Tuesday federal headlines – December 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.

  • The Senate confirms Jeh Johnson as the fourth Secretary of Homeland Security. Democrats use their new, lower threshold for defeating filibusters. They end a Republican blockade with 57 votes. The final vote on Johnson was 78 in favor, 16 against. Johnson had been chief counsel for the Defense Department. His confirmation hearings took place last month. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Navy has released plans for renovating the building that was the scene of the Navy Yard shooting. Building 197 will remain the headquarters for Naval Sea Systems Command. When employees return in 2015, they’ll see a new visitor’s entrance and a memorial to the dozen colleagues who were killed in September. A Navy spokesperson says the interior will be brightened to give “a sense of a different place.” But if employees don’t want to return to the building, they won’t have to. She says the Navy will find space for them elsewhere in the Navy Yard complex. (Associated Press)
  • After pledging new military aid to Vietnam, Secretary of State John Kerry moves on to the Philippines. He says the U.S. will provide the Philippines’ security forces with $40 million in new aid over the next three years. The money is aimed at helping the country protect its territorial waters from Chinese encroachment. China has claimed sovereignty over the South China Sea, causing a rise in tensions between China and its Asian neighbors. Some of the U.S. money will go to help the Philippines National Police battle al-Qaida-linked militants in the country’s southern islands. (Associated Press)
  • The White House has named its annual SAVE Award finalists. The four federal employees have suggested ways to save the government money. Now it’s time for the public to vote on their ideas. Kenneth Siehr suggests the Veterans Health Administration let vets track shipments of their prescription drugs through the online portal My Healthy Vet. Now, veterans have to call their local VA medical center to find out when their packages will arrive. Patrick Mindiola says when the State Department needs more information from passport applicants, it should try to contact them first by email rather than snail mail. He says that could save a lot of stamps. Dirk Renner says when an employee goes from one agency to another, his training certifications should too. He recently found out his Forest Service All-Terrain Vehicle training was not transferable to the Fish and Wildlife Service, where he now works. And Buyar Hayrula says Custom and Border Protection needs a secure website to collect payments by credit card at land ports of entry. Now payment requests are sent by mail when a cashier is not available. (White House)
  • The Food and Drug Administration has conducted more than 40 years of research, only to say it cannot find evidence that anti-bacterial soaps prevent the spread of germs. Now the FDA wants manufacturers to prove their products do not pose health risks. The agency’s new proposal comes more than four decades after it first began studying common ingredients of liquid soaps. The FDA agreed to publish its findings only after an environmental group sued. The Natural Resources Defense Council accused the agency of delaying action on chemicals that could be dangerous. (FDA)
  • The government can’t seem to buy a floor mop without a protest. Three companies lodged protests over the General Services Administration’s janitorial and sanitation supplies solicitation. It’s one of GSA’s strategic sourcing initiatives. United Laboratories and GMS filed their protest with the agency. Staples filed its protest with the Government Accountability Office. GSA has already received bids, which were due Dec. 5. GSA officials hope to launch 10 strategic sourcing deals by 2015. (Federal News Radio)
  • “Unconstitutional” — that’s what U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon is calling the National Security Agency’s mass surveillance of Americans. Leon issued a ruling yesterday in the first of several cases. He writes, the spy agency’s bulk collection of telephone records violates the Fourth Amendment right to privacy. He calls the technology “almost-Orwellian” and says James Madison “would be aghast.” Conservative lawyer Larry Klayman brought the lawsuit, seeking a temporary injunction against the NSA program. He did not get it. The judge says, considering what’s at stake, he would stay his order pending appeal. (Associated Press)
  • Members of Congress want the Obama administration to press the issue of restricted data transmissions with U.S. allies. Several countries, including Germany, want to limit the flow of data through their countries. They cite National Security Agency surveillance. But 12 Democrats and six Republicans tell Trade Representative Michael Froman to push back. They’re led by Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) and Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.). They argue the data restrictions hurt U.S. companies like Google and Apple, and impede cloud computing. (Associated Press)