Friday federal headlines – March 21, 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 unemployment rate for veterans stands roughly equal to the rest of the workforce at 6.6 percent. But for veterans who served since 2001, the picture is grimmer but improving. The latest Labor Department figures show unemployment for them is 9 percent. It was nearly 10 percent a year ago. For young veterans, those between 18 and 24 years old, the unemployment rate stands at more than 21 percent. The veterans employment report shows that despite training and job skills acquired in the military, young veterans of recent conflicts encounter more difficulty in finding work than civilians. (Associated Press, Bureau of Labor Statistics)
  • Interior Secretary Sally Jewell formalizes a pledge to hire thousands of young people and veterans. Her secretarial order promises that the department will provide 100,000 work and training opportunities over four years. Job seekers will be placed in the department or elsewhere through public-private partnerships. Jewell gives bureaus and offices 45 days to figure out how to make this happen. The administration asks Congress for more than $50 million to pay for youth programs and employment in fiscal 2015. That would be a big hike of 37 percent over this year. (Interior Department)
  • The Army general at the center of a sexual misconduct case received a reprimand and a $20,000 fine. But no prison time. The verdict in the case of Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair shocked legal experts and some members of Congress for how light it is. Sinclair immediately resigned from the Army. He could still face a reduction in rank. The former 82nd airborne deputy commander had an affair with a subordinate female officer. In a plea bargain, he pleaded guilty to adultery and inappropriate relationships. But the Army dropped charges of sexual assault. In a separate case, an Air Force sergeant is sentenced to 25 years in military prison for molesting young girls in Germany and the United States. Technical Sergeant Michael Merritt pleaded guilty to charges of sexual assault and kidnapping. (Associated Press)
  • Google makes it harder for the government to read people’s emails, as the White House polls the public on big data and privacy. Google enhances encryption of messages received and sent by the 425 million people with Gmail accounts. Former NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden leaked documents showing the intelligence agency had secretly tapped into communication hubs that linked Google and Yahoo data centers around the world. Meanwhile, the White House sets up a web page to poll Americans on data collection and privacy. Among the questions: How much do you trust intelligence or law enforcement agencies with your data? Counselor John Podesta says the poll is part of a 90-day review. (Gmail Blog, White House)
  • The Energy Department will use a commercial nuclear waste dump in Texas while it deals with problems in New Mexico. The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad has been closed since February after ration leaks contaminated 17 workers. More radiation was detected earlier this month. The Los Alamos National Lab will ship its material to Waste Control Specialists in Andrews, Texas. That’s about 100 miles east of Carlsbad. The WIPP plans can only store nuclear weapons- related waste. The commercial facility normally takes in nuclear materials from power plants and hospitals. (NextGov, ABC News)
  • Real IRS agents do not call people to tell them to pay their taxes with a prepaid debit card or a wire transfer. Those phone calls are part of the largest phone scam agency Inspector General J. Russell George says he’s ever seen. He says scam artists pretending to be IRS agents have targeted more than 20,000 taxpayers. His office began receiving complaints about the scam in August, primarily from immigrants. Since then, it has spread to a degree George says is “alarming.” His office is working with major phone carriers to track the origins of the calls. (Internal Revenue Service)
  • Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has ordered a top-to-bottom review of the hardware worn on military chests. His spokesman, Rear Admiral John Kirby, says Hagel thinks 13 years of combat call for changes. The medals and awards review will be spearheaded by Jessica Wright, the acting undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness. She’ll get started in June and have one year to finish. She will work with Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Hagel wants to make sure the awards program reflects the joint nature of warfare. And he wants to make sure it properly recognizes contributions from those outside the line of fire, such as remote pilots. (Defense Department)
  • A powerful House Republican subpoenas the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives for documents on storefront operations. House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) says he has no choice after waiting more than a year for the bureau to cooperate. At issue is Operation Fearless. Issa accuses the bureau of mismanaging it. In the operation, the ATF runs stings to catch traffickers selling stolen weapons. Agents pose as buyers. The Justice Department inspector general is reviewing activities in four cities. (House Oversight and Government Reform Committee)