Tuesday federal headlines – April 1, 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 FederalNewsRadio.com users more information about the stories you hear on the air.

  • The Defense Department is overhauling how it accounts for and finds missing war dead. Secretary Chuck Hagel is creating a single agency to replace two existing ones. The Joint POW- MIA Accounting Command and the Defense POW-MIA Office will go away. The new agency will be led by a civilian, not yet named. Michael Lumpkin is the acting undersecretary of Defense for policy. He’s engineering the change in the meantime. Congress has been pressuring the Pentagon to speed up its work in locating lost remains and bringing them home. (Associated Press)
  • A group representing Forest Service employees warns “toxic morale” is gripping the agency’s law enforcement division. It blames poor leadership and scant resources. Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility surveyed hundreds in the law enforcement and investigations branch. More than 60 percent say the division is weaker than it was five years ago. They describe the division director as “ineffective.” Most thought personal relationships with senior managers outweighed merit when it came to promotions. (Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility)
  • The U.S. government is trying to sell old military equipment in Afghanistan and nearby countries so it doesn’t have to pack it up and take it home. The items include 800 mine-resistant armored vehicles. A Defense Department spokesperson says unloading them in the region could make hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue and save $500 million in shipping costs. The U.S.embassy in Pakistan says Islamabad is interested. The embassy is reviewing the offer. But U.S. forces earlier rejected the idea of selling anything to Pakistan. Afghan officials want all the equipment to stay in their country. (Associated Press)
  • The Social Security Administration has assembled a new team of disability examiners. The team will use big data to spot fraud as early as possible. The 20 examiners are based in Jamaica, New York. They are now reviewing disability medical decisions in two sweeping cases — one in New York and the other in Puerto Rico. They will build data analytics based on trends found in those cases. They’ll also analyze doctors’ reports. Acting Commissioner Carolyn Colvin says the agency’s fraud incidence rate is a fraction of 1 percent. She promises to find, prosecute and pursue the maximum penalty against anyone who would cheat it. (Social Security Administration)
  • FBI investigators think they’ve found ways to crack the identities of people using a web browser designed to keep users anonymous. The Wall Street Journal reports the agents haven’t cracked the Tor browser directly. Instead, officers rely on mistakes users make. James Kilpatrick, a member of the FBI’s Homeland Security Investigations Unit, says, in one case, a child pornographer was ID’d after he’d mailed items to minors. Kilpatrick says, eventually, all online crooks make an error. (Wall Street Journal)
  • HealthCare.gov limped to its finish line Monday. It crashed at least twice yesterday, the deadline for Americans to sign up for health care insurance. Bloomberg reports the site had more than 1 million visitors before noon, but hundreds of thousands ended up in online waiting rooms. The administration says some 6 million people have signed up using either the federal or state exchanges. Last week, the White House said people who were unable to complete insurance applications would avoid the fine if they could prove they were stymied by the website. (Bloomberg Government)
  • The federal limousine fleet has dropped by two thirds since 2010. But, if one congressman has his way, it would be cut in half again. GovExec reports Democrat John Barrow of Georgia introduced a bill to do just that. It’s part of his effort called H.O.Tline (or helping out taxpayers). In 2010, the government had a fleet of more than 400 limousines. According to the General Services Administration, that number dropped to 130 by 2012. (Gov Exec)
  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration directed automakers to install rearview cameras in new vehicles. The big question — what took the agency so long to issue the rule? Work began in the 1990s when researchers noticed toddlers showing up in hospital databases of injured child pedestrians. Delays in research and writing pushed the federal mandate past a number of deadlines. Critics accused the government of not wanting to put additional financial burdens on the auto industry during an economic downturn. Compliance will be phased in by manufacturers starting in May 2016, before it becomes mandatory two years later. (USA.gov)