Monday federal headlines – March 24, 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.

  • A government watchdog suggests the General Services Administration needs to pay more attention to federal officials’ use of government airplanes for pleasure trips. The Government Accountability Office criticizes GSA for inaccurate record-keeping. Attorney General Eric Holder and other Justice Department officials boarded government planes for reasons unrelated to work nearly 400 times between fiscal 2009 and 2011. None of that was reported to the GSA because of a wide exemption for intelligence agencies. (Government Accountability Office)
  • A little more than half of the veterans who got college money under the Post 9/11 GI Bill since 2009 eventually graduated. That’s according to a study by Student Veterans of America. The study showed that about 52 percent of veterans earned a degree or certificate. That’s a bit lower than the graduation rate of traditional students. The Veterans Affairs Department backed the study, aided by the National Student Clearinghouse. The VA has spent more than $35 billion in benefits on Post 9/11 GI bill students. (Associated Press)
  •, the government’s uber download site, is moving into the climate change business. The Climate Data Initiative is spearheaded by John Podesta, one of President Obama’s top political advisers. The new site brings together data sets from federal agencies and other sources. Its stated aim is to help local communities develop resilience plans. Google has contributed a petabyte of data storage capacity and 50 million hours of high performance computing time. According to a White House blog, the geographic information software company ESRI is partnering with 12 cities to create free maps and apps to help them plan for climate change impacts. (White House)
  • The Defense Department says the money it set aside for helping find the Malaysia Flight 370 plane will last until early April. Spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren says the Pentagon set aside $4 million for the effort. So far, DoD has spent $2.5 million, mostly operating two search airplanes. Last week the Navy recalled a destroyer that had been hunting for the missing jet. The Pentagon has switched out the ship escorting a hijacked tanker filled with Libyan oil. The frigate USS Elrod has relieved the USS Stout. The Stout crew took over the Morning Glory Tanker last week at the request of the Libyan government. The Navy is escorting Morning Glory back to custody of the Libyan Navy. (Defense Department)
  • U.S. special operations forces and military aircraft are headed to Uganda to help search for the fugitive African warlord Joseph Kony. The White House says the military is sending a limited number of resources. They include some CV-22 Osprey, refueling aircraft and support personnel. President Barack Obama sent in 2011 about 100 U.S. troops to help African forces find Kony. The International Criminal Court charged the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army with war crimes back in 2005. (Associated Press)
  • Watch out Virginia — Maryland officials are out in force today to back Prince George’s County as the new home of the FBI. Gov. Martin O’Malley joins Maryland’s congressional delegation at an event at the University of Maryland in College Park. Officials estimate the FBI headquarters is a $2 billion economic development project and could bring 11,000 jobs to the area. Virginia officials say their state would be a better home since it already houses the FBI’s training center at Quantico. The General Services Administration plans to solicit developers this spring or summer. (Associated Press)
  • The Internal Revenue Service is reorganizing part of its Tax Exempt and Government Entities division. That’s the office at the center of an ongoing dispute about whether it delayed applications from conservative groups. GovExec reports, the division’s legal team is shifting over to the IRS Office of Chief Counsel. The so-called technical law specialists are responsible for published guidance on tax exempt matters. In a statement, the IRS says all other divisional legal experts are already under the Chief Counsel’s office. Some of the affected employees are members of the National Treasury Employees Union. President Colleen Kelley says the union is watching to make sure they aren’t adversely affected. (GovExec)
  • Senators vote this week on whether to declassify key parts of a report on terrorism interrogations. A vote to publish the materials could make relations between the Senate and the CIA even worse, forcing President Barack Obama to take a stand. At issue is a 400-page summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s look into waterboarding and other tactics used by intelligence officials at overseas black sites following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein accuses the CIA of monitoring Senate investigators’ computer use. The agency says the Senate staffers illegally accessed some documents. Each side has registered criminal complaints with the Justice Department. (Associated Press)