Thursday Federal Headlines — May 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 users more information about the stories you hear on the air.

  • The United States is sending troops and equipment to help Nigerian security forces find school girls abducted by the Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram. U.S. Africa Command will help with communications, logistics and intelligence planning. It will not conduct military operations. The departments of State and Justice also will be involved, working from the U-S embassy in Abuja. More than 250 girls were taken from their secondary school about three weeks ago. Boko Haram is thought to have taken them into the dense Sambisa Forest. The insurgents have reportedly married some of them and threatened to sell others into slavery. (U.S. Department of Defense)
  • The House has voted to hold a former IRS official in contempt of Congress for refusing to testify at hearings over the agency’s treatment of conservative groups that applied for tax-exempt status. Six Democrats sided with Republicans. Other Democrats called the vote on Lois Lerner a “witch hunt.” Lerner invoked her Fifth Amendment right to stay silent when she appeared before the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The House also has called on the Justice Department to appoint a special counsel to investigate the IRS over the way agents handled applications for tax-exempt status. The measure is non-binding. In pushing for the vote House Republicans said they doubted the Justice Department would conduct an impartial investigation. (Associated Press)
  • The General Services Administration is asking the public to lay out a vision for government program managers 25 years from now. The agency says the challenge will start a discussion about how technology will change planning, project management, financial management and other key tasks of federal managers. It welcomes text, video and other submissions starting May 13. GSA’s Performance Improvement Council will judge the entries. (Federal Register)
  • The House Armed Services Committee has endorsed the Pentagon’s approach to combating sexual assault. In a marathon session on the fiscal 20-15 defense authorization bill the committee rejected a measure that would have stripped commanders of their power to pursue charges against those accused of sex crimes. Advocates for change want that job to go to military lawyers. The Pentagon says commanders must be held accountable for misconduct in their ranks. Last week, the Pentagon said reports by members of the military of sexual assaults jumped by 50 percent last year to more than 5,000 reports of abuse. Another amendment to the bill, from California’s Duncan Hunter, maintains the status quo on other aspects of military life. He says smoking is one of the few pleasures for a battle-hardened service member and moved to pre-empt the military’s efforts to clamp down on tobacco use. The bill also would prohibit the Army’s new hair and grooming requirements for female soldiers, including limits on the size of twists and cornrows. Some members of the service have said they unfairly target black women. (Associated Press)
  • The Merit Systems Protection Board is urging Congress to pass a law protecting gay federal workers. Chairman Susan Tsui Grundmann says it would clear up confusion and give gay federal employees the same legal rights as others who allege discrimination. The board has released a report showing that three percent of federal employees say they’ve witnessed workplace discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered colleagues. That’s the same percentage as federal employees who say they’ve witnessed other types of discrimination at work. (Merit Systems Protection Board)
  • A lawsuit against the largest provider of federal background checks continues, now closer to home. A district court judge has agreed to move the case against USIS to this area where the company is based. The lawsuit had been filed in Alabama by a whistleblower. Since being accused of massive fraud the company says it has replaced leaders, changed policies on ethics and cooperated with the government’s investigation. The Office of Personnel Management has increased oversight of the company’s work but has not cancelled its contract, because the company is innocent until proven guilty. The agency’s inspector general continues its investigation into claims that USIS faked thousands of background checks. (Federal News Radio)
  • President Barack Obama’s pick to lead the Health and Human Services Department makes her first appearance before senators, who will consider her fate. Sylvia Mathews Burwell will testify before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, the first of two Senate committees that will hold hearings on her nomination. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius resigned last month after presiding over the rollout of the Affordable Care Act and the botched launch of the federal enrollment website. Sebelius left just as the law had begun to recover with stronger-than-expected sign-up numbers. Burwell, now head of the Office of Management and Budget, is seen as a safe pick but her nomination hearings are expected to to turn into a referendum on the health law itself in this election year. (Associated Press)