Monday federal headlines – July 21, 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.

  • IRS lawyers confirm that a crashed hard drive from the computer of Lois Lerner was destroyed. That means there is no hope of recovering the emails from the former head of the IRS tax exempt division. In a court filing, the IRS says the drive was shredded three years ago, after two sets of technicians tried to retrieve the data. IRS lawyers say the agency always destroys hard drives that potentially contain confidential taxpayer information. U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton had ordered the IRS to explain what happened to the hard drive. Lerner is at the center of a House investigation into whether the IRS slowed down tax exempt applications from conservative groups. (Associated Press)
  • If you want a federal job, try the Housing and Urban Development Department. HUD is catching up after a multi-year hiring freeze in both headquarters and field offices. It plans to add 1,000 jobs by Oct. 1. It’s about halfway through. Human resources officials tell Government Executive, competition is fierce. HUD receives more than 95 applications, on average, for each position. It expects to fill half of the jobs with people who already work at the department. Most job candidates identify themselves as minorities. About a quarter say they are veterans. (GovExec)
  • President Barack Obama will sign executive orders today to protect gay and transgender employees from discrimination. White House officials say the President will amend a 1965 directive that prohibits federal contractors from discriminating based on race, religion, gender or nationality in hiring. Obama will add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list. He’ll amend a second directive to make clear federal agencies cannot discriminate against transgender employees. Officials tell the Associated Press, Obama will not remove an exemption for religious contractors that lets them hire only people of the same faith. (Associated Press)
  • The White House says the federal footprint is shrinking. It says the 24 largest agencies have shed more than 10 million square feet of office and warehouse space since the beginning of the Obama Administration. In a blog post, Office of Management and Budget Deputy Director Beth Cobert says that governmentwide, agency chief financial officers and property managers are talking more frequently. The White House has told agencies to stop expanding their real estate portfolios. If they have to acquire new property, they’re supposed to offset the gain by getting rid of existing property equal in size. (White House)
  • The Defense Department inspector general says it’s getting five times as many complaints to its hotline as it did a year ago. In all, it has received more than 200 calls since the beginning of the year from whistleblowers alleging waste, fraud, abuse or other misconduct. The office credits a new law that went into effect one year ago. It covers people working on Defense Department contracts, grants and task orders. Companies with contracts of at least $5 million must post signs around the office about whistleblowers’ rights. (Defense Department)
  • While the United States dealt with crises in Ukraine and the Middle East, one closer to home eased a little. Border Patrol agents in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas say they found fewer than 500 children crossing the border illegally last week. That’s down from a high of 2,000 per week. A total of 57,000 have crossed since Oct. 1, 2013. The influx has strained the ability of the federal government to deal with it. President Obama meets Friday with the presidents of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — the sources of most of the illegal immigrants. (Associated Press)
  • The Transportation Security Administration is crowdsourcing ways to speed up expedited airport screening lines. It launches a challenge at the website Innocentive. TSA will pay prizes totaling $15,000 for ways to head off what officials think will be the next big problem. Namely, increasing numbers of people in the TSA pre-screened program threaten to offset the benefit of simplified screening. The contest announcement states that queue layouts will need to adapt to support the increasing population of TSA Pre-passengers. It asks for answers that use scientific and simulation modeling. Submissions are due by Aug. 15. (Innocentive)
  • An Army sergeant will receive the medal of honor today at the White House for fighting after being wounded in one of the bloodiest battles of the war in Afghanistan. It happened in July 2008 in Wanat. The medal citation says Ryan Pitts lost blood from wounds in both legs and an arm but continued to fire at about 200 Taliban. He also guided air strikes that helped repel the attack. Nine American soldiers died in the fight. Pitts will become the ninth living recipient of the medal for actions in Iraq or Afghanistan. (Associated Press)
  • Air Force officials are close to a decision on whether to expand a northern plains bomber training area. If they go ahead, the Air Force would have airspace covering 28,000 square miles. It would be used for B-52 training from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota and B-1 bomber training from Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota. The zone also includes parts of Wyoming and Montana. The Air Force says the space is needed to keep bomber crews ready. They say it would save money, because planes wouldn’t have to fly Utah or Nevada for training. Locals have opposed the expansion, calling it a federal aid space grab. A final decision could come within a month. (Associated Press)