Monday federal headlines – May 12, 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.

  • President Barack Obama has signed into law a bill to make it easier to track federal spending. The DATA Act directs the White House and Treasury Department to set data standards for all agencies. Sponsor Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) says the law will reduce duplication, waste and fraud. Agencies will have to account for every dollar they spend on a single website in an easy-to-read format. House Sponsor Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) says the bill will “move the federal bureaucracy into the digital era.” Open-government advocates say the benefits will depend on how the regulations are written and could be years away. (House)
  • The Postal Service’s finances continue their downward spiral. The agency recorded a $1.9 billion loss for the first three months of the year. At the same time, the Postal Service continued cutting costs. It gained 2.3 percent in operating revenue, citing increased employee productivity. Postmaster General Pat Donahoe says the agency is happy with its financial progress. But he says the Postal Service is still in the red because of congressionally-mandated retiree payments. Chief Financial Officer Joe Corbett says that’s not all that needs fixing. He says the agency’s liabilities exceed its assets by $42 billion. (Associated Press)
  • Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is not pleased with Congress’ version of the fiscal 2015 defense budget. The House Armed Services Committee ignored most of the department’s proposals to cut costs. Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby says Hagel stands by the budget he submitted, and he hopes Congress will make the tough choices he’s proposed and put national security first over parochial interests. The committee rejected plans to retire the A10 and U-2 aircraft, cut military compensation and close bases. (Defense Department)
  • The government appears to be backing off criminal prosecution of its main background check contractor. Since October, the Justice Department has been party to a civil suit against U.S. Investigative Services. The company stands accused of falsifying thousands of security checks on individuals. Two weeks ago, a former USIS employee pleaded guilty to similar charges. But so far no criminal indictment has been launched. That’s despite the fact that both a senator and Justice officials earlier said the company was under criminal investigation. But a Senate staff member with knowledge of the initial investigation now says if criminal charges were to be pursued, they would’ve come before the filing in the civil case. (Federal News Radio)
  • It’s the first day for a new boss at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care System. The head of the VA in Salt Lake City, Steve Young, will take over the beleaguered Phoenix system. The move comes as VA Secretary Eric Shinseki prepares for a tough Congressional hearing into deaths blamed on negligence at the Phoenix VA. He has ordered VA to examine access to care at all medical centers. Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel tells ABC’s “This Week” that he supports Shinseki, but if any allegations are proven true, then those responsible should be held accountable. (Associated Press)
  • The White House wants agencies to double their use of renewable energy. They have until 2016 to come up with $2 billion in energy savings performance contracts. That’s on top of the $2 billion for which they’re already under orders. The White House is leading the way on renewables. Technicians have finished installing solar panels on the White House roof. President Barack Obama has wanted them there since 2011. They’ll generate 6.3 kilowatts when the sun is shining. (White House)
  • Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says the military should review its ban on transgender people serving. Speaking on a Sunday television talk show, Hagel stopped short of saying whether he thinks the policy should be changed. He says every American who wants to serve and is qualified should have the chance to do so. Estimates by transgender advocacy groups put their numbers actually in the military at more than 15,000. Hagel says logistics and medical issues with transgenders have complications that don’t apply to gay service members. (Associated Press)
  • A patched-up Washington Monument reopens today, nearly three years since earthquake damage forced it to close. The National Park Service celebrates the return of public tours with a star-studded affair. Topping the list is the local philanthropist David Rubenstein, who donated $7.5 million to match federal funds for the repairs. An earthquake in August 2011 shook the monument to its core. The marble chipped, cracked and sustained hairline fractures. Most of the damage was to the pyramid-shaped top. Today, elevator rides will resume. (National Park Service)
  • FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has revised his proposed new rules for regulating the Internet. The revised proposal could be issued as early as today. Wheeler ran into a storm of criticism for a proposal to let carriers charge extra for priority use of their networks. The Wall Street Journal reports, his new version bans broadband providers from slowing down service for content providers that don’t pay extra. Wheeler will seek comments on whether the Internet should be considered a utility. That would make it subject to even more federal regulation. (Wall Street Journal)
  • Government watchdogs say the Interior Department has failed to inspect thousands of oil and gas wells that could be at risk for water contamination and other environmental damage. The Government Accountability Office doubts the Bureau of Land Management can accurately and efficiently identify whether federal and Indian resources are properly protected. It says the agency bases its policies on outdated science and incomplete data. The findings come amid an energy boom and the increase in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The Associated Press got a copy of the GAO report before its public release. Meanwhile, the agency is assessing damage to a historic canyon in southern Utah. Protesters ignored a closure sign and rode their motorcycles and ATV’s on an off-limits trail. Many waved American flags. Some carried weapons. The local sheriff described it as peaceful. But the bureau is concerned that the riders might have damaged 2,000-year-old artifacts and dwellings in Recapture Canyon. The protest is the latest sign of growing tensions between rural residents and the federal government over management of public lands. (Associated Press)