The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 80.0°F | Mostly Cloudy

News Briefs, part 2

OPM Launches First Wave Of Government Employee Layoffs

The Washington Post

In what could be the first of several waves of government layoffs, the Office of Personnel Management said Thursday it will eliminate 523 jobs at its offices over the next two months. A second round of layoffs targeted at other OPM operations will probably start in September, the officials added.

With its "reduction in force," OPM becomes the first non-defense agency to order significant layoffs because of budget constraints and the administration's downsizing initiative.

While federal agencies seek to avoid layoffs because they cause morale problems, layoffs at OPM -- the central control for hiring, employment and promotions in the government -- especially sting.

OPM Director James B. King, noting he had waited as long as possible before ordering the workforce reduction, said worsening budget problems and the lack of "buyout" authority had forced his decision.

The administration planned to ease its workforce reduction by offering buyouts of up to $25,000 to employees who volunteered to resign or retire early.

But the legislation stalled late last year and again last week, when the House and Senate approved markedly different versions. Administration officials hope to restart negotiations on the bill today.

Retail Sales and Trade Deficit Post Good News for Economy

The washington post

Positive new economic data on both retail sales and the U.S. trade deficit indicate that the U.S. economy grew at a torrid 7 percent annual rate in the last three months of 1993, analysts said yesterday.

The signs of booming growth caused a jump in long-term interest rates as investors worried that a stronger economy would generate more inflation.

In pushing rates on 30-year Treasury bonds to 6.54 percent, their highest level since last summer, investors ignored another report from the Labor Department that consumer prices last month were unchanged from their December level and were up only 2.5 percent in the past year, the smallest price rise since 1987.

So-called core inflation -- the increase in prices other than for food and energy -- was 0.1 percent last month and 2.9 percent in the last 12 months. The latter is the lowest in 11 years.

"You have to scratch your head and wonder if this market has any sanity to it," said Ray Stone of Stone & McCarthy Research Associates, a Princeton, N.J., financial markets research firm. "Some people questioned the validity of the CPI. It was almost too good to be true."

FAA Allows Pilots To Navigate Solely by Satellite

The Washington Post

Federal Aviation Administrator David R. Hinson said Thursday that for the first time, pilots may navigate solely by satellite. The long-awaited decision could eventually eliminate most expensive ground-based navigation systems.

Hinson declared the Pentagon's Global Positioning Satellite System acceptable for aircraft navigation and introduced reporters to a small inexpensive black box that has just jumped through FAA's bureaucratic hoops to become the first satellite receiver accepted for instrument flying.

The GPS system involves 24 satellites orbiting 11,000 miles high. Receivers can measure the travel time from four or more satellites, giving a location anywhere on earth within about 100 meters. The signal can be further refined with ground-based receiving stations that can eliminate or lessen errors in the mobile receivers. Companies are now developing systems that would use the same system to aid automobile and truck drivers in figuring out where they are.

Because the system permits more-precise location of aircraft by controllers, especially over the ocean, planes should be able to fly closer to one another and proceed along more direct routes. Airlines expect to save millions of dollars a year in fuel costs.

Justice Department Takes Up Cross-Burning Issue Again

The Baltimore Sun

Nearly two years after the Supreme Court seemed to scuttle much of the government's power to outlaw cross-burning as a form of racist protest, the Clinton administration is seeking clear federal authority to deal with those incidents.

Days before the latest reported incident -- earlier this week outside the home of a black woman in the suburb of Sterling, Va., west of here -- the Justice Department took the first steps to put the issue back before the Supreme Court in a new constitutional test.

Continuing a Bush administration policy, the department wants to use three federal criminal laws against those who burn crosses aimed at minorities or at whites who associate with minorities. Conflicting lower-court rulings that followed the Supreme Court's 1992 decision, however, have put some of that power in doubt.

In its ruling in June two years ago, the Supreme Court split 5-4 in declaring that government may not single out specific hate messages, conveyed by speech or by symbolic gestures, and outlaw only those messages. That ruling struck down a St. Paul, Minn., ordinance explicitly aimed at cross-burning that is used to convey a message of racial hatred.

Since then, cross-burnings have continued to occur, according to data from the Klanwatch project of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala. Based on what it concedes is incomplete data, the project counted 117 cross-burnings in 1992 -- the last year reported. That was up from 110 a year earlier. The project's preliminary data for 1993 indicate some decline from the 1992 total.