Friday morning federal headlines – May 4, 2012

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 Justice Department is relying more and more on secret warrants to carry out investigations against suspected spies and terrorists. The Federation of American Scientists uncovered a letter the agency sent to the Senate. It said Justice asked a secret court’s permission to wiretap or search for evidence more than 1,700 times last year. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court did not reject any requests, although it modified a few of them. At the same time, the letter said, the FBI was making fewer national security letter requests than in the past. Those letters let it collect sensitive and private information about people in the United States. (Federal News Radio)
  • Congress will investigate an unusual deal offered to contractors by GSA’s Public Buildings Service. GSA was asking contractors to pay the agency a portion of tax breaks the companies would receive for making buildings more efficient. GSA officials said they had no takers and discontinued the program. Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La.), a member of the Ways and Means Committee, sent letters to 17 agency leaders asking if they offered similar deals. (Federal News Radio)
  • The latest numbers suggest the feared federal retirement tsunami might have taken a month off. The Office of Personnel Management said it received about 1,400 fewer claims in April than it had expected. That gave the agency a bit of breathing space and allowed it to make progress on a backlog of claims about 51,000 strong. It reported a 17 percent drop since the beginning of the year, when it implemented a new strategy. The break may not last long, though. The number of federal retirees has risen steadily over the past few years. (Federal News Radio)
  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said one way to get rid of an invasive species is to eat it for dinner. NOAA is trying to turn Asian carp into a nutritious meal for Haitian earthquake victims. NOAA said the fish is a nuisance for Louisiana fishermen and often gets caught in their nets. But it’s full of protein. Toss in a bit of tomato sauce and it resembles a popular Haitian sardine dish. Orphans at a children’s home on the island gobbled it up in a pilot program. Now NOAA is working toward canning enough carp to fill a 40-foot shipping container heading to Haiti. (NOAA)
  • The General Services Administration is not the only agency hiring magicians for its conferences. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration intended to hire one for a conference in suburban Maryland. But it withdrew the request for proposals a few days later. GovExec reported that NOAA wanted a motivational speaker for a June management training session. It called for a person who could translate magic and the psychology of magic into a method of teaching leadership. NOAA said it has referred the solicitation to the agency general counsel. (GovExec)
  • An inspector general uncovered a scandal at an agency that led lawmakers to call for a top official’s resignation. This time, it was the National Labor Relations Board under fire. The IG accused Board Member Terrence Flynn of violating federal regulations and standards of conduct and threatening the board’s due process. Investigators said Flynn leaked sensitive information to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s campaign last year. They continued investigating Flynn because of comments he made publicly concerning the board’s cases. Democratic lawmakers are calling for Flynn to resign and for the Justice Department to investigate. (
  • The General Services Administration wants a choice of ways to certify buildings as green. The popular Green Building Council’s certification program, known as LEEDS, is not the only game in town. GSA identified no less than 180 organizations. It narrowed that list down to three certifying bodies. Besides the council, there’s the Green Building Initiative’s Green Globes and the International Living Building Challenge. GSA has launched a review to make sure that, among them, the three certifiers can cover all federal real estate. (GSA)

    Former First Lady Laura Bush is helping the National Mall get a makeover. She said the Mall is “America’s backyard.” But it’s not the well-manicured and vibrant gathering place that many would like to see. ABC News reported, Bush is helping the Trust for the National Mall raise $350 million for the landscaping project to match federal funds. The foundation has picked three design contest winners. Their ideas include an ice rink by the Washington Monument, concert space and more shaded walking paths. (ABC News)