Friday federal headlines – May 24, 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 users more information about the stories you hear on the air.

  • Americans wanting a smaller federal government have gotten it — at least for today. About 5 percent of the federal workforce is on furlough. A White House official confirmed that about 115,000 employees from six agencies are affected. Most work at EPA, Housing and Urban Development, the IRS, and the Office of Management and Budget. Also on furlough today, some employees at the Labor and Interior departments. Some services for the public are also curtailed today. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Internal Revenue Service official at the center of the tax-exempt Tea Party controversy has been placed on paid, administrative leave. That’s according to the office of Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). Aides there say Lois Lerner was asked to resign by the acting IRS Commissioner, Danny Werfel. But she refused. Lerner appeared briefly before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee this week. She declared her innocence, then pled the fifth in refusing to answer questions. Werfel e-mailed employees that Ken Corbin would become acting head of the exempt organizations division. He’s a 27-year career veteran at IRS. (Associated Press)
  • Commerce Secretary nominee Penny Pritzker hit no speed bumps in her confirmation hearing yesterday. Pritzker is a Chicago billionaire who raised funds for President Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns. Some had thought she would face tougher questioning from Republicans on the panel. But even those who asked questions about her family’s offshore trust funds said they saw nothing in her record that would disqualify her. Transportation nominee Anthony Foxx also sailed through his confirmation hearing earlier this week. (Associated Press)
  • Two senators have introduced a bill to make sure federal employees pay their taxes. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) has teamed up with Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) to stop the government from hiring people who haven’t paid up. The measure also would direct agencies to fire workers who are seriously delinquent. It would not apply to those who have worked out a payment plan with the IRS or who are appealing a tax bill. They cite IRS data showing more than 300,000 current and former feds owe back taxes. A similar bill failed in the House. (Sen. Coburn)
  • President Barack Obama has revised White House guidelines for when to launch drone strikes against terror suspects. Now, drones will stay grounded if suspects can be captured alive. The guidelines were made public on the same day as the President’s national security policy speech at the National Defense University. Since 2009, four Americans have been killed by U.S. drone strikes overseas. In his speech, Obama said he would be open to establishing a special court to approve drone strikes ahead of time. He also renewed his commitment to closing the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.(Associated Press)
  • Agencies worried about cybersecurity for smartphones have new advice on how to button them up. The Office of Management and Budget released a 104-page instruction manual with detailed guidelines for phones and tablets. The Mobility Security Reference Architecture offers a range of options depending on how and where the mobile device is used. It applies to government-owned devices. The manual came out on the one-year anniversary of the White House strategy for digital government. Guidelines were developed by people from the Homeland Security and Defense departments and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. (CIO Council/Federal News Radio)
  • Attorney General Eric Holder is reviewing how the Justice Department goes after those who leak information to the media. President Barack Obama says Holder will report back to him in July. In a counterterrorism speech yesterday, the President said he was ‘troubled by the possibility that leak investigations may chill the investigative journalism that holds government accountable.’ He said the Attorney General’s review will include meetings with media organizations. Obama also urged Congress to pass a media shield law. The Justice Department has admitted to seizing phone records and emails of journalists working on stories about national security. (Associated Press)
  • Two House Democrats have released a survey of electric-grid operators in hopes that it will build momentum for new cybersecurity requirements. Out of 100 utilities that responded, most say they have not put in place voluntary cybersecurity measures recommended by the industry association, NERC. One utility reported 10,000 attempted attacks per month. Reps. Ed Markey (Mass.) and Henry Waxman (Calif.) released the survey. They say it underscores the constant cyber threat facing the electric grid. Markey has sponsored a measure to make the grid more secure. A similar bill passed the House in 2010, but the Senate did not act upon it. (Rep. Markey)
  • The Joint Chiefs of Staff and commanders of the services’ legal corps will testify next month on legislation that could overhaul long-standing military code. The Senate Armed Services Committee has called a hearing June 4 on measures to curb sexual assaults in the military. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) is pushing for a system in which victims can report sexual assault directly to a military prosecutor rather than going up the chain of command. (Senate Armed Services Committee)
  • President Barack Obama has tapped several current and former federal employees for high level jobs in his second term. He’s nominated John Thompson as director of the Census Bureau. Thompson would re-enter government from the University of Chicago, but he worked at Census for 17 years before that. The President named Mark Schaefer to run the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He had Interior and White House jobs in the Clinton administration. Victoria Nuland would become Assistant Secretary of State for Europe. She’s held numerous posts since 1985, most recently as the department spokeswoman.