Thursday federal headlines – February 6, 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 nominates the first openly gay black man to serve as a federal judge. Florida state judge Darrin Gayles is one of four new picks for U.S. district courts. The nominations are part of a White House push to increase diversity on the federal bench. The White House says the pool of candidates now before the Senate, 63 in all, is the most diverse in history. Slightly less than half are women. A fifth are African American. Obama aide Valerie Jarrett met privately with the Congressional Black Caucus. It has complained about the lack of diversity, particularly among southern judges. (White House)
  • Think-tank leader Bob Work is President Barack Obama’s choice for the number two civilian job at the Pentagon. Bloomberg News reports, the official announcement could come this week. Work is CEO of the Center for a New American Security. He went there last year after spending five years as Navy undersecretary. If confirmed, he would succeed Ashton Carter as deputy defense secretary. Carter left in December. (Bloomberg)
  • Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel wants military leaders to get serious about improving moral character and courage. He’s worried by a string of scandals involving cheating on tests and taking kickbacks in contracting and recruiting. The revelations have occurred in the Army, Navy and Air Force in recent weeks. Hagel met privately with the top uniformed officers to discuss the ethics issue. His spokesman, Rear Adm. John Kirby, tells reporters Hagel is worried Defense leaders still don’t know the extent of ethical lapses. And they aren’t certain whether the rash of problems is coincidental or an indication of a systemic problem. (Associated Press)
  • The Washington Navy Yard building where 12 people were killed by a gunman last September will get a new name. When it reopens, the former Sea Systems Command Building 197 will be named for Joshua Humphreys. He is an 18th century naval architect who designed the Navy’s first six frigates. Vice Adm. William Hilarides tells employees of the change in an email. He says officials are considering renumbering the building also. The changes, he says, will help establish a new sense of place for returning employees. The building will re-open in 2015 with a remembrance area and a new visitor entrance. It houses some 3,000 people. (Associated Press)
  • A Booz Allen vice chairman, and former head of the National Security Agency, says Edward Snowden was a thief before he stole NSA records on surveillance activities. Mike McConnell spoke at a Wall Street Journal event about why his company hired Snowden to work on its NSA contract. The Journal reports, McConnell accuses Snowden of breaking into the NSA’s network to steal the agency’s entrance exam with the answers. McConnell says Snowden aced the test but failed to get the job he wanted. Booz Allen hired him because the government already had vetted him. (Wall Street Journal)
  • The National Labor Relations Board proposes rules to make it easier for employees to unionize. Reuters reports, the rules are nearly the same as ones the agency pitched three years ago. But a federal court nixed those plans. The board lacked a quorum of at least three out of five members when it approved them. Now the board has five Senate-confirmed members. The three Democrats support the rules. The two Republicans oppose them. The rules would let unions hold workplace elections more quickly. They would also force employers to give employee phone numbers and emails to union leaders before an election. (Federal Register)
  • Federal employees are sticking to the home office. Travel spending last year was off 18 percent compared to a year earlier. It’s on track to fall again this year. Federal Times reports, travel spending fell from $8.5 billion in 2012 to less than $7 billion in 2013. That’s based on data from the General Services Administration’s SmartPay charge card program. Spending since the start of fiscal 2014 points to a 33 percent drop in travel. Agencies have been operating under travel restraints ordered by the White House back in May of 2012. (Federal Times)
  • The Commerce Department addresses privacy concerns as facial recognition technology becomes more popular. More services, from social networking sites to video games and building security systems, are collecting and keeping biometric data. Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration hosts tech companies, consumer groups and others today. They’ll try to craft privacy safeguards. Assistant Secretary Larry Strickling says the process will be quick, flexible and decentralized, like the Internet itself. (National Telecommunications and Information Administration)
  • Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says climate change is harming farmers and rural U.S. residents. He spoke at kickoff ceremonies for the climate change hubs USDA is establishing in seven locations nationwide. Vilsack cites the frequency and intensity of recent storms, long droughts and temperature extremes. An October snowstorm in the Dakotas wiped out whole cattle operations. A warm winter let pine bark beetles survive to infect 45 million trees. Vilsack says the government needs to act now to help mitigate the effects of climate change. The hubs will act as clearing houses for data and research, and plans for dealing with climate risks. (Associated Press)
  • The FAA is looking to a down-to-earth danger. Namely, whether airport control towers are safe from lightning strikes. Responding to a freedom of information request, officials tell the AP they’re examining lightning protection systems nationwide. The exam follows an episode in September. A controller working in the tower at Baltimore Washington International Airport was shocked while throwing a generator switch during a thunderstorm. Controllers halted flights for two hours. The controller, Edward Boyd, lived but needs hand surgery. FAA says the failure was the first on record. (Associated Press)