- The Washington Times - Friday, March 13, 2009


Senate OKs 2 Justice nominees

The Senate approved the nomination of two top Justice Department officials Thursday, overcoming reservations from some conservative Republicans about the choices.

David Ogden, who served in the Clinton administration, was confirmed as deputy attorney general, the department’s second-highest post, on a 65-28 vote. The final vote came after Republicans dropped a threat to filibuster over concerns about the nominee’s record on social issues and his defense of pornographers in censorship cases while in private practice.

The Senate also voted 72-20 to confirm Thomas Perrelli as associate attorney general, who oversees the department’s antitrust, civil rights and tax divisions. Another Clinton administration veteran, Mr. Perrelli also helped represent the husband of Terry Schiavo in a contentious euthanasia case.


Army dismissed 11 gays in January

The Army fired 11 soldiers in January for violating the military’s policy that gay service members must keep their sexuality hidden, according to a Virginia congressman.

Democratic Rep. James P. Moran said he has requested monthly updates from the Pentagon on the impact of the policy until it is repealed.

In a statement released Thursday, Mr. Moran said the discharged soldiers included an intelligence collector, a military police officer, four infantry personnel, a health care specialist, a motor-transport operator and a water-treatment specialist.

“How many more good soldiers are we willing to lose due to a bad policy that makes us less safe and secure?” asked Mr. Moran, a member of the House panel that oversees military spending.


Pelosi balks at new vote on pay

Congress’ automatic pay raises are in little immediate danger of being scrapped for good, even with the economy slumping and millions of Americans unemployed.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, on Thursday would not commit to holding a vote on a bill to do away with the annual cost-of-living increases. She pointed out that Congress recognized the economic crisis by voting this week to skip next year’s raise.

In so doing, though, lawmakers defeated a Senate measure to abolish the automatic pay increases and force them into the deep discomfort of casting actual votes to give themselves raises.


Reports question weapons programs

Costs are likely to keep growing for two of the Pentagon’s biggest weapons programs as the military pushes to field fighter jets and high-tech Army units even before fully proving the technology, according to Government Accountability Office reports released Thursday.

The reports by the government watchdog agency concluded that the Army is moving forward with the $159 billion Future Combat Systems program even though some of its technology is unproven and over budget. The Joint Strike Fighter program, which could cost $1 trillion to build and maintain about 2,500 planes, will face even higher costs if the Pentagon accelerates the program while testing continues.

The two are among the largest weapons contracts ever awarded by the Pentagon, and are potential targets for budget cuts as pressure grows on the military to lower spending and the government devotes trillions of dollars to the financial crisis.


Health official defends agency’s performance

A top U.S. health official said Thursday that his agency is working to improve protection of neighborhoods from toxic pollution, as scientists, communities and Congress accuse it of taking a path of least resistance in figuring out health hazards.

“There are things we can do better,” Howard Frumkin, director of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, told a congressional hearing.

He said the agency is reviewing its mission and operations, but is intrinsically vulnerable to public anger and frustration. It shoulders a huge and complex responsibility to assess the health risks at Superfund cleanup sites and other hazardous waste locations, but is hindered by lack of broad expertise in scientific fields such as veterinary medicine and meteorology, by staff reductions - from 500 a few years ago to about 300 today - and by the simple fact of scientific uncertainty, Mr. Frumkin said.

“While communities expect us to provide definitive answers about the links between exposures and illnesses, even the best science sometimes does not permit firm conclusions,” he said.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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