Independent Counsel

Sought in DeLay Inquiry

Two government watchdog groups asked the House ethics committee yesterday to appoint an independent counsel to investigate a complaint that House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) traded political contributions for legislative favors.

The groups -- Common Cause and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington -- said an independent investigator is needed because four members of the committee received political contributions from DeLay and because DeLay, as the second-highest ranking member of the House, wields significant power over the members.

A spokesman said DeLay opposes the groups' request and declared, "We have full confidence the ethics committee will handle this in a proper matter."

The ethics committee is reviewing the complaint submitted by Rep. Chris Bell (D-Tex.). Bell charges that DeLay illegally solicited and accepted political contributions from Kansas-based Westar Energy in return for legislative favors and laundered illegal corporate contributions for use in Texas elections.

Bush Signs Measure on

Sentences for ID Theft

President Bush signed into law a measure that imposes mandatory prison terms for criminals who use identity theft in committing terrorist acts and other offenses.

A criminal would serve an extra five years in prison for using a false passport in connection with a terrorism-related crime. Two years would be tacked on for identity theft in connection with other types of crimes.

About 10 million Americans were victimized by identity thieves last year at a cost of $50 billion, making it one of the fastest-growing financial crimes, Bush said as he signed the bill at the White House.

Gray Wolf May Come

Off Endangered List

The Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to remove gray wolves from the Endangered Species Act list in three states -- Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin -- 30 years after they were nearly declared extinct. There are now 3,200 gray wolves in the eastern United States, compared with 1,000 in 1976.

Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton, who will make the announcement today, called the proposal significant. The department will take public comments for 120 days, as well as hold public hearings, before making a final decision.

In the 30 years since the enactment of the Endangered Species Act, only 15 species have recovered sufficiently to make it off the list.

DOE Seeks Record Fine

For Safety Violations

The Department of Energy proposed an unprecedented fine -- $935,000 -- against one of its contractors for safety violations in a project to remove radioactive sludge from the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington state.

The department said Fluor Hanford Inc. claimed in 2003 that it was prepared to begin removing 50 cubic meters of radioactive sludge from the reservation, but that it failed the agency's readiness review.

Teaching Assistants

Denied Union Access

Graduate teaching assistants at private universities do not have the right to form unions, the National Labor Relations Board has ruled, reversing its 2000 landmark decision that resulted in thousands of new union members.

The board, led by three Republicans appointed by President Bush, ruled that about 450 graduate teaching and research assistants at Brown University in Providence, R.I., could not be represented by the United Auto Workers because they are students, not employees.

The two Democrats on the five-member panel opposed the decision, which does not affect public universities.

-- From News Services