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News Briefs, part 2

Defense Firms Bill U.S. $4 Million For Entertainment Costs

The Baltimore Sun

Defense contractors have billed the government for more than $4 million in entertainment and recreational expenses in the past few years, from $20,000 for golf balls to $263,000 for a Smokey Robinson concert, congressional investigators said in a report released Monday.

The billing of such expenses does not violate federal law. But it raises sensitive questions about Pentagon spending, especially after highly publicized reports in the 1980s that defense contractors charged the federal government hundreds of dollars each for normally inexpensive goods such as toilet seats and hammers.

The report follows legislation signed into law last week that, among other things, restricts the expenses for which the government will pay contractors. The legislation will, for example, bar contractors from billing the government for entertainment expenses. Regulations still being written will determine whether employee gifts and recreation activities will be among the prohibited expenses.

Congressional investigators from the Energy and Commerce Committee said Monday they fear that under the new rules, as in the past, government watchdogs will be lax in clamping down on unreasonable charges by federal contractors.

DOT Finds Defect in GM Trucks

The Washington Post

Transportation Secretary Federico Pena Monday accused General Motors Corp. of knowingly producing millions of defective pickup trucks that can explode and burn in side-impact crashes.

Despite that knowledge, GM chose for at least 15 years not to alter the design of the trucks, Pena said. "Approximately 150 people have died as a result of side-impact fires in these trucks, in crashes that were otherwise survivable," he said.

Pena voiced his accusations in announcing that his department has made an initial finding that a safety defect exists in GM C/K trucks with fuel tanks mounted outside steel rails that support the cargo bed.

The trucks were manufactured for the 1973 through 1987 model years and include the GMC Sierra and Chevrolet C/K 1500 and 2500 series.

GM officials called Pena's claims "outrageous and wrong."

"These trucks are recognized even by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to have fully met the applicable safety standards for fuel-system integrity in collision," said GM Vice President Bruce G. MacDonald, the company's chief spokesman. "They outperform many newer vehicles in terms of both fuel system crash worthiness and occupant protection."

The department's initial finding of defect Monday could lead to a final determination that a safety problem exists.

GM officials said Monday that they would go to court again to defend the reputation of the C/K pickup trucks.

Pena conceded in his remarks that the GM trucks meet existing federal standards. But he said that federal auto safety laws place automakers "under two broad mandates: first, to meet applicable safety standards in producing vehicles; and second, to produce vehicles that operate safely in real-world conditions."