House may begin debating NSA measure this week

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Politics,Congress,Susan Ferrechio,Veterans Affairs,PennAve,NSA

Congress this week could begin considering an anti-snooping measure that would end the government's dragnet collection of telephone call data.

The House will also take on the growing mismanagement scandal at the Department of Veterans Affairs with legislation that would make it easier to fire top executives for poor performance.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., has tentatively placed the “USA Freedom Act” on the floor schedule for a time later in the week.

The bill is all but guaranteed to bring to the floor a heated debate on the nation's privacy rights when it comes to electronic surveillance by the government's National Security Agency as it tries to monitor warning signs for terrorism.

House Republican leaders are aiming to keep the debate on NSA surveillance separate from a planned vote later in the week that would authorize fiscal 2015 defense spending.

The USA Freedom Act is sponsored by Rep. James Sensenbrenner, a chief architect of the original Patriot Act, which is the law that enabled the stepped-up government data collection by the NSA following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The Wisconsin Republican has become a leading critic of the NSA’s data collection and believes it overreaches the law he helped author.

The USA Freedom Act would end the practice of bulk data collection of calls made in the United States and would also limit the practice of “reverse targeting” of foreign calls in order to gain access to American calls. It would also create a new oversight program aimed at preventing overly aggressive data collection by the NSA.

While the bill unanimously passed the House Judiciary Committee earlier this month, some critics believe the Sensenbrenner’s bill has been weakened. For instance, the legislation was amended to allow government officials to collect phone date from an individual who is separated by up to two degrees from a person with suspected terrorist connections. And the bill was stripped of a provision that would have required independent oversight of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which approves warrants for data collection.

House lawmakers are likely to support the “Department of Veterans Affairs Management Accountability Act of 2014.”

The legislation was authored in response to reports that Veterans Affairs administrators were falsifying records to hide long waiting lists for veterans seeking medical care. But it also provides a way to allow the faulty employee to remain on the government payroll.

The bill would give the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs authority to fire senior executives, “whose performance the Secretary believes warrants removal, from the government service completely or transfer them to a General Schedule position within the current civil service system.”

At a Senate hearing last week, lawmakers criticized VA Secretary Eric Shinseki for giving positive reviews and bonuses worth up to $63,000 to top VA officials who were connected with the mismanagement problems.

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