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News Briefs

FDA Recalls Blood Banks' Defective Computer Software

Los Angeles Times

Computer software used by more than 200 hospital blood banks nationwide has been quietly recalled after the U.S. Food & Drug Administration discovered programming defects that could have allowed the accidental release of contaminated blood.

FDA officials said the chance of the release of contaminated or untested blood through flaws in Western Star Inc.'s LifeLine blood bank management system is "remote."

Nevertheless, "We did look at it as something that is quite serious," said James A. Davis, the Seattle-based regional director of the FDA's Investigations Branch, who wrote the Feb. 17 recall letter to Western Star.

Blood bank officials said the recall underscores the inherent dangers of relying on complicated automated technology for such sensitive tasks as tracking blood through donation, testing and transfusion.

"If your software is bad, you may not know that until another independent event points up that something is wrong, like when a patient turns up positive for a disease," said Jim MacPherson, executive director of the Council of Community Blood Centers in Washington, a trade association. MacPherson, like some other blood bank officials, had not been aware of the recall.

Western Star, based in Lake Oswego, Ore., has complied with the recall by notifying its customers and making sure the programming defects have been corrected, according to the FDA. The company complied voluntarily under threat of seizure of its products.

Russia Bids for Wrap-Up In Chechnya

The Washington Post

Russian troops have intensified their assault on separatist forces in Chechnya - with what some call "scorched-earth tactics" - in an effort to end the conflict before President Clinton and other world leaders come here May 9, human rights activists declared Monday.

The charges followed a weekend in which Russian forces bombed and shelled the village of Samashki in western Chechnya, causing civilian casualties, according to some reports. Troops shelled and burned houses in the village and then beat some male prisoners, according to local residents, although independent observers said reports of damage were exaggerated.

Sergei Kovalyev, President Boris Yeltsin's human rights adviser and a fierce Yeltsin critic since the Chechen conflict began four months ago, said Clinton's decision to visit Moscow has had the unintended consequence of accelerating the pace of the war. "Before May 9, friend Boris wants to tell friend Bill, It is right that you came; as you can see, we have finished everything in Chechnya,' " Kovalyev said in an interview.

The human rights organization Memorial, along with other like-minded groups, plans to send a letter to Clinton and other world leaders Tuesday, urging them to reconsider their decision to attend the commemoration in Moscow of the 50th anniversary of Nazi Germany's defeat.

Federal Workers Face Losses Under Tax Plan

The Washington Post

The House-passed tax cut bill makes federal workers very special people. The lose-lose plan would cut civil service take-home pay and reduce pensions for federal workers retiring after this year.

A typical federal worker would lose about $750 a year in take-home pay, thanks to the "tax cut." Pension benefits would be reduced 4 percent or more under the plan, which still must make it through the Senate. Under the plan:

Everyone in the Civil Service Retirement System - about half the federal work force - would have to increase retirement plan contributions from 7 to 9.5 percent of salary over the next three years. That would cause a 2.5 percent drop in take-home pay.

Everyone in the newer Federal Employees Retirement System, the other half of the work force, would increase contributions from 0.8 percent to 3.3 percent of salary. FERS workers contribute less because they get a smaller civil service benefit. They also contribute to Social Security.

Those who retire after this year would get less than they expected and were promised. Benefits now based on an employee's highest three-year salary average would be based on a high-four formula next year and the highest five-year average in 1997 and thereafter.