Thursday federal headlines – April 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.

  • Postal workers across the nation protest a Postal Service deal with Staples. The American Postal Workers Union has organized events at 50 office supply stores nationwide. They don’t like the idea of Staples employees selling postal products, like stamps, at special counters at the stores. The union says the deal could pave the way for layoffs and the closing of post offices. It wants the counters staffed by its members. The Postal Service sees its partnership with Staples as part of a financial lifeline as it tries to cut costs and boost revenue. (American Postal Workers Union)
  • A military job placement program for military spouses is exceeding its goals, according to the Defense Department. The Military Spouse Employment Partnership has a huge success rate, and has connected more than 60,000 spouses with private and public sector jobs. The Defense Department has also named May as Military Spouse Appreciation Month, to shed light on the sacrifice and support spouses provide to service members and communities. The career program is meant to help military spouses achieve their career goals, which can be difficult because of frequent moving around. More than 1.8 million jobs have been posted on the program’s career portal, and officials say they’re well on their way to surpassing the 2015 target of seeing 50,000 new hires. (Defense Department)
  • Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says he’s seeking ways to further the U.S. and Mexico defense relationship. This may include training exercises with Mexican forces. Military relations with Mexico have long been strained and more recently because of cross-border drug trafficking. Hagel will meet today with his Mexican counterpart. He says they plan to discuss security threats and the potential areas for cooperation such as disaster planning and humanitarian assistance. The secretary says there is a lot of room for enhanced ties with the U.S.’ Latin American partners. One sign of these improvements is Mexico’s interest in buying U.S. helicopters. Previously, the country bought Russian helicopters. (Associated Press)
  • The inspector general of the intelligence community says agencies fail to disclose employees’ crimes, as revealed by lie-detector tests. The agencies are supposed to alert law enforcement. But the report by IG Charles McCullough cites breakdowns in reporting procedures and poor advice from agency lawyers. McCullough says Intelligence Director James Clapper has agreed to review agency guidelines on polygraph admissions. The report cites glaring examples from National Reconnaissance Office. It says the agency failed to notify police after polygraphs indicated employees had possibly committed crimes from child pornography to drug possession. (Associated Press)
  • The administration is encouraging non-violent federal prisoners to apply for an early release in an effort to ease the cost and crowding of prisons, and also to be more tolerant. The Justice Department announced its renewed clemency process for low-level felons and its intent to correct sentencing disparities. The plan only applies to federal prisons. But state prisons also have massive overcrowding problems. The Bureau of Prisons will tell inmates about the six criteria in order to be considered for early release. Some of those criteria are: no violent history, no ties to a criminal organization and the inmate must have already served 10 years or more of a sentence that, if convicted today, would be a substantially shorter sentence. (Associated Press)
  • The Food and Drug Administration is widening its oversight of tobacco products. A proposal being issued today will ban sales to minors of new products, and require companies to first register their products and provide a full ingredient list. The FDA’s move is thought to be the necessary groundwork for eventually attempting to curb the fast growing electronic cigarette market. Even though no immediate steps are being taken, such as banning e-cig flavors, limiting marketing or finalizing product standards, FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg says the proposal allows for more comprehensive knowledge about the widespread use of e-cigarettes and potential health risks. The public and industry members have 75 days to comment on the proposal. (Associated Press)
  • Energy Department investigators blame poor management and lax attitudes towards safety for a radiation leak at the government’s nuclear waste facility in New Mexico. It’s still not clear what caused the February accident, so the investigation has focused on the agency and contractor’s response. In a new report, Energy’s accident investigation board describes shortcomings at nearly every turn. It took too long for managers to realize they had a serious problem. The leak, back in February, contaminated 21 workers. The dump has been closed for nearly two months. (Associated Press)
  • The head of the National Transportation Safety Board says the government has to do something now to prevent deadly oil-train accidents. By saying so, the small agency’s chairman takes on the larger Transportation Department as it drafts new rules for tank cars that haul oil and ethanol. Deborah Hersman says the nation cannot afford to wait for the federal rulemaking process to run its course. She says regulators should issue emergency orders or interim rules, and waiting will lead only to a “higher body count.” In response, the department says it’s putting every option on the table, including issuing multiple safety advisories. (Associated Press)