- The Washington Times - Friday, May 22, 2009

MEMOIR

Palin selects book collaborator

NEW YORK | Sarah Palin has picked a collaborator for her memoir.

A spokeswoman for SarahPAC, the Alaska governor’s political action committee, said that Mrs. Palin has selected Lynn Vincent, an author and features editor for World magazine, a conservative Christian publication. Mrs. Palin’s book, currently untitled, is scheduled for release next year by HarperCollins.

Ms. Vincent, a San Diego resident, has written or co-written several books, among them “Same Kind of Different As Me,” “The Blood of Lambs” and “Donkey Cons: Sex, Crime and Corruption in the Democratic Party.”

AIRPORTS

TSA abandons screening machine

The government is scrapping a post-Sept. 11 airport screening program because the machines did not operate as well as intended and cost too much to maintain.

The so-called “puffer” machines were deployed to airports in 2004 to screen randomly selected passengers for bombs after they cleared the standard metal detectors. The machines take 17 seconds to check a passenger and can analyze particles as small as one-billionth of a gram.

But they would also break down when exposed to dirt or humidity, the Transportation Security Administration said in a statement released Thursday. Since 2005, maintenance of the machines cost taxpayers more than $6 million.

Ninety-four of the machines were deployed to 37 airports in 2004, and the government planned to deploy 113 more machines at airports. But because of some of the performance issues, the government decided not to continue the rollout, and the rest stayed in storage.

The machines cost about $160,000 each and were made by General Electric and Smiths Detection.

LEGISLATION

House tightens cigarette sales

The House on Thursday approved tougher enforcement measures against contraband cigarette sales that make money for criminals, but cost federal, state and local governments billions of dollars.

The bill, which passed 397-11, is especially aimed at Internet sales. Sellers on the Internet and others shipping to remote locations would have to verify the purchaser’s age and identity through accessible databases.

Cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products could no longer be mailed through the U.S. Postal Service except in limited cases. Private delivery companies already have agreed not to ship tobacco products while the Postal Service continues to deliver products purchased over the Internet.

Misdemeanors under current law would be made felonies, and it would be a federal offense for any seller failing to pay state tax laws.

The Senate has yet to consider the measure.

SAFETY

Lawmaker presses acting FDA chief

A key lawmaker pressed FDA officials Thursday for specific plans to improve food safety, saying the agency’s proposals to date don’t sound like real change.

“A lot sounds to me like buzzwords from a past administration,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro, Connecticut Democrat, told the Food and Drug Administration’s new acting commissioner at a hearing.

Acting Commissioner Dr. Joshua Sharfstein presented a 2010 budget proposal calling for a big funding increase and new industry user fees to pay for more food safety inspections. But it was short on specifics.

“A real change, a real change from the past would be a plan on food safety that identified the foods at greatest risk,” Ms. DeLauro said. She also called for new performance standards, sampling to detect contamination and requirements for industry to report when problems were found.

Mr. Sharfstein said he had a similar list of goals.

“The big picture is we really need a new food safety system that’s premised on prevention,” Mr. Sharfstein said, including performance standards where appropriate.

LEGISLATION

Congress OKs arms-cost overhaul

Pentagon money watchers will get greater powers to crack down on new weapons heading for huge cost overruns and terminate the serious budget-busting programs under a bill Congress is sending to President Obama.

The House passed the weapons acquisition overhaul bill 411-0 Thursday, a day after the Senate unanimously approved it. The two sides came together this week on a compromise bill, moving with unusual speed to meet a request by Mr. Obama to send him legislation before lawmakers leave for the Memorial Day recess.

No one was predicting exactly how much could be saved by tightening controls over Pentagon procurement practices. But lawmakers said that with multibillion-dollar cost overruns a common occurrence, the potential was there for huge financial rewards.

It offers “the opportunity to save literally hundreds and hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars,” said Rep. John M. McHugh of New York, top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee.

MILITARY AID

Biden to hold meeting in Beirut

Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. is to make an announcement on military aid to Lebanon on a visit there Friday, two weeks before elections that may see a shift in power from a Western-backed coalition.

Lebanese voters go to the polls June 7 in a closely contested election that will pit an alliance including Hezbollah - the Syria-backed Shi’ite group that Washington designates a terrorist organization - against an anti-Syrian coalition that holds a majority in parliament.

Mr. Biden’s office said the vice president, who has been on a tour this week to Serbia and Kosovo, would travel to Beirut on Friday to meet Lebanon’s president, Michel Suleiman, Prime Minister Fuad Siniora and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.

He would also join Lebanese Defense Minister Elias al-Murr in making an announcement on assistance to Lebanon’s military, Mr. Biden’s office said, without giving any details.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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