinquent contractor employees that their failure to pay taxes is an insult to law-abiding citizens. Tester cites a recent Government Accountability Office report. It says 83,000 DoD employees and contractors owed $730 million in back taxes at the end of 2012. Tester asks Clapper how he plans to recover the money. (Federal News Radio)
  • A number of federal agencies are missing the mark on their treatment of whistleblowers, not publicizing their whistleblower ombudsmans or adequately telling employees about their whistleblower rights. The assessment, by the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), is part of a new review of the 2012 Whistleblower Protection Act and how well 72 agencies are complying with it. The inspectors general offices that POGO ranked as being the worst at publicizing their whistleblower programs are from the Homeland Security Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Railroad Retirement Board. POGO praised a few agencies’ IGs for providing clear descriptions of their ombudsmans in protecting whistleblower rights. Those agencies were the departments of Agriculture, Labor and Justice. (Project on Government Oversight)
  • An Army general, who’s been portrayed as the poster child for the military’s problems with properly investigating allegations of sex crimes, is ending his career with a big demotion. Maj. Gen. Michael T. Harrison is a two-star general who will retire at a one-star ranking, the Army announced Wednesday. Harrison was suspended from his duties as commander of U.S. Army forces in Japan more than a year ago. An Army inspector general’s investigation found that in 2013, when a Japanese woman accused a colonel on Harrison’s staff of sexually assaulting her, the general waited months to report it to criminal investigators. Hesitating for that long represents a violation of Army rules. The decision to have Harrison retire one rank lower means he stands to lose a substantial amount of retirement pay. (Associated Press)
  • Bonus pay for certain Marines reporting for special duty will drop come Oct. 1. Authorities say the pay rate changes affect Marines in jobs including recruiters, drill instructors, combat instructors and embassy security guards. These Marines will still receive special duty assignment pay, but at a lower rate than during prior years because of budget constraints. Service members who started special duty assignments before October are not affected. Special duty assignment pay is used by the military to sway service members to switch over to hard-to-fill jobs. For Marines, there are six levels of service pay, and bonuses are between $75 and $450 a month. (Marines)
  • An experienced fighter pilot is still missing this morning after the fighter jet he was piloting crashed in a remote part of Virginia. The unnamed pilot was a member of the 104th fighter wing of the Massachusetts Air National Guard. He was flying an F-15C to New Orleans where it was to receive a radar upgrade. A Pentagon spokesman says the pilot radioed trouble shortly before the crash. Local and state police spent the night searching the densely forested, mountainous area in the western part of Virginia. The crash occurred near the small town of Deerfield. (Associated Press)
  • Oscar the Grouch makes an appearance well outside of Sesame Street. In an internal guide used by the Veterans Affairs Department to train its staff, veterans are likened to the grumpy trash-can dwelling character, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. In providing tips to VA workers about how to help veterans with their claims, a dozen training slides mention Oscar the Grouch. The slides say veterans might be demanding and then offer suggestions on what to say to Oscar the Grouch. The characterization is drawing the ire of veterans groups, especially in the wake of a scandal over veterans’ health care. A VA spokesman told the Inquirer the training was not intended to equate veterans with the famed grouch. (Associated Press)
  • A former FBI Milwaukee field office chief used extremely poor judgment in a disability discrimination lawsuit. That’s the conclusion of the Justice Department inspector general. The IG looked into the case of Justin Slaby, a service-disabled Iraq veteran who was kicked out of the FBI training academy. He is missing a hand from combat wounds. The IG finds special agent in charge Teresa Carlson improperly tried to influence the deposition of the agent responsible for training Slaby. Eventually, Slaby won his case. His lawyer says he has returned to FBI training. (Justice Department)

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