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News in Brief: A Washington Roundup

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Clinton Speaks Out on Tobacco Settlement

President Clinton said last week that he would only endorse a tobacco settlement that levied substantial penalties on tobacco companies that fail to meet targets to curtail youth smoking.

The president's statement was the first he had made since the historic proposed agreement was hammered out by the nation's largest tobacco companies and 40 state attorneys general this summer. The agreement, which still must be approved by Congress and signed by the president, would fine tobacco companies more than $368 billion over the next 25 years for public-health costs associated with smoking and would require cigarette manufacturers to help reduce youth-smoking rates by 60 percent over the next decade.

Tobacco-industry officials said last week that the president's suggestions, which include strengthening federal oversight of the industry, might scuttle the original deal. Congressional leaders are expected to delay drafting legislation that would ratify the settlement if Mr. Clinton fails to offer his own settlement plan this year.

Public Input Sought on Children's TV

Leaders of the National PTA, the National Education Association, the Center for Media Education, and the Federal Communications Commission are calling for the public's support in evaluating new children's educational television shows airing this fall.

New FCC rules which took effect earlier this year are intended to strengthen the Children's Television Act of 1990. They required every commercial television station to air at least three hours of children's educational programming each week beginning Sept. 1.

The public should provide regular feedback on the new children's shows to the television industry and the FCC, outgoing FCC Chairman Reed Hundt said last week at a news conference in Washington with leaders of the other groups involved in the public-interest effort.

The new FCC rules also require broadcasters to provide on-air labels to identify educational television, note in their public inspection files the target ages for each program, designate a children's liaison at each television station, and make yearly filings with the FCC that detail their children's programming.

Satcher Receives Nomination as Surgeon General

President Clinton has nominated Dr. David Satcher, a physician and leader on public-health issues, to become surgeon general and assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services.

Dr. Satcher is the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, based in Atlanta, where he led an effort to increase child-immunization rates. He has also served as the president of Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn., and as a professor at the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta. He was the first African-American to receive medical and doctoral degrees from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

Mr. Clinton announced that he would call on Dr. Satcher to work to decrease smoking among young people. Dr. Satcher's nomination must still be approved by the Senate. The surgeon general's post has been vacant since former Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders resigned in December 1994.

Ed. Dept. Flagged for 2000 Computer Problem

The White House Office of Management and Budget plans to bar the Department of Education and three other federal agencies from buying new computer equipment until they figure out how to fix a so-called year 2000 glitch on existing equipment.

The problem will cause the computer systems--which are programmed to assume that all years begin with ''19"--to go haywire once the calendar turns to 2000. The systems would interpret dates ending in "00" as referring to the year 1900.

A spokesman for the Education Department said officials there have been working on the problem. The department has fixed 17 of its 24 computer systems, Jim Bradshaw said. "We're confident that in the next year we can take care of the remaining problems," he said, adding that the ban on new purchases was not likely to affect the department. But if the problem is not solved in the next two years, many student-loan databases, including those for Pell Grants, could be affected.

The Education Department could not provide an estimate of how much it would spend to fix the programming problem, but the OMB estimates it may cost as much as $5 billion to fix computers throughout the federal government.

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