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New probe of spy case ordered
Energy chief delays any action against staff

WASHINGTON -- Energy Secretary Bill Richardson has put off for at least a month disciplining or firing any Energy Department employees as a result of the mishandling of the espionage investigation at Los Alamos National Laboratory, department officials said Wednesday.

Richardson decided to delay any reprimands after he received an internal review that he believed did not hold enough senior officials at Energy Department headquarters accountable for the blunders in the Los Alamos spy case, officials said.Dissatisfied with the review, prepared by the Energy Department's counter-intelligence office, Richardson has ordered a new investigation by the Energy Department's inspector general. Even an expedited investigation by the inspector general's office will take 30 days, an Energy Department official said.

Meanwhile, Richardson told a Senate panel Wednesday that he would urge President Clinton to veto legislation that would create a new national security agency within the Energy Department to handle its nuclear weapons program.

The legislation, proposed by three leading Republican senators, is one of the first of many bills being crafted in Congress to restructure the Energy Department in the wake of evidence of Chinese atomic espionage at the national weapons labs, which are owned by the department.

As many as 10 congressional committees have been investigating aspects of the spy case, including the Clinton administration's handling of the matter, and lawmakers in the House and Senate are already rushing out proposals aimed at reform.

In fact, the House Wednesday unanimously passed the first package of measures incorporating many of the recommendations of a select House panel that investigated Chinese nuclear spying and illegal transfers of sensitive U.S. technologies to Beijing.

But the administration plans to fight many of the broader legislative proposals now under consideration on Capitol Hill, which include breaking up the Energy Department, transferring the nuclear weapons program to the Pentagon or creating new lines of authority over the nuclear weapons programs within the Energy Department.

Testifying before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Richardson complained that the proposed national security agency to be created by the Senate bill would "create a new fiefdom in a department of fiefdoms."