Monday federal headlines – March 3, 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.

  • Federal agencies in the D.C. region are closed today as a late winter storm pounds the area. The Office of Personnel Management says emergency and telework-ready employees required to work should follow their agency’s policies. Non-emergency employees, including those on pre-approved paid leave, will be granted an excused absence. Federal Executive Board agencies in the Baltimore area will also be closed, and employees there will be granted administrative leave. That’s according to Richard Howell, the executive director of the Baltimore FEB. The overnight frozen rain has turned to snow. Forecasters predict some areas will get up to 10 inches before it stops late this afternoon. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Commerce Department is expected to release two economic reports on Monday, even though the snowstorm has forced federal offices to close. The Wall Street Journal reports, the reports will come out under a special closure procedure that could make them slightly late. The first report is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. It will be a measure of personal income and consumer spending. At 10 a.m. comes the construction spending report. Surveys of economists predict a small upturn in spending, but a decline in construction. (Wall Street Journal)
  • The Senate may vote this week to remove military commanders from sexual assault investigations. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) tells CBS’ “Face the Nation” that her measure has the votes to overcome a filibuster. She says sexual assault victims often stay silent because they do not trust the chain of command. The Pentagon estimates 26,000 service members may have been sexually assaulted last year. Just a fraction reported it. (Associated Press)
  • Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel joined the talking heads on the Sunday airwaves to discuss the Ukraine situation. Hagel appears on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” He urges a diplomatic approach to resolve what he calls a dangerous situation in Ukraine. He emphasizes the need for diplomacy rather than a show of U.S. military force. Hagel says increasing tensions would be a mistake. NATO yesterday called Russia’s occupation of Crimea a breach of international law. It asked Russia to de-escalate the tensions. (Defense Department)
  • Western powers led by the United States are considering their options in the face of Russian occupation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula. Ukraine’s new government was joined by President Obama in calls for Russian President Vladimir Putin to withdraw his forces. U.S. officials believe 6,000 Russian troops are in Crimea. Putin says he has to protect Russians there after last week’s change of government. Secretary of State John Kerry heads for Kiev on Tuesday. He says he has the backing of European Union nations to impose economic and diplomatic sanctions on Russia. (Associated Press)
  • The Food and Drug Administration wants to keep its ear to the ground. It’s looking for a contractor to help it monitor social media. It wants early clues to problems such as food poisoning outbreaks or trouble with drugs and medical devices. In a request for information, officials say social media can also help the FDA check the effectiveness of its communications with the public. It cites blogs, forums, message boards, wikis and podcasts. The agency says it will reserve an eventual contract for a small, disadvantaged business. The FDA says it wants a social media dashboard to gather its surveillance in one place. (FedBizOpps)
  • It seems like the whole world watches the Oscars, and then some. NASA astronauts aboard the International Space Station sent video congratulations to “Gravity” director Alfonso Cuaron and his team. They took home seven Oscars. During the filming, Sandra Bullock sought advice from NASA Astronaut Cady Coleman about life in space. But the space agency says reality is much safer than the movie portrays. It cautions that it works to protect astronauts and vehicles from the dangers portrayed in the movie. (NASA)
  • Will she or will she not testify? Former IRS official Lois Lerner seems to be sending mixed messages about whether she will speak to a House committee. Lerner is at the center of a controversy about whether the IRS targeted conservative groups and delayed their tax exempt applications. She resigned last year after pleading her Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination. Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa tells Fox News Sunday he expects her to answer all questions. But her lawyer tells the Wall Street Journal, if called Lerner will again plead the fifth. (Associated Press/Wall Street Journal)
  • The IRS says it investigated more tax violations and financial crimes last year, despite severe budget cuts. It opened 12.5 percent more cases in fiscal 2013 than the year before, and more of them were winners. The IRS says prosecutors won convictions 93 percent of the time. More than a quarter of the cases investigated involve identity theft. It remains a top priority. Other top concerns include fraud by tax return preparers and others and public corruption. (IRS)
  • President Barack Obama wants better-trained federal employees. The Office of Personnel Management Director Katherine Archuleta says the President’s budget for next year includes career-development measures. This comes after years of cuts to staff training. The White House sends the proposal to Congress tomorrow. (Federal News Radio)