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News Briefs

Administration Unveils $5 Billion U.S.-Mexico Cleanup Fund

Los Angeles Times

As President Clinton readied his fight for congressional approval of a three-way trade agreement with Mexico and Canada, his administration Monday unveiled a $5 billion-dollar fund to pay for cleaning up the polluted U.S.-Mexican border.

Administration officials hope that the fund, along with additional spending to pay for retraining workers who lose their jobs as a result of the North American Free Trade Agreement, will provide enough votes to overcome strong opposition among skeptical members of the House and Senate.

Clinton, with former Presidents Carter, Ford and Bush looking on, plans to sign supplements Tuesday to the trade agreement that are intended to protect the environment and workers' rights. Tuesday's ceremony will be the first public event of a multifaceted administration campaign to put the trade pact into effect by Jan. 1.

In their attempt to fend off critics who argue that the agreement will result in the loss of jobs to Mexico, Clinton and his aides have begun emphasizing the role the agreement could have --along with the administration's health care plan and its efforts to streamline government --in reviving the nation's economy, and have said that it would boost jobs in the United States by increasing exports.

Clinton Relaxes Trade Ban With Vietnam

The Washington Post

President Clinton relaxed the ban on trade with Vietnam Monday to allow U.S. firms to bid on development projects there financed by the World Bank and other international agencies. But Clinton retained the embargo on most commercial dealings.

His action nudged the United States a bit closer to ending the hostile relations with Hanoi that go back more than a generation, but signaled that Clinton is not yet fully satisfied with Vietnam's cooperation in the search for U.S. servicemen still missing from the war.

The United States has diplomats in Hanoi, military teams roaming Vietnam to search for remains of missing soldiers and airmen and Pentagon researchers in the Vietnamese government archives. Monday the State Department agreed to provide $3.5 million in additional U.S. aid funds for a project to supply prosthetic devices for Vietnamese amputees. But "we still haven't seen enough" cooperation in the search for the missing "to feel comfortable in lifting the embargo altogether," a White House official said.

The emotionally charged issue of the MIAs is the last remaining obstacle to peace and normal relations between this country and Vietnam. It is particularly sensitive for Clinton because of his record of opposition to the war and avoidance of military service as a young man.

National Performance Review Would Fix Public Housing

The Washington Post

The Department of Housing and Urban Development has put a lot of dirty laundry on display over the years, but as a visible symbol of the agency's shortcomings, nothing looks worse than a tumbledown public housing project.

Last week Vice President Al Gore's National Performance Review (NPR) took on public housing as a key target for the Clinton administration's efforts to "reinvent government."

In vague, sometimes opaque language, the summary report -- entitled "From Red Tape to Results: Creating a Government that Works Better and Costs Less" -- proposed bold innovations in the management and maintenance of housing projects that serve about 1.4 million families nationwide. Regulations would be simplified or dumped; tenants would have more freedom to move out of projects; managers would be left alone as long as they fulfilled a set of unspecified "performance standards."

"They're talking about getting rid of regulations and rewarding performance, and we applaud that," said Richard Y. Nelson Jr., executive director of the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials.