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News Briefs, part 2

HUD to Close 10 Regional Offices

The Washington Post

Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros announced Thursday plans to restructure the Department of Housing and Urban Development by eliminating 10 regional offices, cutting 1,700 jobs and making field offices directly responsible to HUD's Washington headquarters.

Cisneros also announced strategic goals for HUD, formulated in a "Presidential Performance Agreement" that targeted six areas of concern. The performance agreement was signed by President Clinton Wednesday.

"This is going to be a results-producing, performance-oriented organization," Cisneros told more than 1,000 HUD employees at an open meeting Thursday morning. The restructuring, inspired by Vice President Al Gore's National Performance Review, is the product of a year-long agency effort to "Reinvent HUD."

Cisneros and other ranking HUD officials have long advertised many of the agency's proposed changes, but Thursday's meeting detailed for the first time how HUD intends to get rid of the 10 regional headquarters that oversee the agency's 81 field offices.

Under the new plan, Cisneros said, HUD's geographical field structure will be all but eliminated. Instead, field employees working in particular programs will be accountable to HUD's assistant secretaries in charge of community development, public housing, fair housing and the Federal Housing Administration.

And, instead of 10 regional directorates, each with about 100 employees, HUD will have what Cisneros described as 10 "Area Coordinators," working with "less than 10 people" to loosely supervise a region, represent Cisneros and articulate HUD policy.

Cisneros acknowledged that "part of the rationale" for eliminating the regional offices was to find a way to cut 1,700 jobs from the 13,000-member agency over the next five years. Clinton called for the reductions in last year's budget agreement.

The National Performance Review "identified this (the regional structure) as an unnecessary (bureaucratic) blockage," Cisneros said. "We are required to eliminate 1,700 FTEs (Full Time Equivalents)... it's clear where the cuts have to come."

Ohio Teen Faces Flogging For Vandalism in Singapore

Los Angeles Times

In a case likely to strain U.S. relations with a longtime ally on the sensitive issue of human rights, a judge Thursday sentenced an American teen-ager to be flogged six times with a rattan cane and to spend four months in prison for spray painting cars and other acts of mischief.

Michael P. Fay, 18, of Dayton, Ohio, also was ordered to pay a $2,230 fine after pleading guilty to two counts of vandalism, two counts of mischief and one count of receiving stolen property. Fay is believed to be the first American ever sentenced to be caned here.

The punishment is far more severe than the word "caning" might imply. A half-inch thick rattan cane that has been soaked in water is used; it is wielded by an official trained in martial arts. Prisoners often go into shock during caning and the punishment leaves permanent scars on their buttocks.

Fay, dressed in a blue T-shirt and dungarees, seemed stunned as the sentence was read out in court. His mother let out a wail and burst into tears, while two dozen American teen-agers who packed the court cried and hugged each other.

U.S. Charge d'Affaires Ralph Boyce, who attended the sentencing, expressed displeasure at the severity of the punishment.

"We see a large discrepancy between the offense and the punishment," he said. "The cars were not permanently damaged; the paint was removed with thinner. Caning leaves permanent scars. In addition, the accused is a teen-ager and this is his first offense."

Asked if there would be a diplomatic protest, Boyce said that while the U.S. Wmbassy had made clear its concerns over this type of punishment, "we are not going to forecast possible future diplomatic actions."

Fay, a senior at the Singapore-American School, a $10,000-a-year private school for the children of expatriate parents based in Singapore, admitted to having been part of a group of boys from the school who had spray-painted 18 cars last fall.

Revised Senate Ethics Plan Proposed

The Washington Post

A Senate task force Wednesday proposed limited but significant changes designed to "simplify, streamline and strengthen" the Senate's process for ethical discipline of its members.

The proposals, which were submitted to Senate leaders for further review, include consolidating all phases of investigation into a single process and establishing a standard set of disciplinary sanctions, ranging from expulsion to a "letter of admonition."

The ethics committee currently uses a "myriad of terms . . . with no clear understanding of what the sanction meant," said task force chairman Richard H. Bryan, D-Nev., who also is chairman of the committee. "Consulting a dictionary is not the way to handle ethics discipline," he added. The task force also recommended steps to bar backdoor communications between probe targets and committee personnel and to stop requiring the committee to bargain with a senator on terms of a reprimand, a process that has led to what Bryan described as "plea-bargaining."

A "letter of admonition" would be prescribed for cases deemed by the committee to warrant an expression of disapproval but not a formal disciplinary sanction.

The task force stopped short of proposing more sweeping changes, such as bringing in retired senators, judges or other "outsiders" to get around the difficulty of senators trying to judge other senators. But it also rejected several proposals that could have curtailed the committee's disciplinary powers, such as a statute of limitations on offenses or requirement for sworn complaints to trigger an investigation.

The committee split down the middle over whether to propose creation of separate panels to investigate and adjudicate cases. Currently a single ethics committee performs both functions.