Tuesday federal headlines – June 17, 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.

  • If you’re looking to buy office supplies, forget about using the Office Supplies 2 strategic sourcing contract. The General Services Administration has pulled the plug on it. Instead, try the multiple award schedule contracts or the GSA Global Supply contract. OS2 technically expired at the end of May. Supply service officials wanted to extend it while they prepared a follow-on strategic sourcing contract, but protests smothered that move. Protests have already been lodged against OS3, but many were dismissed by the Government Accountability Office. An agency spokesman says officials are working to make OS3 available as soon as possible. (Federal News Radio)
  • President Obama plans to sign an executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating against gay and transgender people. The order is still being drafted, and White House officials didn’t say exactly when the president would sign it. But they announced it a day before Obama heads to a big gay and lesbian fundraiser in New York. The officials say the President is frustrated Congress hasn’t passed legislation banning such discrimination nationwide. The UCLA law school estimates the executive order will eventually cover about 14 million employees. (Associated Press)
  • The White House is defending the IRS in the face of criticism over a lost cache of emails. The emails were to and from Lois Lerner, the former head of the tax exempt division. She is at the center of an ongoing controversy over whether the IRS held up tax exempt applications from conservative groups. The IRS says a computer crash in 2011 caused the emails to disappear. Congressional critics say that’s hard to believe. A White House spokesman calls the criticism far fetched. Sixty-seven thousand emails have been delivered to the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform. (Associated Press)
  • The Small Business Administration redefines what it means to be small in a move that could help 8,400 more businesses qualify for special federal contracts and loans. For the first time since 2008, SBA adjusts its definition of “small” to account for inflation. The new rule goes into effect next month. The agency says the change could lead to more than $150 million worth of federal contracts awarded to small businesses. It will accept comments on the rule until mid-August. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Postal Service’s financial crunch means that it is delivering mail with some very old trucks. The inspector general says about three-quarters of the 200,000-plus mail trucks could bite the dust soon. They’ve been around since the Spice Girls formed. Their average life expectancy is 24 years old. The Postal Service usually fixes the tracks when they break down, even though it may be cheaper to replace them. The IG says plans to buy new vehicles have never been fully funded or approved. (Postal Service)
  • Some military advocacy groups worry a bill to overhaul the Veterans Affairs health care system could strain military hospitals. According to Air Force Times, the Military Officers Association of America is concerned the Senate measure would indirectly hurt those on TRICARE. That’s because the legislation would let veterans get treatment at Defense Department clinics and hospitals, which already serve more than 4 million service members, families and retirees. Sponsors say the measure will help veterans who live far away from VA clinics or who have waited months to see a doctor. (Air Force Times)
  • The Army has appointed an officer with Afghanistan combat experience to probe the disappearance and capture of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. Maj. Gen. Ken Dahl, will lead the investigation. He’s deputy commander of First Corps, stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state. The Pentagon says Dahl will have access to a 2009 investigation that was never made public. But he won’t interview Bergdahl himself, at least not yet. That’ll have to wait until Bergdahl is cleared by his re-integration team. The administration released five top Taliban operatives from the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in exchange for Bergdahl’s release. He disappeared from an outpost in Afghanistan’s Paktika province five years ago. Some former colleagues have alleged Berdgahl deserted. (Defense Department)
  • The Army wants to promote more people among its all-important cyber security ranks. But it appears to be running into an obstacle: Its own tattoo regulations. Federal Times reports, tough new rules are standing in the way of advancement for some soldiers with good cyber skills. The regs, enacted in March, prevent soldiers with non-conforming ink from being promoted. Banned altogether are tattoos on the face, neck, wrists or hands. Too many tats below the elbow or knee, such as so-called sleeves, are also banned. The regulations allow soldiers with pre-existing tattoos to apply for exemptions or waivers. (Federal Times)
  • Federal officials opened a Customs and Border Protection warehouse at New York’s Kennedy Airport to media Monday to show they are cracking down on illegal wildlife trafficking. On display, rhino horns, ivory and the stuffed heads of a lion and leopard. Trade Representative Michael Froman says the illegal wildlife trade is a threat to global security. Some terrorist groups have used profits from the items to finance their activities. For the first time, U.S. negotiators are asking trading partners to agree to conservation measures in return for signing agreements. (Associated Press)
  • Five tech giants are going to court to try to stop the federal government from accessing data stored outside the United States. The companies say a magistrate judge erred in April when he ruled that the government can access email files that Microsoft stores in Ireland. The judge reasoned that the warrant he signed was not carried out in Ireland because the data would be open in the United States. But Microsoft, Verizon, Apple, Cisco and AT&T all say the ruling increases doubts by foreign governments and others that data they entrust to U.S. companies is kept confidential. The companies are asking a district court judge to reverse the magistrate judge’s ruling. A hearing is scheduled for late July. (Associated Press)