Friday federal headlines – August 15, 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 IRS puts taxpayer information at risk by failing to check the backgrounds of contractors. The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration says the agency did not investigate couriers, printers, sign language interpreters and others hired to recover documents. In one case, the IG says the agency gave a printer a compact disk with 1.4 million Americans’ names, addresses and Social Security Numbers. In another, a courier with a lengthy prison record regularly shuttled tax returns, personnel files and the like for the IRS. In a statement, the agency says it takes seriously its responsibility to protect taxpayer information and expects the same from contractors. The IG says about 10,000 contract employees have unfettered access to IRS facilities, systems and sensitive, unclassified information. (Treasury Department)
  • People are looking less kindly on the Social Security Administration after the agency cut its face time with the public. Some field offices report longer wait times, crowded lobbies and limited appointments for customers. The agency has cut public hours by about 23 percent — from 35 hours a week to just 27. Often, the inspector general says, without adequate notice. Social Security says that lets staff finish behind-the- scenes work without doing overtime. On the bright side, some field offices tell the inspector general that workload processing, staff morale and training have improved. (Social Security Administration)
  • The United States Postal Service is proposing more dramatic reforms, including eliminating 15,000 jobs next year. But a group of about 50 Senators is trying to stall any more postal closings or consolidations, for now. The group sent a letter to leaders of the Appropriations Committee on Thursday, asking to add in language to appropriations bills and continuing resolutions that would prevent the USPS from shutting down any facilities during fiscal year 2015. Holding off for a year will give Congress needed time to pass comprehensive reforms to help the ailing Postal Service, they say. (Senate)
  • The FBI has improved its use of national security letters to get private information without a judge’s approval. The Justice Department inspector general has long criticized the bureau for abusing the process and sometimes using the letters in non-emergencies. Now, it says, the FBI has made most of the fixes recommended. It’s not perfect. Sometimes the Bureau’s sweep is too large, taking in records not specifically named in the letters. Those could be of a family member, business partner or other associate of the person the Bureau is investigating. (Justice Department)
  • Police in Ferguson, Missouri, outfitted in paramilitary gear and riding in armored vehicles is shining a spotlight on a controversial federal program that distributes surplus military equipment to civilian police forces free of charge. Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) says M-16s and tanks have no place on main streets. He plans to introduce legislation to combat what he calls the militarization of police forces. The federal program has doled out hundreds of million dollars worth of surplus military equipment to local law enforcement. Johnson’s bill is set to limit the kinds of military equipment involved and require states to certify they can account for all equipment. Since Saturday, when a police officer reportedly shot and killed an unarmed teenager, massive protests and an increased police presence have overtaken Ferguson. (Associated Press)
  • Expanded U.S. humanitarian relief to Iraqis is on the way. President Obama made the promise on Thursday. He says the U.S. will work with international partners to provide humanitarian assistance to northern Iraqi citizens threatened by the advancing army of the Islamic State militants. At the same time, Obama says airstrikes will continue in order to protect Americans and U.S. facilities in Iraq. And military assistance to Iraqi and Kurdish forces fighting the Islamic State is expanding. (Associated Press)
  • Stopping the spread of Ebola is becoming a resource-heavy pursuit. The Centers for Disease Control says its operations center is now on its highest level of alert, with 350 U.S. staff members supporting the response around the clock. In the field, the agency has deployed 55 disease detectives and other highly trained experts to West Africa to battle the spread of the disease. Going forward, more than sixty CDC staff are expected to remain in four West African countries continuously to stop the outbreak, which is considered to be the worst in history. (Centers for Disease Control)