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DoD News Briefing: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA
August 07, 1997 2:00 PM EDT

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon. Glad to be here for the Jamie McIntyre show.

First, I'd like to start by welcoming four New York Times interns. They've been brought here by the esteemed Phil Shenon. They have been spending the summer interning at the Times, I believe. Their priorities must be off. They've spent nine weeks in New York and only one week here. They're at the Times under the Scotty Reston Fellowship Program.

I remember a great anecdote about Scotty Reston in, I think, Russell Baker's second book, "The Good Times", and the story was meant to tell the day that Russell Baker realized that he didn't have the legs to be a reporter anymore, that he sort of lost his lust for the news. He was walking home from lunch across Farragut Square with Scotty Reston and there was an automobile accident at one corner of Farragut Square, and an ambulance and a fire engine came, and Scotty Reston said, "Let's go over and see what it is." Baker said, "Oh, it's a fender bender." Scotty said, "How do we know? How do we know people haven't been killed? Maybe it was an Assistant Secretary of Defense who was killed in the auto accident, and we ought to go find out." So they rushed over there.

It was that day that Baker realized that he didn't have the same desire to find out what was happening that Scotty Reston had, and Scotty Reston never lost that desire. So I hope you have the same desire all your lives. Anyway, welcome.

With that, I'll take your questions, on Scott Reston or anything else.

Q: Can you give us some idea of what the military is doing on Guam?

A: Yes. I'd be glad to do that.

The military has done a lot on Guam -- the Air Force and the Navy and the National Guard.

First, let me just run through what we have on Guam. There are 6,848 active duty military people stationed on Guam. There are 807 National Guard people on Guam -- most of those are in the Army National Guard -- so 616 in the Army and 191 in the Air Force. If you look at the number of active duty people, the approximately 6,800, about 4,000 in the Navy and 2,500 in the Air Force.

Let me just sort of run through what's going on.

The Air Force and the Navy both deployed fire crews and medical crews. There is a Naval medical hospital on Guam that has about 250 people working there. These people, of course, have been taking care of the injured. But they've deployed fire and rescue crews, and medical crews, out to the site, and they've been working pretty much around the clock on that.

We've also brought in... Also the National Guard has been providing a lot of support -- logistical support and other help -- to the Air Force and Navy crews working there.

A lot of people have come in from other places. For instance, there was an eight-person, emergency rescue response team in from Hawaii, the Army medial center in Hawaii. There was a four-person surgical operation team from Japan, Naval Base in Japan. Two burn teams went over from the Brook Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas. Doctors, nurses and ambulances -- two ambulances from Andersen Air Force Base. A team from the Central Identification Laboratory in Honolulu, Hawaii, went to assist in victim identification. These are the same people who identify the remains of people missing in war, for instance the remains we've just brought out from North Korea will go to this Central Identification Lab in Hawaii.

The National Guard, as well as providing logistical support, provided some search and rescue support, traffic control and security around the area. The Navy has provided medical and fire teams, as I said earlier, bulldozers to help clear a path to the plane. Seals and Seabees actually cut into the plane to help bring out victims who were still alive and also people who had died. There were helicopters -- four Navy CH-46s -- to carry bodies and also people back. The Air Force was there with refueling trucks to refuel the Navy helicopters, so it's been a totally joint, seamless operation.

Today the Korean government asked us to provide some support in flying bodies back to Korea, and a C-9, which is the military version of a DC-9, was flying eight bodies back to Korea. I don't know how much other support we'll provide in that regard, but we've tried to be very responsive to requests for help, and we'll continue to do that.

The Navy has been putting out a fact sheet, and you can get that from the Navy Information Office -- quite a detailed fact sheet listing all of the Navy involvement.

Q: Will there be some sort of cost-sharing arrangement put in place to defray the costs the Navy and the Air Force are incurring on this operation?

A: That's a good question, and I don't have an answer for it but we'll try to get one. Any other questions on Guam?

Q: The talks in New York -- Korea, U.S., Japan, and South Korea -- is there any thought that the U.S. will postpone or cancel that military exercise scheduled for later August called ULCHI FOCUS LENS?

A: I have heard of no talk about that. We carry on a very robust series of exercises all year long in Korea, and we will continue to do that. But I've heard no indication that that particular exercise will be postponed.

The talks so far have dealt with details such as meeting schedules, etc., and they haven't gotten down into the deep substance of the relationship. We hope they'll do that soon.

Q: There's a report out that the Secretary has been concerned about the number of non-combat deaths in the military in peacetime, and that he's ordered a special investigation, the largest investigation of its kind, by the Inspector General?

A: I don't think that's entirely true. The Boston Globe ran a fairly lengthy series on non-combat deaths in June. I don't know whether you've had a chance to read that series or not. The Massachusetts Senators, in response to the series and requests from the Globe, wrote Secretary Cohen asking him to investigate some of the points raised in the series, and Secretary Cohen has done that. He's asked the Inspector General and others to look into safety procedures.

Let me talk a little bit about safety. Obviously, one accident is one accident too many. The military has had considerable success in recent years in bringing down the non-combat accident rate. The Globe series focused on... It was a very broad series, but it focused on, I would say, three types of deaths primarily. First were aircraft deaths; second were driving deaths -- mainly deaths by people in the military driving in their private cars off-base; and it focused on suicides.

The suicide rate in the military is about equal to the suicide rate in the population as a whole. One suicide is a suicide too many, but it's a fact of life and suicides do occur in the military, but not at an unusually high rate.

The deaths by auto accident is also a fact of life in society as a whole, and the military has programs to deal with drunken driving and driving when people are tired or driving too fast, but like the rest of society, we can do more.

Finally, on the one of probably most immediate control to the military itself, aircraft accidents. There has been a fairly dramatic decline in death rates from aircraft accidents. The major accident rate per 100,000 hours flown has gone from 2.04 in 1990, down to 1.50 in 1996. The number of aircraft destroyed in those accidents has declined from 143 in 1990, to 67 in 1996. So there's been a rather dramatic improvement there. In fact there was a Defense Science Board report that came out in February that goes into some of this. We can make a copy of that available to you if you'd like it.

In terms of accidents from all sorts worldwide, there's also been a fairly dramatic decline that, not surprisingly, mirrors the declining rate in deaths from aircraft accidents. The figures I have go back to 1980. The deaths per 100,000 have declined from 117 in 1980, to 68 in 1996, and that's been a fairly steady decline with a blip or two up -- but generally the trend has been downwards.

Again, one death from accident is one death too many and the Secretary felt it was appropriate to look into this.

I would be hard-pressed to call it the most sweeping accident investigation or safety investigation we ever had. For one thing, the IG has not defined the parameters of the investigation yet, except that it will not include aircraft accident rates because there's been so much review of that recently by the Defense Science Board, and as you know, within the last several years, Secretary Perry had an investigation of aircraft accident rates. So that's being excluded and we'll look at the other ones.

Q: You may have even made the announcement, Secretary Perry talked about '96 as being the safest year ever...

A: Yes.

Q: And that there were quite a few...

A: As I said, the... You can never be too safe. You can never do enough to stop accidental deaths. I think the Secretary wants to get his own handle on how bad the problem is. It may turn out that there are a few more things we can do. It may turn out that we're doing everything right. Life rarely turns out that way. There's almost always something more one can do to improve a problem.

Based on my review of the figures and the reviews done by others in the Department, we are making significant progress in reducing the accident rate -- whether it's from aircraft or other accidents.

We all know from reading the press that helicopter crashes occur, that drownings occur, that there are training accidents. Training in the military is extremely rigorous. We try to approximate combat conditions as much as we can. A lot of training happens at night. Many of the people in the military are young, they're operating highly sophisticated equipment, and there's a lot of room for problems. But we work extremely hard at keeping those problems to a minimum.

Q: Do you know when the study will be... Is there a deadline...

A: I don't, no. As I said, the parameters of the study haven't yet been defined, so it's a little hard to know how quickly... He just asked for the study in June, I believe. The series ran in early June. But we take this seriously. We take accident rates seriously.

You probably can't see this, but this is a chart of what I said earlier -- changes in the active duty accident rate. You can see that it's gone from here, deaths per 100,000 in 1980, down to here. That's the 117 to 68. So there's been considerable progress. But there are 1.4 million people in the military, and if you multiply 68 per 100,000 by 1.4 million, you can figure out -- by the proper multiplier -- you figure out how many people die every year. It's a lot, but it's going down.

Q: Just a point of clarification. You mentioned that the suicide rate was about the same as in the general population. You mentioned the aircraft safety improving. The other category of accidents you mentioned, which was driving accidents, has there been an increase in that category? Is there anything...

A: I don't know. I don't have figures on that. We can try to find out.

A lot of those accidents take place when people are driving to work or home from work, or they might be driving from one place to another unrelated to work.

Q: I just asked because you didn't mention...

A: No, I don't have the figures on those.

Q: The Air Force apparently is experiencing a big of a shortage in some spare parts. I've talked to the Air Force for the specifics on that, but I just wanted to ask you whether this in any way has hampered the ability of the United States to fly enough planes to protect the national security or to meet the commitment to be able to fight and win two wars nearly at the same time.

A: It is not.

Q: Can you... Is the Pentagon concerned about the declining rate at which planes are capable of being fully mission capable?

A: First of all what we're talking about here is a draft report of a trip to look at... sort of survey... several facts of life in the Air Force -- one having to do with maintenance and another having to do with the retention of pilots. The report was being sent around for review. It wasn't an official Air Force report. It was sort of notes based on anecdotal experiences. But it's anecdotal experiences that lead to real facts sometimes, so I don't want to minimize the importance of anecdotal observations.

What it found was that in some areas there were missing spare parts or engines that weren't operating at the level they might have been.

I believe that all of these problems are being repaired. We're always reviewing our operations to find out how to make them better. You might... As you can imagine when you're dealing with millions of pieces of equipment and many millions of spare parts, that sometimes there are going to be glitches and the spare parts don't arrive in time to fix the equipment. That's what I believe happened in this case.

But the Air Force says that it does not believe it has any maintenance problems that would prevent it from deploying and supporting its war mission and also supporting the two regional conflict scenario. In fact, Air Force units are deploying all over the world all the time. We've got planes flying in Southwest Asia constantly, we've got planes flying in support of the Bosnia mission out of Aviano. We have planes flying in Korea all the time. It's a very, very active deployment schedule in the Air Force now.

Q: But if the United States were to have some major conflict such as, for instance, the Persian Gulf War, are you capable of generating enough sorties to conduct that kind of a mission today that you could five years ago?

A: I think I can say without fear of any contradiction that we could generate sorties at an extremely high level and bring very, very effective air power to bear in support of our troops.

Q: I'd like to follow up on a declassified Air Force report. It says that the United States knew that at least five crew members of a downed B-29 were in North Korean or Chinese hands at the end of the Korean War. I wonder if you can describe what the Pentagon is doing now to try to pin down the fate of those men and the others listed in the report as possibly having been alive in communist captivity, but never accounted for.

A: I cannot. The expert on this is Alan Liotta who is actually on his way back from North Korea. He'll be right here behind this podium tomorrow at 11:00 a.m. He will be able to answer that question for you. I can't answer it now because I haven't been able to talk to him. But if you can hold off for a mere 21 hours, you'll be able to get the answer.

Q: On the initial findings of some shortages of spare parts, considering that places like the General Accounting Office have put out reports claiming that the Air Force, in some cases, have supplies that would last well over 100 years of certain spare parts -- I think one was a wiring harness. If this is true, that there are spare part shortages for things like combat aircraft, doesn't that raise some concerns that the Pentagon system from procuring things like this? This isn't working. Where on the one hand you're short, and then on the other hand you have over 100-year supply.

A: Both Secretary Perry and Secretary Cohen have made the point that they hope to reform the inventory process.

We have now about $103 billion worth of inventories and we'd like to reduce that down to $50 billion or less. We think that that's possible in part because we're in an era now where you can have parts on hand much more quickly from suppliers than we used to be able to in the past. Also, we're trying to move much more to commercially-supplied parts rather than parts built to military specification. Now obviously there are not a lot of commercially-available parts for the M1-A1 tank. Virtually everything would be built to military specifications. But we are looking at this.

Obviously when you've got millions and millions of spare parts for highly- sophisticated equipment, sometimes you're going to end up with too many, sometimes with too few. It's a question of balancing. We're working on it.

Q: It seems like a pretty out of whack balance, over 100 years...

A: Well a 100-year supply, I don't know what the meaning of that is. I've seen the figure cited. You might have one part that doesn't wear out for 100 years, so if you have two of them you have a 100 years' supply. I think you need to look behind the figures before you can make too much out of them.

Q: Different subject. How would you respond to Congressman Traficant's letter today to Secretary Cohen saying that he believes security problems and problems within Defense Protective Services are so serious that a tragedy might occur at the Pentagon if they're not addressed?

A: I think that building security is, again, like troop safety -- something you have to look at all the time and make sure there are no problems. Certainly the incident on Tuesday showed that the system worked. The fellow trying to get into the building without a pass was subdued. He's been now charged with assault with a deadly weapon.

There have been very few penetrations of the building, in fact none that I know of, by people trying to get in like this.

We have a layered security system at the Pentagon. We don't live in a fortress. We live in a building that more than 23,000 people enter and leave every single day. And they have to be able to do this with some balance of efficiency and security. I think we've achieved that pretty well.

Congressman Traficant raised a variety of issues in his letter. A lot of them dealt with the Metrobus and Metrorail operations at the Pentagon Station. Those areas are patrolled by Metro police working in connection with the Defense Protective Service police.

But Secretary Cohen is looking at the security of the Pentagon. It's something that he asked the IG to do in June in response to another letter from Mr. Traficant. We will look for ways to improve security if necessary, but I don't think anything that has happened here recently suggests that there is a gap in our security system.

Q: Can I just follow up on that, about the EEO issue? Do you have any response to his allegation that there are serious discrimination problems at DPS?

A: I've talked to the Chief and the Deputy Chief about that, and they don't believe that's the case. Congressman Traficant has listed some particulars about charges that have been brought. There are 220 people on the force and some charges have been brought, and that will be looked at by the IG. But I think that you need to be a little careful about confusing apples and oranges. The fact that there may be an EEO complaint from time to time, or even several of them, does not translate into poor security around the Pentagon.

Q: Will Secretary Cohen be going on vacation around the time that the President's on vacation? Or does he have vacation plans at all this month?

A: He does have vacation plans for later this month. I don't know what those plans are. I haven't asked him, but wherever it is, I'm sure he'll want to stay away from me and from you, and relax and read some books. He plans to read a new translation of the Iliad; he plans... which actually is one of the best books about battle descriptions ever written. They're riveting descriptions of battles. So maybe you should all read the new translation of the Iliad. It's not the Robert Vagel's translation. I can't remember which one it is. He plans to read David Ignatius' new book, and also a book by Richard North Patterson, I believe.

Q: In your last briefing you said that the UPS strike -- you didn't believe -- was having any effect on the military's ability to move things around. Can you just explain why that is since apparently the military does use UPS to ship things, and now UPS is not available.

A: The reason is that we had a backup arrangement with Federal Express. We had a contract with Federal Express to kick-in in the event of other strikes or interruptions in supplies. So we think that backup contract will absorb most of the required parcel traffic that would have been coming by UPS. Of course UPS and Federal Express are among the companies that have made "just in time" delivery and better inventory management possible, not only in the military but throughout the economy.

TRANSCOM, the Transportation Command, which monitors these things, will watch it very closely in an effort to guarantee that there aren't glitches and to take action if there are glitches. But we think that our backup contract will work.

Q: So the last couple of days there haven't been any problems moving...

A: I can't say there haven't been any problems, but there certainly haven't been significant problems.

Q: Can you quantify at all normally how many packages might be moved by the private sector versus...

A: I will try to find out. If you want this type of mind-numbing detail, we'll get it for you. We'll do our best. Colonel Bridges will do it. And his crack team in DDI.

Q: Can you give us an update on what the Secretary's Defense Reform Task Force has been doing? We haven't heard much about that lately, and they're supposed to be looking at the structure of the Secretary's office and maybe what's needed, what isn't...

A: They have been, they have briefed the Secretary on their work within the last two or three weeks. They plan to have an interim report shortly after Labor Day. I can't predict whether we'll make that report public or not. It will depend on how complete it is. But the Secretary's goal is to get some recommendations out of the Task Force that could even be useful in current budget negotiations if possible.

I don't know whether they can work that quickly, but they've been taking a very broad look at the management structure of the Pentagon, the defense agencies. One of the things, they've been talking a lot with industrialists, and they've been talking a lot about the advantages of a flatter organizational structure with fewer people necessary to chop off on actions or coordinate messages, things like that; looking for ways to reduce the number of people in a chain of approval, and therefore accelerate work on a variety of things. I can't get into more specifics than that, but it's been a fairly penetrating investigation so far -- penetrating study.

Q: Has the Secretary received any word on when there might be confirmation hearings for General Ryan?

A: I believe the date's already... General Ryan. No. We're hoping for mid-September, but I don't think a date's been set. I think the date for General Shelton is September 11th, and we would hope that General Ryan could follow very closely after that. Also General Wilhelm, who is going to be the Commander in Chief of the Southern Command, we're hoping that his confirmation hearing will come in mid-September as well.

Q: Do you have a final day for General Fogleman? He's requested retirement on or before September 1st. Will he be gone as of September 1st?

A: You should check with the Air Force on that. He's out of town now, and I think they could report to you on when his actual retirement date's going to be, but it will be certainly close to September 1st, if not even before.

Q: The four-party talks have not yet produced any firm date for the beginning of the peace talks, but when that begins, and if it begins, the North Koreans are asking that the U.S. pull out all troops. That's the key to peace on the Korean Peninsula. Would it be reasonable to ask the North Koreans if they'll step back, take their weapons that are trained on Seoul and move back if the U.S. were to move back, and create a larger DMZ? Would that be a reasonable step?

A: As you correctly... The goal of these four-party talks, obviously, is to lead to a lasting peace agreement on the Korean Peninsula -- something that does not now exist and has not existed since the end of the war. The armistice agreement is different from a peace accord.

A wide variety of topics will be discussed, but as you accurately point out, they are right now focusing on very basic issues such as timing and venue for the talks. I think until we get that settled, it's probably premature to talk about what the next phases might be. Certainly, though, we would like to talk about a whole variety of tension-reducing or confidence-building measures that could take place to defuse the military tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

Q: But the pull-out of U.S. troops would not be on the table, at least not at first?

A: I think we have a long way to go before we can contemplate pulling out U.S. troops which are a fairly essential part of our Asian security structure right now.

Can I just finish up and say a word about my colleague Sam Grizzle. This is the last of many briefings for which he's helped me to prepare. As you probably know, Sam is, on Monday, starting in the low-pressure, short-hour job of General McCaffrey's spokesman at the National Drug Policy Office. Sam has been here since July of 1995. He has had extensive experience in the government to prepare him for his new job: worked at the Department of Energy before he came here, and he'd also, at one point, been a desk officer in DDI.

Sam is a Georgian, from Calhoun, Georgia. There must be a lot of dogs in Calhoun, Georgia, because Sam is always talking about dogs. He has phrases like, "That dog won't hunt no more," "If you can't run with the big dogs, stay on the porch," is one of his phrases. And another one is, "Unless you're the lead sled dog, the view's always the same."

Sam is about to become the lead sled dog in General McCaffrey's PA shop, and we wish him all the best there.

Thank you.