News In Brief

The Defense Department is 600,000 investigations behind in security checks on Pentagon staffers and employees of contractors with which it does business, USA Today reported. The newspaper said the most recent director of the internal agency that conducts the checks was reassigned to the Energy Department earlier this week as research for its report was ending. A senior Pentagon official said he ordered implementation of a plan aimed at eliminating the backlog within 18 months.

The reported acceptance by the Yugoslav government of a peace plan for Kosovo is "a hopeful sign, but we need to see more," a Clinton administration spokesman said. White House officials said they wanted to hear directly from Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, who presented the plan to Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic. If diplomacy brings an early end to the 11-week air war against Yugoslavia, the Pentagon said a vanguard of US Marines could be in Kosovo inside a day to serve with other international peace-keepers.

Orders for manufactured goods fell 1.2 percent in April, mostly because of low demand for airplanes and other transportation-related products, the Commerce Department reported. The decline came on the heels of a 1.9 percent advance in March. If not for the transportation sector, the department said, factory orders would have risen by 0.5 percent in April - the fifth increase in six months.

Discovery astronauts propelled the International Space Station into a slightly higher orbit, positioning it to receive a Russian-made module to be launched this fall. It was the Discovery crew's last major task before disengaging from the station and returning to Cape Canaveral, Fla., Sunday.

Federal investigators awaited a doctor's permission to question the first officer of the American Airlines jet that crashed in bad weather at Little Rock, Ark. The accident late Tuesday night killed nine people, among them pilot Richard Buschmann. A check of the plane's maintenance records revealed no major problems. The crew, however, had been on duty for 13-1/2 hours, 30 minutes short of the federal maximum.

Arguments in the case of a New Jersey elementary-school pupil whose teacher wouldn't let him read a Bible story in class were heard by a federal appeals court in Philadelphia. Sharing a favorite story was to have been six-year-old Zachary Hood's reward for good reading habits at Haines School in Medford, until he chose The Beginner's Bible version of Jacob and Esau. His choice was ruled inappropriate because of its source, although it made no mention of God. A suit filed by his parents calls for a state policy that would allow public school students to include religious beliefs in completing their assignments. Legal experts say the case could end up before the Supreme Court.

The sale of personal salary data collected by state agencies in California to creditors, car dealers, and other private businesses could begin as early as this year, the Los Angeles Times reported. No data would be shared without written permission of the individual concerned, officials said. But critics complain that buyers would not have to prove they had such an OK before accessing the data.

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