Monday federal headlines – August 18, 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 General Services Administration has decided to freeze per diem hotel and meal rates in 2015. Incidental expenses for federal employees on business travel will also remain unchanged. The standard hotel rate will stay at $83 per night. Meals and incidentals will hold within a range of $46 to $71 per day. GSA officials are working with an app developer to establish a tool for managing travel expenses. (Federal News Radio)
  • Violence in Ferguson, Missouri, has some members of Congress re-thinking federal aid to local law enforcement. The shooting of a black, unarmed teenager by a white officer has sparked violent protests. But the sight of local police with military riot gear has some thinking an overly militarized police force may be part of the problem. That’s the opinion of Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.). Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) says he’ll introduce a bill to curb the practice of providing surplus military gear to local police. One report says the value of such gear rose from $1 million in 1990 to $450 million last year. (Associated Press)
  • The National Guard is headed to Ferguson, Missouri. The governor hopes the move will reduce the violence that picked up over the weekend in the St. Louis suburb. Gov. Jay Nixon announced the National Guard deployment early Monday. Since an unarmed black teenager was killed by a white officer a week ago, protests have filled Ferguson. Sunday night marked the worst night yet in terms of violent criminal acts, the governor says. (New York Times)
  • President Obama interrupted his Martha’s Vineyard vacation to return to Washington for two days. He arrived last night and heads back Tuesday. The President meets with Vice President Joe Biden and other advisers. He’s checking in on the police situation in Ferguson, Missouri, and the U.S. air strike campaign in Iraq. Since his vacation started last week, Obama has been getting regular updates on these and other issues. He’s also been in telephone contact with foreign leaders to talk about the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. His staff wasn’t clear with why he needed to return to Washington. (Associated Press)
  • If one senator has his way, online communications would have just as many protections as citizens’ homes. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) plans to introduce legislation to end bulk electronic surveillance. He says for law enforcement to search someone’s property, it requires a proper warrant. Why not create a similar system for citizens’ online information in the hands of third parties, like phone companies. He raised the concerns Friday during a speech at a Portland tech conference and said the legislation was in the works. (Associated Press)
  • The Smithsonian Institution is looking to the public to help digitize thousands of documents, from Civil War journals to bumble bee specimen labels. A new website for The Transcription Center opens up more than 39,000 documents to crowdsourcing. Smithsonian officials are asking for volunteers to help in cases where documents require human transcription. The projects selected for the new site are those most in demand by researchers and academics. Without opening up the process to crowdsourcing, the Smithsonian estimates it would take its staff decades to get it all done. (Federal Times)
  • Electronic equipment like radio antennas that the Air Force needs to fly its planes are small-ticket items individually. But altogether the equipments’ price tag is much higher. The Air Force just awarded eight companies $288 million in contracts to supply it with 3,000 electronic items. The equipment includes handheld computers, network analyzers and TV equipment. The current Air Force Third Party Logistics contract, valued at $135 million, expires next month. (NextGov)
  • A new DoD inspector general report comes down hard on the agency that provides support service for the Pentagon and Defense Department installations in the D.C. area. The Washington Headquarters Services (WHS) has poorly managed its task orders, the IG says. This includes spending $2.4 million more than expected and potentially wasting more than $270,000 on just one IT task order. The IG also found that of the WHS’ 10 IT task order contracts, the agency did not properly solicit or manage nine of them. (NextGov)
  • Military moves can be stressful on service members and their families. All the more so when their personal cars and trucks don’t arrive on time. That’s prompted the Transportation Command to take a sharp look at the contractor handling personally-owned vehicle movements. Air Force Brig. Gen. Paul Guemmer is in charge of vehicle moves. He says teams will inspect each staging area over the next week. They’ll focus on whether the facilities are big enough for the cars they have to move, whether they can provide an accurate estimate of where a car is and when it will be delivered. He says inspections are one of several steps to straighten out delivery of personally owned vehicles. (Defense Department)