Wednesday federal headlines - November 27, 2013

Wednesday - 11/27/2013, 7:34am EST

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 FederalNewsRadio.com users more information about the stories you hear on the air.

  • Time is running out on two legislative matters dealing with federal employees commuting to work. About half of weekday D.C. metro riders are receiving some type of subsidy. If Congress doesn't get its act together by the end of the year, a tax subsidy that mass transit commuters use will drop by $115 per month. The two stand-alone proposals, one from Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and one introduced by Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.), provide nontaxable subsidies for mass transit use. These subsidies are set to expire, and if they do, amounts will go back to 2012 levels, which are not adjusted to the cost-of-living increase. (Federal News Radio)

  • Saturday will bring an important deadline for the Obama administration. That's when it promised the troubled HealthCare.gov website would be fixed. But that depends on what you mean by fixed. The Wall Street Journal and others report the administration is fudging on how close to finished the site will actually be. A White House spokesman says fixed will mean it works for 80 percent of users at a time. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius says, "We are definitely on track to have a significantly different user experience by the end of this month." Vice President Joe Biden says the site will be fixed, "God willing." (Wall Street Journal)

  • Even as it struggles to fix HealthCare.gov, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is dealing with an older problem: how to stop waste, fraud and abuse. A new Government Accountability report says CMS is likely missing hundred of millions in improper payments. That's because it doesn't have a good enough handle on so-called program integrity contracts in place to flag them. GAO points out the agency paid $108 million to the contractors in 2012. The work resulted in $250 million in savings. Auditors say CMS staff should do a better job of tying the contractors' work to agency performance goals. (GAO)

  • Two keepers of financial integrity at the Defense Department are under fire. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) says the Defense Finance and Accounting Service and the DoD inspector general have produced faulty audits. He says it casts doubts on whether the department will be able to meet its 2017 deadline for producing a clean financial statement. Grassley also says an outside auditing firm bungled its own assessment of DFAS audits. In a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and DoD IG Jon Rymer, Grassley says the audits were deliberately fudged to hide what he called pervasive inaccuracies in DoD financial reports. (Federal News Radio)

  • Some say in about 10 years, the Air Force will no longer be able perform its duties. Why? Because all its money will be used to pay people. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh says this is not a scare tactic from service leaders — this is real. The Defense Department is asking to at least curb the growth of pay and benefits while it figures out its fiscal problems caused by sequestration. Under sequestration, DoD can't manage its own money, and instead of restructuring its assets and personnel accounts, the deepest cuts will affect military readiness. (Defense Department)

  • Microsoft is considering a new encryption system for its online services. That's to protect the services from surveillance by the National Security Agency. The Washington Post reports, company officials suspect the NSA has penetrated its networks. Microsoft became suspicious when the Post published reports last month that the NSA was intercepting traffic on Google and Yahoo networks. Documents the Post obtained from leaker Edward Snowden mention Microsoft Hotmail and Windows Live Messenger. Microsoft Passport, no longer offered, might have been the target of an NSA surveillance program called MUSCULAR. (Washington Post)

  • The Treasury Department and the IRS released newly proposed qualification requirements for tax exemption when operating as a social welfare organization. The new rules would limit the abilities of those groups engaging in political activity, like voter registration drives and distributing materials for a candidate. The inevitable gray area is how the degree of political activity is defined before tax-exemption is in danger. The IRS says it will leave ample opportunity for public comment on the proposal because of the high-level of interest. USA Today reports former IRS targeted Tea Party groups call the proposal "a feeble attempt by the Obama administration to justify its wrong-doing." (USA Today)