A dozen of the largest federal agencies reported squandering $20.7-billion last year, with improper Medicare payments accounting for more than half of that money, according to a General Accounting Office study released Tuesday.
"It's astounding that more than $20-billion of taxpayer money was wasted by just a handful of federal programs, and that's just a drop in the bucket," said Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., who ordered the study by Congress' investigative branch.
The improper payments were culled from the annual financial reports of agencies that accounted for most of the government's $1.7-trillion budget for fiscal 1999, according to the Office of Management and Budget. The $20.7-billion represents 1.2 percent of the total.
Inequities found in federal death penalty
WASHINGTON _ A Justice Department study found wide racial and geographic disparities in the federal death penalty system, but Attorney General Janet Reno blamed them on injustice in society rather than bias in her department.
Releasing the study Tuesday, Reno called for additional studies and legislation but rejected renewed calls for a moratorium on federal executions that poured in from Congress and civil rights advocates in response to the figures.
LIMIT REJECTED: Convicted felons who can use new science to prove innocence may not be bound by a one-year time limit on a federal appeal of last resort, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta has ruled.
INS holding record number of immigrants
MIAMI _ The number of immigrants held in federal detention centers nationwide has skyrocketed to a 60-year high, according to recently released figures by the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
More than 20,000 immigrants are in INS custody on an average day. Five years ago, the agency had an average of 6,700 detainees.
The upsurge is credited to a 1996 federal law, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, which allows immigrants guilty of minor crimes to be deported or detained for long periods.
In a first, Hindu to give opening prayer in House
WASHINGTON _ A Hindu priest from Parma, Ohio, will deliver Thursday's opening prayer in the House.
Venkatachalapathi Samuldrala will be the first Hindu ever to give the House invocation, said Rep. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio.
Astronauts start loading space station's supplies
SPACE CENTER, Houston _ Atlantis' crew drifted into the newest section of the international space station early Tuesday and began hauling equipment into the module, which will be home for the station's first permanent residents.
The Russian service module called Zvezda, which finally made it to space in July after more than two years of delays, made its orbital debut at 1:50 a.m. EDT when Atlantis commander Terrence Wilcutt and cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko cracked the hatch open and floated in.
The station's first permanent residents are due to arrive in November: one American and two Russians who are to spend four months aboard the station.
More trucks recalled for brake problems
PORTLAND, Ore. _ Freightliner Corp. is recalling 39,000 trucks and tractors because of possible problems with a brake system made by a division of Honeywell International.
The announcement follows the Aug. 28 recall of 6,000 school buses with similar problems.