Tuesday federal headlines – April 8, 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 House Ways and Means Committee will vote tomorrow on whether to refer a former IRS official to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution. Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) says investigators have uncovered evidence that suggests Lois Lerner may have committed crimes as part of an effort to delay certain applications for tax-exempt status. Lerner ran that division until last year. Camp would not say which laws Lerner may have broken. His committee has looked into the matter for nearly a year. Unlike other committees, it can look at confidential taxpayer information. Lerner’s lawyer calls the allegations “ridiculous.” (Associated Press)
  • A General Services Administration plan to consolidate governmentwide purchases of office supplies has hit a snag. The Small Business Administration says GSA didn’t do enough assessment of how the plan might hurt small businesses. The SBA finding doesn’t stop the program, but it might prompt GSA to rewrite some of the requirements. GSA plans to award 20 companies spots on its Office Supplies 3 contract. OS3 is a strategic sourcing initiative, designed to cut costs for commodities commonly used by agencies. When GSA released its request for proposals, 20 companies lodged protests. (Federal News Radio)
  • One of the most prominent inspectors general in the federal government is retiring. Brian Miller has been IG at the General Services Administration for nine years. He has sent his resignation letter to President Obama. Miller can claim two high-level scalps. During the George W. Bush administration, he fought GSA administrator Lurita Doan over the IG budget. The White House fired Doan. During the Obama administration, Miller’s investigation into GSA conference spending caused administrator Martha Johnson to resign. Miller also went after contractors for over-charging the government. He won settlements of more than $300 million. In his letter, Miller describes the IG job as straddling barbed wire. (Federal News Radio)
  • Government auditors raise questions about building security at six agencies. The Government Accountability Office says the agencies’ methods of assessing risk fall short of interagency standards. As a result, they may not fully understand the risks facing their facilities and allocate the right resources. The agencies are the departments of the Interior and Veterans Affairs, as well as the Federal Protective Service, FEMA, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Office of Personnel Management. GAO says the agencies do not consider all of the threats recommended by an interagency council. (Government Accountability Office)
  • The Senate has confirmed two more executives for the Homeland Security Department. Reggie Brothers becomes the undersecretary for Science and Technology. Frank Taylor becomes undersecretary for Intelligence and Analysis. That job has been vacant for more than a year. Both men have long federal histories. Brothers was deputy assistant defense secretary for research. He oversaw DoD’s science and technology portfolio. Taylor is a retired Air Force brigadier general who had Pentagon policy jobs. He was also assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security. (Senate)
  • The Senate approves a bill to bar the man Iran has assigned to be the next ambassador to the United States. It was a rare bipartisan move. The bill was sponsored by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). He argued the nominee, Hamid Aboutalebi, participated in the 1979 seizure of the American embassy in Tehran. Cruz was joined by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). Aboutalebi reportedly has argued his role in the seizure was only translator and negotiator. Fifty-two Americans were held hostage for more than a year. Cruz calls the nomination a deliberate and unambiguous insult to the United States. (Associated Press)
  • Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has seen what few others in the world have been allowed to see: the inside of a Chinese aircraft carrier. The tour came during a 10-day trip to Asia. Hagel was accompanied by the new U.S. Ambassador to China, former Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.). Hagel had requested the tour in January. He and Baucus were the first foreigners ever on board. Tour stops included crew quarters, bridge, flight control quarters and the flight deck itself. Hagel says he was impressed by the crew’s professionalism. Two-star Capt. Zhang Zheng led the tour. China acquired the ship from Ukraine, then spent 10 years rebuilding it. Hagel returns home on Thursday. (Defense Department)
  • The Navy says it has found a way to convert seawater into fuel. Vice Adm. Phil Hart Cullom calls the breakthrough a “game-changer” because it will let ships and aircraft stay longer at sea or in the air. It also weans them away from outside sources of energy. The Naval Research Laboratory says its new technology can extract carbon dioxide and hydrogen from seawater at once. Then a reactor system converts the gases to liquid hydrocarbons. Scientists say it’s the first technique with the potential to scale commercially. They have tested it on a radio-controlled model plane. (Navy)
  • Senators today question the head of the U.S. Agency for International Development about a secret, U.S.-funded Twitter feed targeted at Cubans. Rajiv Shah testifies first before the Judiciary Committee. Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has called the program “dumb, dumb, dumb.” The Associated Press reports, USAID developed the Twitter feed to stir unrest in Cuba. The agency contends that it sent updates on news, sports, weather and trivia. The hearings will look at whether the program should have been classified as covert and therefore subject to greater scrutiny by the White House and Congress. USAID says it acted discreetly but legally. (Associated Press)