Tuesday federal headlines – April 15, 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 Social Security Administration has halted a program of seizing people’s tax returns to repay old debts. Acting Commissioner Carolyn Colvin says she wants a review before continuing. The collections were enabled by a 2008 law giving Social Security and other agencies the right to use Treasury information and the IRS to settle overpayments. Reports in the Washington Post described people having tax refunds taken to cover overpayments made decades earlier to relatives. That prompted complaints from members of Congress. Social Security says it’s collected $55 million so far out of a potential $715 million. (Associated Press)
  • The labor union representing IRS agents worries about their jobs. The National Treasury Employees Union fears Congress will vote to outsource tax collection. It is warning members about proposals in both the House and Senate. They would require the Treasury Department to contract with private tax collectors. Treasury can do that now, but it has chosen not to. It tried between 2006 and 2009. During that time, the government lost nearly $4.5 million. It paid high administrative costs and commissions to the private companies. (National Treasury Employees Union)
  • The Congressional Budget Office has lowered its estimates for short term federal deficits. It says the government will run $492 billion in the red this year. That’s down from $680 billion last year. In terms of gross domestic product, this year’s deficit will be 2.8 percent, down from 4.1 percent. Behind the narrowing deficit are lower health care costs than CBO previously thought. But the reprieve won’t last. CBO says deficits will start rising again in 2015 for the opposite reason: rising health care costs, plus an aging population. CBO says that unless Congress changes the laws, deficits will return to the trillion-dollar level by 2022. That would be in the second term of the next president. (Congressional Budget Office)
  • The heartbleed internet threat is causing some federal soul-searching. The National Security Council issues a policy. It says disclosing vulnerabilities in commercial and open source software is in the national interest. Knowledge of such a flaw should not be withheld unless there is a national security or law enforcement threat. The statement comes after revelations that Google discovered heartbleed in March. National Journal reports, the company fixed its own servers before telling what it knew. Other published reports say the National Security Agency knew about heartbleed two years ago. The NSA says that’s wrong. Heartbleed is a flaw hackers could exploit to get around an encryption technology called Open SSL. That would lead to the release of passwords to online accounts. (Associated Press)
  • The Navy says a Russian aircraft repeatedly flew near a U.S. guided missile destroyer in the Black Sea earlier this week. A Navy spokesperson calls the act “provocative” and “unprofessional.” Army Col. Steve Warren says the Russians did not respond to multiple warnings from the USS Donald Cook. The Russian attack jet was unarmed. It flew off after about 90 minutes, but not before making a dozen passes within about 1,000 yards of the ship. Warren says the USS Cook was never in danger. President Barack Obama spoke yesterday with Russian President Vladimir Putin upon Russia’s request. Obama urged Putin to ease tensions in Ukraine. (Navy)
  • More women are making their way to frontline battlefield positions. The first female Army lieutenants have entered the 3rd Battalion of the 321st Field Artillery Regiment. They will lead a cannon platoon at Fort Bragg, Calif. Until now, artillery positions have been open only to men. Women will face closer scrutiny and more pressure to show they can do the job. Men face more training in sexual assault prevention and new ways to build teamwork. All of the military branches are required to open all combat positions to women by 2016. The 3rd battalion’s motto: Tough, proud, disciplined. (Associated Press)
  • An ongoing saga over poultry inspection rules has pitted the Agriculture Department against another agency: the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. NIOSH accuses the Agriculture Department of mischaracterizing a report about a poultry plant that is piloting USDA’s new inspection methods. In a blog post, Agriculture official Al Almanza says a NIOSH study found faster poultry lines did not endanger workers. NIOSH says that’s wrong. Its report highlighted increased cases of carpal tunnel syndrome and related conditions. NIOSH is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (USDA/CDC)
  • The Bureau of Land Management ends a showdown with a Nevada rancher by releasing his cattle. Director Neil Kornze says the agency wanted to avoid a potentially violent situation. The Bureau of Land Management says the rancher, Cliven Bundy, owes more than $1 million in grazing fees. It says he has trespassed on federal lands since the 1990s. The dispute came to a head this past weekend. Armed militia members joined hundreds of states’ rights protesters at the scene. Bundy says he is trying to determine whether federal agents damaged any of his cattle. (Associated Press)