Wednesday federal headlines – July 17, 2013

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.

  • He won’t wear a barrel to work, but Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has ordered sharp budget cuts for his office and for top brass across the Pentagon. Cuts will reach up to 20 percent and will be in effect until 2019. They will apply to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and headquarters offices of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps. Hagel says top officials should share the sacrifices being made by uniformed and civilian personnel throughout the military. Spokesman George Little said the cuts would save as much as $2 billion over five years. (Associated Press)
  • The Internal Revenue Service is canceling one of its five planned furlough days. Employees have already taken three unpaid days off. But Acting Commissioner Danny Werfel says that by scrounging around for other savings, the agency can limit furloughs to four days. The furlough day scheduled for this coming Monday now becomes an unscheduled leave day for those who had planned to not be at work. Among the cost-cutting measures is cancellation of nearly $100 million worth of employees’ bonuses. (Federal News Radio)
  • Joint Base Andrews is operating on a reduced scale because of expected water outages. Only mission-essential or emergency employees should report to work. Others should check with their supervisors about working from home, using a furlough day or making alternative arrangements. The base is one of several southern Prince George’s County, Maryland communities that could be without water for days because of emergency pipeline work. Drinking-water stands and toilet facilities will be available starting at noon for people who live and work on the base. (Joint Base Andrews)
  • The Senate came to a last-minute compromise yesterday, with members agreeing to vote on seven presidential nominees by simple majorities. The first clear winner of the battle is Richard Cordray. The Senate easily confirmed him as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Export-Import Bank President Fred Hochberg’s chance comes today. EPA pick Gina McCarthy and Labor nominee Thomas Perez could get votes later this week. In exchange for the GOP backing down, President Barack Obama withdrew two controversial nominations for the National Labor Relations Board. Richard Griffin and Sharon Clark are out. Obama is tapping NLRB Chief Counsel Kent Hirozawa and former AFL-CIO lawyer Nancy Schiffer instead. (Associated Press)
  • A sharp-eyed Senator praised progress by the State and Defense departments in cleaning up foreign construction contracts. But Missouri’s Claire McCaskill says she wants more success stories. The hearing before the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee was to gage progress in reforms called for in the 2013 Defense authorization bill, according to GovExec. It followed years of reports of wasted money in Iraq and Afghanistan. McCaskill said things have improved since 2007. But she called on the agencies to cancel contracts because they found bad contracting actors, not because their budgets were cut. She cited the recent case of a $34 million Marine facility in Helmand Province that will never be used. Richard Ginman, the Defense procurement chief, said he had no explanation for that one. (GovExec)
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  • Microsoft wants the Justice Department to cut it a little slack. It wants out from under a gag order that prevents the company from publishing more detail about government requests for customer information. Microsoft and other companies can only report the total number of federal requests for information. Microsoft wants to break out how many come from law enforcement and how many from the National Security Agency. Its letter to Attorney General Eric Holder follows a motion it made in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. General Counsel Bradford Smith says Microsoft is making its request on Constitutional, free-speech grounds. (Associated Press)
  • Most Americans do not trust the federal government to safeguard their personal information, according to a poll by Harris Interactive. The firm surveyed more than 2,000 adults following revelations of the National Security Agency’s broad spying programs. Americans would rather give their personal data to their doctor, their bank and even, by a slight margin, online retailers. In 2009, Harris found 54 percent of adults trusted the government to handle their personal data securely, compared with 48 percent today. (Harris Interactive)
  • A signature White House web site is about to get a major overhaul. In a blog posting, the White House previews the new version of Data.gov. That’s the site where agencies have published 75,000 data sets so they are available to the public. It’s one of the pillars in President Obama’s open government strategy. Besides a fresh appearance, the White House says Data.gov will have an improved search engine and rotating data visualizations. A team at the General Services Administration does the technical work on Data.gov. (White House)
  • The Commerce Department has proposed a new approach to getting government and industry to work together on cybersecurity. Through the National Institute of Standards and Technology, it wants to create the first Federally Funded Research and Development Center dedicated to cybersecurity. The proposed FFRDC would carry out the goals of the National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence. NIST established that cooperative in 2012 to find solutions to the big cyber challenges. The National Science Foundation’s master list of FFRDCs lists 41 of them. The NIST development center would be the first totally dedicated to cybersecurity. (Federal News Radio)
  • New Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker has launched a listening tour. She is traveling cross country to meet with business leaders, academics and Commerce employees. Pritzker says she wants to be a bridge to the business community and strengthen the department. Her first stop is Colorado. She is meeting with Ball Aerospace Technologies. It is helping Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration develop its satellite program. The department says she’ll also visit the Colorado offices of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, NOAA and other Commerce divisions. (Commerce)
  • The Pentagon is promising not to give any more pay raises to foreign nationals working on military bases abroad as long as American civilian employees are being furloughed. North Carolina Senator Kay Hagan has 19,000 Defense civilian employees in her state. She had called on Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to make the pledge after learning that Germans working on U.S. bases in that country would get 1 percent pay increases. Defense officials say it’s part of a tariff agreement. It will go forward as planned. (Federal News Radio)
  • The National Zoo is boosting security — not to keep people out, but to make sure animals stay in. Staff are inspecting every tree limb and bush, looking for possible escape routes. The new measures were prompted by a red panda’s escape last month. One-year-old Rusty got as far as Adams Morgan. A resident spotted him climbing up a tree and tweeted his photo to the Zoo. Rusty is under tighter surveillance now. Zoo keepers have removed the bamboo around his exhibit. They say the prospect of a snack may have tempted Rusty to fly the coop. (Associated Press)