USDA says it will close 259 offices to save $150M

Posted Jan. 09, 2012, at 8:31 p.m.

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Agriculture says it will close 259 domestic offices, labs and other facilities as part of an effort to save $150 million per year in its $145 billion budget.

The plan announced Monday will affect the agency’s Washington headquarters and operations in 46 states.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says in a statement that his agency must “be better stewards of the taxpayers’ dollars.”

He says many of the offices being closed have few employees and are near other offices. It was not clear from the USDA announcement whether employees would be laid off or moved to other offices.

The USDA has a broad array of programs, ranging from emergency aid for farms to grants for rural development and the program commonly known as food stamps.

Budget director Lew to replace Daley as Obama’s chief of staff

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Monday named his budget director, Jack Lew, to be his next chief of staff to replace William Daley, who’s leaving after a year in the job just as the White House begins to gear up for a bruising re-election campaign.

Standing with Lew and Daley in the White House State Dining Room, Obama said he had “every confidence that Jack will make sure that we don’t miss a beat,” noting that Lew as director of the White House Office of Management and Budget already has “one of the other most difficult jobs in Washington.”

Daley, who had signaled last fall in an interview with a hometown Chicago TV station that he’d stay only through the presidential campaign, last week told Obama he wanted to leave sooner.

Obama said he’d asked Daley to reconsider, “but in the end, the pull of the hometown we both love — a city that’s been synonymous with the Daley family for generations — was too great.”

In January 2010, Daley, a former commerce secretary under President Bill Clinton, replaced Rahm Emanuel, who won election as Chicago’s mayor.

Ga. district investigates math homework on slavery

NORCROSS, Ga. — Suburban Atlanta school officials are deciding whether to discipline teachers who gave third-grade students math homework with word problems about slavery.

Gwinnett County schools spokeswoman Sloan Roach said Monday that the district is working with the school principal to address the problem after parents complained about the worksheets. She says the district wants to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

The NAACP has called for the firing of the nine teachers involved.

One of the math problems reads: “Each tree has 56 oranges. If eight slaves pick them equally, then how much would each slave pick?”

Another was: “If Frederick got two beatings each day, how many beatings did he get in one week?”

Roach said the questions attempted to incorporate what students had been discussing in social studies with their math.

Iranian court reportedly sentences American to death on spy charges

TEHRAN, Iran — A court in Tehran has sentenced to death a former U.S. Marine of Iranian descent who was convicted of spying for the Central Intelligence Agency, Iranian media reported on Monday.

The sentencing of Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, 28, is likely to add to the tension between the United States and Iran, which has been escalating over the Islamic Republic’s disputed nuclear program.

Prosecutors accused Hekmati of “cooperation with an enemy government, membership in the CIA and attempts to accuse Iran of supporting terrorism,” the semiofficial Fars news agency reported.

A branch of Iran’s Revolutionary Court found him to be a “corrupter on Earth” and “waging war on God,” the news service reports said, expressions that routinely appear in Iranian court cases. He has 20 days to appeal the sentence.

Last month, Iranian state television broadcast video of a purported confession by Hekmati in which he said he had been sent by the CIA to infiltrate Iranian intelligence services.

Iran alleges that Hekmati served at U.S. bases in Iraq and Afghanistan and received specialized training. The Intelligence Ministry said its agents identified Hekmati at Bagram air base in Afghanistan and tracked him as he infiltrated Iran.

Fars reported that Hekmati repeated the alleged confession at a closed-door trial last month, telling the court that he was “fooled” by the CIA and did not want to “strike a blow” at Iran.

In Washington, U.S. officials on Monday demanded that Iran release Hekmati and denied that he worked for the CIA.

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