Wednesday federal headlines – February 19, 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.

  • The General Services Administration is trying a new tack in cutting federal travel costs, starting with itself. It’s launched a prize challenge to come up with a new tool for using federal travel data. The winner gets $35,000. GSA cautions developers, the resulting tool is only for internal government use. It’s not meant for displaying travel data publicly. A panel of GSA insiders will judge the entries. They’ll award the winner May 9. GSA will test the software on its own travel before offering it governmentwide. (Federal News Radio)
  • Do feds get too many snow days? The Washington Times reports, federal offices have been closed for a quarter of this fiscal year. Between the weather, the shutdown and holidays, agency doors have shut for all or some of 27 days since Oct. 1. To be fair, the paper singles out Congress as the biggest no-show. Members have not stayed in Washington long enough for a five-day work week this year. (Washington Times)
  • The FBI has its sights on state and local officials in Northern Virginia. Its Washington field office is asking for the public’s help to identify corruption. It cites a recent case of motor vehicle officials accepting bribes from illegal aliens, and a local fire chief who admitted stealing funds from a federal grant. The notice says public corruption is the FBI’s number one criminal investigative priority. It says the secretive nature of corruption makes it hard to spot without tips. To help identify potential criminal activity, the Washington field office has set up a Northern Virginia Public Corruption Hotline at 703-686-6225 and email at (FBI)
  • A U.S. Border Patrol agent, who was hit by a thrown rock, shot and killed a man suspected of entering the United States illegally. The incident happened four miles east of a crossing point in San Diego. It has sparked new debates over deadly force. A patrol spokesman says the agent feared for his life after a rock stuck his head. The Police Executive Research Forum led a government-commissioned review last year. It recommended that CBP not use deadly force against rock-throwers and assailants in vehicles. The Border Patrol maintains that rocks can be lethal. (Associated Press)
  • The Senate confirmed Bill LaPlante as the next assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition. LaPlante has been the principal deputy in the acquisition slot. He has a total of 28 years of federal and academic service. He has spent time on the Defense Science Board and at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.(Air Force)
  • The Navy plans to deploy an exotic new weapon this year. It’s a super powerful laser officials say can shoot down drone aircraft or sink small boats. The device can be operated by one sailor. It requires a lot of electrical power, but the cost per blast is thought to be lower than that of traditional ordnance. Next year the Navy hopes to try out another new weapon called a rail gun. It launches a projectile at supersonic speeds using magnets instead of explosives. It takes so much power no existing ship has enough. Navy officials are waiting for completion of a new, gas turbine powered destroyer. The Zumwalt is under construction at Bath Iron Works, Maine. Program manager Capt. Mike Ziv says the new weapons fundamentally change how the Navy fights. (Associated Press)
  • The Energy Department will approve a $6.5 billion loan for the first new nuclear power plant built in the United States in more than three decades. Secretary Ernest Moniz is expected to mention the deal at a speech today. Tomorrow he visits the plant, now under construction in eastern Georgia. It will cost about $14 billion in all. It’s scheduled to open in 2018. (Associated Press)
  • The National Park Service closes its Black Women’s History collection temporarily so that it can renovate its historic location. It says the Mary McLeod Bethune Council House needs repairs. The collection goes to the agency’s museum resource center in Landover. The move happening now, in February, black history month, has upset some historians who fear the collection will permanently lose its D.C. home. The reports, a group of scholars and activists urges the Park Service to reconsider its decision. (National Park Service)