Thursday federal headlines – July 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 users more information about the stories you hear on the air.

  • A Justice Department investigation into the IRS expands to include the disappearance of emails from a former senior IRS official. Deputy Attorney General James Cole updates Congress today on the ongoing study into whether IRS delayed conservative groups’ applications for tax exempt status. Emails from Lois Lerner, the former IRS official at the heart of the probe, went missing in a hard drive crash. IRS Commissioner John Koskinen testified recently that six other officials’ hard drives crashed at the same time. (Associated Press)
  • Acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson trudged to Capitol Hill with an apology and plea. Speaking to a Senate committee, he said the department has lost the trust of veterans and the public because of widespread problems with patient care. He admits the VA has created a culture in which employees are afraid to raise concerns to managers. And he says the VA’s chosen performance metrics are subject to manipulation. At the same time, Gibson says the department can turn itself around “in as little as two years” with additional funds. He is requesting more than $17 billion in new money for clinic space and staff over three years. The Senate is conferring with the House on legislation. (Associated Press)
  • White House efforts to funnel billions of dollars to handling the immigration crisis along the Southwest border are meeting resistance from both the right and left on Capitol Hill. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson briefed Senators yesterday. Following the meeting, Republicans said they would insist on changes to a 2008 law, so that the Border Patrol could immediately deport children coming illegally from Central America. Johnson says that’s fine with the Obama Administration. But more Congressional Democrats now say they oppose such changes. (Associated Press)
  • An EPA plan to regulate watersheds runs into strong opposition in the House. The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approves legislation that bans the Waters of the U.S. Rule. Bloomberg reports, EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers want to federalize control of lakes, streams and tributaries that feed into larger waters already under federal control. Rep. Steve Southerland (R-Fla.) introduced the bill. It would require EPA and the Army to work in conjunction with state authorities to propose any new water rules. (Bloomberg Government)
  • A government watchdog warns the Pentagon may be wasting $100 million on aircraft for Afghan security forces. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction says the Afghan Air Force may not need all the C-130s that the Defense Department is providing. It urges the Pentagon to stop delivery until further review. The special inspector general says the department has not provided documentation to support its decision to buy the planes. It also says the Afghan military is not fully using the two C-130s that it already has. (Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction)
  • The Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative has come home to Huntsville, Alabama. The Defense Information Systems Agency has shuttered its data center there. That brings the total number of so-called Defense Enterprise Computing Centers nationwide to 10 — down from 18 in 2008. The agency says closing the center in Huntsville will save more than $3 million per year. Employees at the Alabama data center either found jobs elsewhere in the government or retired. DISA officials say the closures do more than save money and streamline operations. Consolidation also supports the Joint Information Environment. The JIE is a Pentagon effort to boost data sharing and cut network redundancy among the armed services and other DoD agencies. (Defense Information Systems Agency)
  • Members of Congress are calling for tighter regulation of government labs handling dangerous microbes. The calls come following two potentially deadly incidents. Employees of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention mishandled materials containing flu and anthrax samples. CDC Director Tom Frieden tells a House hearing, scientists became desensitized to the danger. He says a lax safely culture has crept into the CDC. Proposals include establishing an independent authority to replace CDC and the Agriculture Department as overseers of high- security labs. (Wall Street Journal)
  • The Food and Drug Administration is releasing more details about newly found vials of highly contagious viruses and bacteria. The agency says there are more than 300 in a batch found in a cold storage facility at FDA labs located on the campus of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda. The vials contain samples of dengue and the flu, among other diseases. Earlier this month, the FDA said it found 60-year-old samples of smallpox in the same location. The agency says overlooking such a collection is clearly unacceptable. It’s reviewing all cold-storage spaces, its procedures and policies. (Food and Drug Administration)