- - Thursday, September 22, 2011

OVERSIGHT

Nominee for intel watchdog pledges oversight

The U.S. intelligence world is slated to get an independent watchdog to police misspent funds to contractors, U.S. spies run amok overseas and other illegal activities.

The Senate intelligence committee Thursday questioned Irvin Charles McCullough III, nominated as the first inspector general for the intelligence community.

Congress created the position to watch for waste in an intelligence budget that has grown to more than $80 billion annually since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Mr. McCullough said that if confirmed, he will look into suspicions that contractors are doing things only the government should do, such as firing armed drones at al Qaeda suspects and spying.

A former FBI agent, Mr. McCullough worked at the inspector general’s office at the National Security Agency and is deputy inspector general for the director for national intelligence.

 

MILITARY

Full severance pay for military gays opposed

Two days after the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy against gays serving openly in the military, the Obama administration is opposing a lawsuit seeking full severance pay for those dismissed under the law.

The American Civil Liberties Union is seeking class-action status for 142 people who received only half pay after their discharge because of their homosexuality. But the Justice Department asked the U.S. Court of Federal Claims to dismiss the case.

The administration is not defending the merits of the policy adopted in 1991, two years before “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Instead, it argues that the court cannot rewrite military regulations.

Judge Christine Odell Cook Miller said Thursday that she probably will let the case continue and questioned why the government wouldn’t pay now that the law has changed.

CAMPAIGN

McCotter ends presidential bid

Rep. Thaddeus G. McCotter of Michigan is ending his long-shot bid for the Republican presidential nomination.

Mr. McCotter’s congressional office says he will support former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and likely will run again for his House seat representing suburban Detroit.

Mr. McCotter is a conservative who was first elected to Congress in 2002. His presidential bid gained little traction after he entered the contest in July.

He failed to gain enough support to be included in Republican debates and finished last in a field of 11 Republicans in the Iowa straw poll in August.

Mr. McCotter pushed for reforms to Social Security and a harder line with China during his campaign.

His decision was first reported by the Detroit News.

FAA

$2.4 million fine proposed against Cessna

The Federal Aviation Administration said Thursday it wants to fine the Cessna Aircraft Co. $2.4 million because the company’s failure to follow quality-control procedures caused a 7-foot section of the wing of a high-performance plane to detach during a test flight, among other problems.

One of the agency’s pilots was conducting a test flight of the four-seat, single-engine Corvalis in December when a portion of the wing skin made from composite materials unbonded from the forward spar and damaged a fuel tank, the FAA said. A spar is a beamlike structure inside the wing and is a principal load-bearing component.

The pilot made an emergency landing at an airport in Independence, Kan.

An investigation found that excessive humidity at a Cessna manufacturing plant in Chihuahua, Mexico, prevented the bonded materials used to make the wing from curing properly, the FAA said. Thirteen of the planes were ordered grounded.

Cessna failed to follow its quality-control system when it manufactured the wings on the damaged airplane, as well as 82 additional parts, in the Chihuahua factory, the agency said. The manufacturer has since made improvements to the plant, the FAA said.

NASA

Old satellite to fall to Earth on Friday

LOS ANGELES — While North America appears to be off the hook, scientists are scrambling to pinpoint exactly where and when a dead NASA climate satellite will plummet back to Earth on Friday.

The 6-ton, bus-sized satellite is expected to break into more than 100 pieces as it plunges through the atmosphere, most of it burning up.

If you’re hoping for a glimpse, the odds are slim. Most sightings occur by chance because the re-entry path can’t be predicted early enough to alert people, said Canadian Ted Molczan, who tracks satellites for a hobby.

The best guess was that the 20-year-old Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite would hit sometime Friday afternoon Eastern time. The latest calculations Thursday indicated it would not be over the United States, Canada or Mexico during that time.

JUSTICE

Hilton denies IG report of $16 muffins

The government did not pay $16 apiece for breakfast muffins at a Justice Department conference, no matter what the department’s inspector general thinks, according to Hilton Worldwide, which hosted the 2009 legal training conference in Washington.

Hilton Worldwide said the report misinterpreted its invoices, which often use shorthand and don’t reflect the full menu and service provided. The IG’s audit of spending at 10 Justice Department conferences referenced the $16 muffins a half-dozen times and said their cost was one of many food items that “appeared extravagant and potentially wasteful.”

Not so, Hilton Worldwide said in a statement Thursday.

“In Washington, the contracted breakfast included fresh fruit, coffee, juice, muffins, tax and gratuity, for an inclusive price of $16 per person,” Hilton Worldwide said in a statement. “Dining receipts are often abbreviated and do not reflect the full pre-contracted menu and service provided, as is the case with recent media reports of breakfast items approved for some government meetings.”

NEW JERSEY

Olympian kicked off state Senate ballot

TRENTON — The political career of nine-time Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis has been declared a false start.

A federal appeals panel ruled Thursday that he should be removed from a state Senate ballot because he does not meet New Jersey’s four-year residency requirement. Mr. Lewis’ attorney said he has not decided whether to appeal, but time is running short: Ballots are about to go to the printer for an election less than seven weeks away.

The ruling in the topsy-turvy and politically charged case was issued nine days after the same three-judge panel from the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Mr. Lewis, a Democrat, should be on the ballot. But instead of issuing a full legal opinion, the court scheduled another hearing, which it held earlier this week.

When its opinion was released Thursday, it was different from the earlier order:

“Lewis has failed to show that, as applied to him, the four-year state residency requirement for the office of state senator in New Jersey has treated him unequally,” the opinion said.

From wire dispatches and staff reports