Monday federal headlines – February 17, 2014

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.

  • President Barack Obama took a few moments off his golf mini-vacation to sign a bill lifting the federal debt limit. The Senate passed the bill late last week, following House passage. It lets the Treasury borrow to pay the government’s bills through March 15, 2015. The bill also restores benefits for military retirees that had been reduced in the 2014 federal spending law. (Associated Press)
  • First the National Security Agency wants your cell phone records. Now the Homeland Security Department wants your license plate number. Immigration and Customs Enforcement directorate is trying to give its officers another tool. It’s asking for commercial software that would give officers access to the National License Plate Recognition Database. They would be able to punch a plate number into a smart phone and see what comes up. The solicitation in the Federal Register has already raised hackles of privacy and civil liberties groups. (Federal News Radio)
  • The acting head of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has resigned after six months on the job. Fox News reports, John Sandweg is headed to the private sector. His appointment was controversial because of his scant law enforcement background. The chairman of the House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee called the appointment disrespectful to career officers. Earlier, Sandweg served as a top aid to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. He was criticized for allegedly blocking freedom of information act requests for data on stimulus spending by DHS. He was a criminal defense attorney before joining the administration. (Fox News)
  • Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has approved a wide-ranging review of the military’s nuclear enterprise. He is expanding the scope of a review panel already underway. It’s led by Madelyn Creedon, assistant defense secretary for global strategic affairs, and Rear Adm. Peter Fanta, the Join Staff’s deputy director for resources and acquisition. They are supposed to finish their work Apr. 30. Hagel wants the review to include personnel, training, testing, command oversight, mission performance and investments. A second panel is led by retired Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Larry Welch and retired Adm. John Harvey. They’ll look at personnel policies and management issues. They start March 3 and have 90 days to complete their review. (Defense Department)
  • A lobbying group purporting to represent the elderly and retirees is pushing the government to retain paper checks. The Washington Post reports, the group is actually funded by the paper industry. Consumers for Paper Options is a creature of the Envelope Manufacturers Association. It’s funded by that and other paper industry groups, as well as by paper manufacturers. The group managed to get a provision into the 2014 spending bill. It would require the Social Security Administration to return to paper for annual benefits statements. (Washington Post)
  • A group of professional diplomats wants to make sure that American ambassadors have some qualifications before they head overseas. The American Foreign Service Association says its pushing for new guidelines. The move comes as several Obama administration diplomatic appointees flubbed their Senate hearings. They were all identified as top campaign donors. Association President Robert Silverman says Obama is not the first president to nominate unqualified people for ambassadorships. (Associated Press)
  • Energy Department investigators say they’ve found no radiation leaking to the surface in New Mexico. They’ve been testing at a site where radiation was detected by underground monitors. The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant is where the government stores low-grade nuclear waste. A fire occurred there earlier this month. Energy officials say they don’t think that’s what caused the underground radiation levels to rise. (Associated Press)