Thursday federal headlines – August 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 Office of Personnel Management rolls out long- awaited rules for phased retirement this morning. Director Katherine Archuleta will lead the discussion. She’ll be accompanied by Ken Zawodny, the associate director for retirement services and Mark Reinhold, the chief human capital officer. Phased retirement will let eligible full-time employees work part-time while drawing partial retirement benefits. The idea is to give would-be retirees a way of passing on knowledge to people they have mentored instead of departing abruptly. Read our coverage here.
  • The big Veterans Affairs overhaul bill Congress approved last week will become law today. President Barack Obama is scheduled to sign it this morning at Fort Belvoir. The legislation came in response to reports of veterans dying while waiting for appointments at VA facilities. The $16 billion measure lets the VA hire new doctors and nurses and expand its locations. It also gives the secretary greater leeway to fire poor-performing employees. (Associated Press)
  • While NASA prepares to launch a new vehicle into space, the Navy has been practicing how to fish it out of the ocean. The two agencies wrap up joint testing of procedures for retrieving the Orion spacecraft. Unlike the capsules of yesteryear, the Orion can’t be snatched up by a helicopter. The ten-ton craft must be winched aboard a ship fitted with a special ramp. That mission falls to the U.S.S. Anchorage, an amphibious transport dock. Sailors practiced the maneuver six times using a mock-up of Orion. Three helicopters hovering overhead provide guidance. The actual splashdown of Orion’s first test flight is supposed to take place December 4 off the coast of Baja California. (Associated Press)
  • More trouble for U.S. Investigative Services. The company is hit with a cyber attack that compromises personal information on Homeland Security employees. As a result, the government temporarily suspends the company’s contracts for security background investigations. USIS itself discovered and disclosed the attack. It says it’s cooperating with the FBI in trying to find out what happaned. DHS tells employees to watch for signs of identity theft. Officials from the company and the government believe the attack was state-sponsored, but they don’t say which country. (Wall Street Journal)
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now taking a leadership role in efforts to control the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, following a request from the World Health Organization. The agency expects its Emergency Operations Center to remain at the highest response level for three to six months. About 30 CDC disease-control experts are now in West Africa. They include disease detectives who are using a new app to quickly find people exposed to the disease. Other staff are educating the public on ways to avoid infection. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
  • The Army has begun questioning Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl about how he ended up a hostage of the Taliban in Afghanistan for five years. Bergdahl’s lawyer says his client is answering all of them in a comfortable environment that, as described, does not resemble an interrogation room. While some characterize Bergdahl as a prisoner of war, others say he deserted his unit. He remains at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, where he’s been since his release in May. Army investigators have 60 days to complete their probe although they can ask for more time. (WTOP)
  • The Defense department is sitting on top of potentially tens of millions of dollars of health care cost savings. But realizing those savings requires Congress to act. That’s the thrust of a new Government Accountability Office audit. It says DoD pays millions of dollars in fees and profits to companies offering health care benefits under duplicate programs. GAO recommends eliminating U.S. Family Health Plan, and moving beneficiaries into one of Tricare regional programs. GAO found Tricare offers the same services from the same providers. The existence of the Family Health Plan was mandated by law back in 1982, so only Congress can kill it. (Government Accountability Office)
  • The Energy Department is putting the research it funds on a fast track to the public. It launches a web portal to provide free access to scientific journal articles and other peer-reviewed work within a year of publication. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz says increasing access to the research will lead to more scientific breakthroughs and commercial opportunities. At the same time, the department is phasing in new rules to require researchers to submit plans for sharing and preserving the digital data generated in the course of their work. (Energy Department)
  • A former government contractor will spend three years in prison for conspiracy to bribe employees of the Navy Military Sealift Command. Michael McPhail was sentenced this week in federal court in Norfolk. Court records show McPhail used to work for an unnamed Chesapeake government contractor that wanted business from Military Sealift Command. At his plea hearing, McPhail admitted he spent about $45,000 of his salary over nearly two years toward bribes to two officials at Military Sealift Command. (WTOP)