Tuesday federal headlines – April 22, 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 Army will have to force out thousands of young officers over the next year or so. It projects 1,500 captains and 550 majors will have to leave. Evaluation boards will decide who stays and who goes. The Army is shrinking to 490,000 by October 2015. That’s a loss of about 32,000 soldiers between now and then. Minus the voluntary retirements and decreased enlistments, the Army estimates it will ask a total of 3,000 officers to leave. Without 20 years in the service, they will not be eligible for retirement benefits. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno tells the Associated Press, “the captains are a problem.” (Associated Press)
  • Budget cuts have left the IRS high and dry. The agency has long said this, and now government auditors are too. The Government Accountability Office says the money gap has led to staff shortages and uneven performance. All told, GAO says the IRS has absorbed $900 million in budget cuts over the past four years. Customer service has taken a big hit. Callers to the agency’s taxpayer help line wait about 17 minutes. The IRS has delayed two technology projects and cut training. Auditors say the agency needs more money, but that won’t solve all of its problems. They say the IRS must have a better strategy for customer service and its website. (Government Accountability Office)
  • The General Services Administration embarks on a $70 million effort to move government employees into federally-owned properties and end expensive rental agreements. GSA is renovating 19 buildings across the country. The list includes two Health and Human Services Department buildings in southwest Washington — the agency’s headquarters and the Mary Switzer Building. After the renovations, GSA will consolidate office space. The agency says it will save $17 million in annual rent payments, not to mention $38 million in leasing costs. It will lose a total of 507,000 square feet in rented space. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Postal Service may not have realized what it was losing when it sold 22 historic properties over three recent years. The inspector general says the cash-strapped agency did not know how many historic properties it owned or what it cost to preserve them. It did not report historic New Deal artwork to the National Museum of American Art, as required by agency rules. It’s largely a data problem: facilities personnel failed to catalog historic properties as such in their computer system. Post offices included those in the Bronx, and, at the other end of the country, La Jolla, Calif. The Postal Service is trying to offload costly older buildings to save money and reduce its footprint. (USPS Office of the Inspector General)
  • A Texas group involved in searches for missing persons filed a lawsuit asking a federal court to lift the order prohibiting it from using drones. Texas EquuSearch has a small fleet of four unmanned aircraft equipped with cameras. The nonprofit is financed through private donations and has participated in high-profile cases of missing persons. The lawsuit claims this type of drone-use avoids the Federal Aviation Administration’s rule stating unmanned aircraft cannot be operated “by persons or companies for business purpose.”. The FAA said it is reviewing the group’s appeal. Congress has mandated the FAA to come up with a plan to safely integrate commercial drones into the market by the end of September 2015. (Associated Press)
  • National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Deborah Hersman says too many hazardous liquids are being transported by freight train. Hersman says that since 2005, rail shipments are carrying larger amounts of potentially dangerous materials. Cars with crude oil, ethanol and similar substances, if derailed, could devastate communities. Hersman says there are no provisions in place to deal with such disasters, like the one in Canada last summer where mislabeled crude oil train cars derailed and exploded. The NTSB is having a two-day forum with petroleum experts, railroad industry execs and first responders to come up with possible solutions to the problem. (Associated Press)
  • For the past few years, the Obama administration has been trying to reduce miners’ exposure to coals dust. Pneumoconiosis, or black lung, is an irreparable and sometimes deadly disease caused from dust exposure. The new rule is why top labor and mine safety officials are on their way to West Virginia to make the announcement today. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health Joseph Main and Director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health John Howard will make the announcement and discuss the rule in Morgantown, W.Va. (Associated Press)
  • The Food and Drug administration will soon decide how it plans to regulate the rapidly growing industry of popular electronic cigarette devices known as “E-Cigs.” The device uses nicotine infused vapor that looks like smoke but doesn’t have the chemicals or tar. The FDA has a difficult task ahead. Some call the new devices “the first disruptive technology” toward getting rid of cigarette use, and others worry that they are just another gateway to getting children hooked on nicotine. Public health groups say the marketing campaigns and amount of candy-like flavors target young people, and urge the FDA to quickly set standards. (Associated Press)
  • Senior officials are considering a policy change for immigrants who don’t have serious criminal records. It would shield them from deportation. The possible change follows a review ordered by President Obama. The former acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement supports the move, but Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson has yet to weigh in on the possible change. With sweeping immigration reform stalled in the House of Representatives, President Obama is under pressure to curb deportations. Administration officials say they will seek near-term goals because comprehensive reform is only possible with congressional action. (Associated Press)