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News Briefs

NASA Told to Scale Back Station Plans


Faced with as much as $4 billion in cost overruns on the international space station, the Bush administration is ordering NASA to shift money away from such planned U.S. additions to the outpost as a living quarters and a crew rescue vehicle.

A top NASA official said the plan, outlined in the new White House budget document, will allow completion of a core U.S. structure to which Japanese and European modules can be attached. But some future American pieces, including the living quarters that would allow an increase in the crew size from three to seven, may be lost.

W. Michael Hawes, NASA’s deputy associate administrator for space flight development, said the agency is assessing the impact of the Bush budget proposal. “There are a lot of options to look at and price out,” Hawes said in a telephone interview this week with reporters.

While the White House’s budget plan for fiscal year 2002 seeks a 2 percent increase overall for NASA -- to $14.5 billion -- it notes that some recent estimates peg the cost overrun for the space station at $1 billion for 2001 and 2002 and a total of $4 billion over the next five years.

To offset that cost growth, the Bush administration wants to “redirect” money away from a propulsion module scheduled for addition to the station in 2004, the habitation module that was to be deployed in 2005 and a crew escape vehicle, also slated for completion in 2005.

Bush Budget Includes Appeal For Military Base Closings


The Pentagon’s military base-closing program has returned with new force.

The Bush administration, eager to find savings to finance military reform, included in its budget a strong appeal for several new rounds of base closings. The current inventory of about 500 bases, it said, “wastes money.”

Of the roughly 500 bases nationwide, about half are considered major.

Advocates of base closings say the first four rounds saved the government $20 billion through fiscal year 2000, and will save $5.5 billion a year thereafter. They predict that new rounds could save an additional $2 billion to $3 billion a year when fully implemented.

This week, two longtime advocates of closings, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), introduced legislation calling for additional base closings in 2003 and 2005.

Agriculture Wants Quick ID Of Genetically Engineered Seed


Agriculture officials on Thursday told seed dealers to quickly determine how much of the nation’s corn seed stocks contain the genetically engineered variety that prompted massive recalls of food and corn crops last year.

The Agriculture Department told the American Seed Trade Association to have the results by noon Friday so officials will know how much seed corn will have to be destroyed and can begin determining how much that will cost and who will pay for it.

Officials said Thursday that the amount of seed corn with detectable amounts of a protein from the genetically modified corn is expected to be small, less than 5 percent of the total. They also said that precautions are in place to ensure farmers don’t plant the tainted corn, known as StarLink.

Federal officials met for two hours Thursday at the Department of Agriculture with about 50 representatives from the seed, corn and food industry officials. Agriculture Department spokesman Kevin Herglotz said the meeting focused on testing procedures and how federal agencies could help the seed industry deal with the StarLink issue.

“Our goal is to do what we can to prevent it from being planted,” he said.

StarLink, developed by Aventis CropScience and approved only for animal feed, has caused regulatory and economic trouble since biotechnology critics found it last fall in taco shells. Federal agencies had approved StarLink only for animal consumption because of concerns that it might cause dangerous allergic reactions in people, though they have said the human health risks likely are quite limited.

The discovery of the corn in the human food supply prompted a massive recall of corn and food products made with corn in this country. It was detected in seed by dealers this year as they checked their stocks before selling to farmers for the upcoming growing season.

Combs, On Stand, Denies Gun, Bribery Charges


Hip-hop mogul Sean “Puffy” Combs told jurors in his gun and bribery case Thursday that he believed he was the target of an assassination attempt when gunfire erupted in a Times Square nightclub in 1999.

In a soft voice with a hint of a Southern drawl, Combs, 31, repudiated every charge leveled against him.

Combs said he did not possess a weapon on Dec. 27, 1999, never fired inside the club and never tried to bribe his driver, Wardel Fenderson.

Combs, who could face up to 15 years in prison if convicted of gun and bribery charges, also testified that he never faced off with Matthew Allen, a former convict who other witnesses called “Scar.”

Combs said he saw a man “mouthing off” and apparently glaring in his direction as he left the club. He said that he heard one shot as he walked away and that he initially crouched down and covered his head with his hands.

Prosecutors say Combs and Barrow both drew guns, with Combs firing into the ceiling and Barrow firing into the crowd.