May 1, 2000
(Media availability with Pentagon correspondents from broadcast media, TV, and radio)
Deputy Secretary de Leon: Welcome. This is the third in a series of just sort of coffees with members of the media. From some irony, I find that I know almost everyone here at the table. I can't figure out why.
Q: Is it an irony or is it a major disappointment? (Laughter)
Deputy Secretary de Leon: What I've done in the other sessions is just sort of sketched out what I see as the major issues that are on the agenda right now. So I thought I'd go through that and then just go back and forth with whatever questions you might have. Largely to say in addition that to the best of my ability I will be available to you as issues come up. I don't think availability has been in the past -- of the members of the press corps, this is a particularly capable press corps that seemed to know precisely when I'm going to hit the Coke machine on the third floor.
But from the perspective of the remainder of this year, May will be a very busy time because the supplemental bill, which looks like it will be attached to the Military Construction Appropriations Bill in the Senate, the supplemental dollars for Kosovo. That markup should be starting very soon, perhaps this week.
Additionally, both the House and Senate Armed Services Committees start their markups on their fiscal '01 authorization bills this week and next.
There is a presidential summit on arms control issues that will occur in June, of which national missile defense will be a critical issue. On the missile defense there are really three tracks that are in progress right now. There is the diplomatic track of which the Russian foreign minister coming into the tank last Thursday was one piece. There is obviously the test piece. The next test of the interceptor, and then additionally there is the site preparation for the interior of Alaska and then Shemya Island at the end of the Aleutians in terms of the locations where the radar and the missile field are tentatively scheduled for.
Joint strike fighter, that program, decisions will be made in terms of how to structure the acquisition for what is potentially the largest aircraft procurement in the history of the department. There is preliminary work ongoing, but options will be coming to the secretary in the next month in terms of just how to maintain competition in a program that large.
We're continuing to work our relationship with the Europeans on export controls in terms of how we stay engaged with the Europeans on interoperability, and at the same time protect critical technology from falling into the hands of those that do not wish our country and our interests around the world any good will.
So I think those are the key issues -- the markups of the bills, national missile defense, joint strike fighter, and then all of the other day in, day out issues that seem to come up in the building.
With that, I'm happy to open it up to any questions that you might have.
Q: Is it possible to give the Russians any assurances as to how large the national missile defense system will ultimately be, how many interceptors there are, how capable it is?
Deputy Secretary de Leon: This is a system that is designed really to deal with the rogue threat. In the discussions, and it's very clear in some of the briefings, this is not a system that is designed to deal with the Russian strategic deterrence. This is a limited application. A hundred interceptors in the West and then a follow-on deployment for sort of the East Coast of the United States later. But it is designed to be a limited defense, largely against the potential proliferation of missile technologies in the next decade and beyond, and it is not designed to negate the Russian strategic deterrence. If that were your focus, you would design a different system.
Q: I guess what I want to know is are you able to promise them that it won't be 1,000 interceptors ten years from now? Or is there some reason that you can't make such a promise?
Deputy Secretary de Leon: I think we've presented the capabilities of the program to the Russians. I think they're starting to understand the configuration and how it works. But I think that will be a point that will be elaborated as Deputy Secretary Talbott goes to Moscow; as the president does; as Secretary Cohen does.
Q: I just want to make sure that I understand what you're saying when you talk about elaborating. I guess what I want to know is if somebody raised with you the issue of putting in a tree this will only grow so large, could you do that from a national defense perspective, or are there reasons that you couldn't do that? Or am I just asking totally the wrong question?
Deputy Secretary de Leon: It's a good question because it's a question that's come up in discussions. I think if you were trying to develop a more robust system you might look at a different architecture, like space-based architecture rather than the limited number of missiles that are envisioned.
Q: So you're saying that if you wanted to grow the system you would do...
Deputy Secretary de Leon: If you wanted a system that was really focused on checking the Russian strategic deterrent, you would use different architectures.
Q: Let me ask the same question in sort of a different way.
What do you say to critics who say that this limited missile defense system is too limited, and that it would be easily defeated, and that in the interest of getting an agreement with the Russians, that you're too willing to lock into something that is too limited, cutting out for instance maybe a slightly bigger land-based system or even a sea-based system, and that you're trading that off, and down the road it may turn out that you need a more robust capability.
Deputy Secretary de Leon: I guess if you look at the threat that comes from the proliferation of missile technology and specifically the North Korean threat today, that's really the capability that you're trying to design the system to deal with. That is a rogue threat.
This is not a system designed to check the Russian strategic arsenal.
Q: But would this preclude, for instance, developing as ship-based missile defense that would be against the same sort of a threat?
Deputy Secretary de Leon: It depends on what the diplomats conclude in the negotiations. Even if you were going to add a sea component to it, the Aegis has been discussed, that would come later on, and that technology is not here today. You would also have to deploy the Aegis close to where you thought the threat was.
Again, this limited defense system is set up really to protect our 50 states from the proliferation of missile technology and the fact that an adversary might fire a missile or a series of missiles at the U.S., but not really to check strategic deterrence.
Q: What do you tell the Russians about whether or not the treaty they believe is binding on the U.S. is a legal document or not? Referring to Jesse Helms' maneuver.
Deputy Secretary de Leon: There are a host of arguments along those lines. The treaty was with the Soviet Union, the treaty had a certain shelf life, etc. I think we're operating from the perspective that the U.S. relationship with the Russians is still, from a military point of view, one of the most critical relationships we have in the world. And to create an environment consistent with the other arms control agreements, to create an environment that allows the United States to deploy a limited missile defense and at the same time maintains the appropriate relationship with the Russians I think is very important. So I think that's why the diplomatic track as well as the technological track.
Q: It doesn't answer the question. When they say what about the Jesse Helms business that negates everything, what do you say? You say well, we still want to talk to you but really in legal terms this treaty is not binding on us? Or do you just skirt it and pretend that you want to have a good faith relationship with them, and let's just not talk about that legal schmegal stuff?
Deputy Secretary de Leon: We could fill a Pentagon-sized building full of lawyers and they would disagree over all of the elements of the 1972 treaty and the Vladivostok...
Q: Haven't we done that?
Q: ...with 50 Senators...
Q: How do you negotiate a treaty with the Russians when you've got Jesse Helms back here saying over my dead body?
Deputy Secretary de Leon: You have to look at the, present whatever agreement there is to the full United States Senate, present it on its merits, and then there will be a very significant debate that will extend into the next administration. I think there are some that want a different configuration, but there are many others that understand what this system was designed to do and support it in the Senate. There are critics on the left and the right. So I think you work the details, you work, the substance, and then you present it to the Congress.
Q: Is the ABM Treaty a binding treaty on the United States today?
Deputy Secretary de Leon: I'd have to get a roomful of lawyers...
Q: So you can't say yes or no.
Deputy Secretary de Leon: I think we're proceeding that it is. That it's been a significant agreement.
You can go as recently as last year's congressional language that says we need to deploy a missile defense at the earliest opportunity, and then the amendment that was offered said consistent with all the arms control agreements.
So there is a policy ambiguity even in the most recent congressional language on this. So that ambiguity exists in diplomacy as well as international law.
Q: The point is this administration for matters of policy is treating the ABM Treaty as an important structuring element to the future, whereas a future possible Republican Administration is very prepared to say bye, bye ABM Treaty, you're no longer relevant. There's a very big difference.
Deputy Secretary de Leon: I think that brings us back to the engagement with the Russians and the diplomatic track and the fact that May and June are going to be very interesting and busy months.
Q: ...binding, but all things are negotiable.
Deputy Secretary de Leon: We're considering it to be the current policy.
Q: It just occurs to me that anyone suggesting that the Russians had better make a deal now because the next administration is going to tell them they have no basis for a deal and no leverage whatsoever.
Q: I think they figured that out.
Deputy Secretary de Leon: In the discussions with the Russian delegation they have really focused on a description of what the system is and how it works, and then the fact that the system is really not designed to check the Russian strategic arsenal.
Q: I want to make sure that I follow up correctly from our discussion before. Has the administration talked about the possibility of putting certain architectures off limits? Basically saying this architecture is not designed to counter you. We'll stick with this. We won't go with a space-based system. We won't go with a sea-based system. We'll do what we're doing now and promise in writing to do nothing more.
Deputy Secretary de Leon: If you listen to the answer I just gave, that's essentially what we've done. One, this is a briefing of what the system involves. X-Band radars, a battle management center, early acquisition radars, a missile field.
Q: Are you offering to put that in writing as part of this treaty?
Deputy Secretary de Leon: It certainly exists in the written form of all of the relevant briefing and budgetary charts. Again, we'll let Deputy Secretary Talbott and the President convey these and determine what the language would be in the agreement, but I think we've worked hard so that the Russian representatives understand what the system is designed to do and what it is not designed to do.
Q: Let me ask one more on the missile defense. How close is the Pentagon coming to the recommendation to the president? And also, how involved has Gore been in terms of are you keeping Gore up to date so that he would also share the same views as Clinton? How close are you on a recommendation?
Deputy Secretary de Leon: I think the next test is scheduled for late June, early July. So that next test would occur, then there will be an analytical period, analyzing the test results. Then there is a deployment review that would occur probably in late July. Then a recommendation would go forward to the president.
Q: I'm still not familiar with the schedule of how that would work, but assuming that the tests are all right, are you proceeding on the basis that you're going to recommend that this should go forward?
Deputy Secretary de Leon: I think there are five criteria. We're working against all five. We'd want to have a successful test, but we're doing this because we think there's a criticality of deploying this missile defense system in terms of the threat that we're looking at for the next, that starts to open during the next decade.
Q: You talked in the beginning about 100 interceptors in Alaska, a limited defense. Then if I understood you correctly, are you then saying the plan already, or the thinking already calls for an additional 100 interceptors on the East Coast to protect the Eastern United States? You made a...
Deputy Secretary de Leon: Correct. That gets into the CBO numbers. What is the time period you assume...
Q: But when you talk to the Russians these days, when you sort of brief the formal program, it's actually 200 interceptors?
Deputy Secretary de Leon: Right now what is on the table is the deployment to Alaska. With an indication that there would be a follow-on at some later point.
Q: But you have...
Deputy Secretary de Leon: ...with the Alaskan site, you get coverage for all 50 states.
Q: You do get coverage. So what does the East Coast site give you with the additional 100 interceptors?
Deputy Secretary de Leon: It would give you more coverage and more time to react. If a missile came from the MidEast you would have to react sooner from an Alaskan site than you would from an East Coast...
Q: Does East Coast coverage give Europe any protection? Can we offer the Europeans anything? Or is this strictly CONUS really?
Deputy Secretary de Leon: It really focuses on the 50 states.
Q: When you talk then about both of these two elements of 100 interceptors each, none of this so far, you haven't included in your cost estimates satellites for queuing or tracking, have you? At least that's the answer we got last week.
Deputy Secretary de Leon: That's part of the difference with the CBF and the CBO numbers and what phase does SBIRS Low come in.
Q: Here's what I don't get. It's $30 billion for 100 in Alaska. Maybe another $30 billion for 100...
Deputy Secretary de Leon: I think if you really want to get into the numbers I'd be happy to get folks and go through all the program elements. Because with the CBO numbers they have assumed 2-1/2 decades, acquisition costs as well as operational costs for 2-1/2 decades, 25 years, plus the second site, plus the SBIRS Low. So they have made certain assumptions far beyond the original program on the table.
Q: Here's what I'm not understanding. It seems like we're already beyond that original program. You are saying real coverage would down the road require an additional 100 interceptors. You've sort of made that reference here.
I guess what I'm not understanding is in all honesty, how in the world would you ever pay for any of this at this point? It's just an enormous price tag. Where is the money...
Deputy Secretary de Leon: Those costs are looking at a program over the next 25 years, so you're not paying those in one installment.
Q: It's well understood, but you're already having challenges in paying for the future program that you have on the books now. So are we looking no matter what at a huge top line increase over the next X number of years? How do you pay for this?
Deputy Secretary de Leon: This is funded in our FYDP and you just keep working against, every year you update your FYDP so this is just a piece that is included in the FYDP.
Q: But it's a huge... What am I not understanding? Isn't it really a huge leap forward in funding? Isn't it still the case you don't start programs unless you can demonstrate how they're going to be funded over the years and that there is a funding line for them? Otherwise you don't have the new start.
Deputy Secretary de Leon: I think we're talking past each other. We have incorporated and funded this in our FYDP and that's the document that we put on the table.
Q: Forgive me if I missed this, but there have been conflicting statements about whether this next test is a make or break test. It's been said I think by Bacon that we need another success. We have to do two out of three. Then I think the last time we had a briefing it wasn't that we had to have a success to get a recommendation to go forward.
You've just called it critical. What does critical mean? Does it have to succeed to support a recommendation to the President to go forward? Or does it not have to succeed?
Deputy Secretary de Leon: I think it's very important for the test to succeed, to learn, so I'll just leave it at that. I think it's an important test. We said two out of three, or one for one. On the other hand there is lots of additional time built into the schedule for both developmental testing and operational testing. But this is a very important test, no doubt about that.
Q: Is the second test considered a success or a failure in the greater scheme? It didn't intercept, but... (Laughter)
Deputy Secretary de Leon: You got it.
Q: It failed to achieve intercept, but people have sort of gone to great lengths to say it worked.
Deputy Secretary de Leon: The physics of a bullet hitting a bullet worked. There was a malfunction in the final tracking phase because sensors overheated. So no surprise, spending a lot of time working those sensors and making sure that the cooling apparatus works.
At the same time, back to David's point. It's going to be critical that there be successful test information in it. So I think it's an easier case to argue if the test is successful.
Q: About Vieques. Once the law enforcement officials remove the protestors from Vieques, whenever that occurs, and the U.S. military takes control of that part of the island again, how do you ensure that you're not going to have military people in confrontation with protestors and have the kind of unflattering pictures like we saw in the Elian Gonzalez case where there's some elderly grandmother protesting at the end of a Marine rifle with a bayonet pointed at them or something. Have you thought about how you're going to handle... The protestors say they'll just keep sending more protestors.
Deputy Secretary de Leon: We have a lot of military installations that have good security, and I have no doubt that we'll be able to come up with the right package.
Q: Will any U.S. military personnel be involved in arresting, detaining, evicting, or moving protestors on that island?
Deputy Secretary de Leon: I really don't want to get into any discussion on Vieques.
Q: What have you achieved once you clear the range and so then it's, you're free to go back to dropping inert ordnance until this referendum. But both the CNO and the Commandant have said that dropping inert ordnance isn't worth the time it takes and the gas it takes to get down there to do it. So what have you achieved?
Deputy Secretary de Leon: There is a time and place for all things and I'm not sure... This is just not a time I want to get into a discussion on Vieques.
Q: Can you at least rule out the use of military force in this particular dispute? Military force as opposed to U.S...
Deputy Secretary de Leon: I just don't want to get into discussing Vieques.
Q: Can you just tell us when... (Laughter)
Q: On another subject then. On tomorrow's No Gun Ri, and people are coming for that. What is the latest on that? Have any of the Army people been interviewed by the military at this point?
Deputy Secretary de Leon: The interviews of the Korean vets continues, is ongoing. As is the Inspector General's collection of evidence. I think the Korean officials are here in the building this week. They are meeting our independent advisors. There's a chance for the two groups to sit down and discuss. We have pledged to the Koreans that the investigation will be thorough and that it will be finished when it's finished. But the Inspector General is out there and interviewing veterans who were serving in this area at that time.
Q: So the U.S. veterans are being interviewed?
Deputy Secretary de Leon: Yes.
Q: Is Cohen going to say anything further tomorrow to stress how important this is?
Deputy Secretary de Leon: I think this is really a coming together of the two groups. The group that has been chartered by the Korean government as well as the group that is doing the investigation here, as well as the very distinguished group of outside advisors that the Secretary has selected. So it will be a chance for the two groups to come together. There will be an update of the fact that the U.S. Army Inspector General is meeting with veterans. We'll see if there is any additional information that the Korean officials bring with them. But we expect it to be a good discussion.
Q: What are the veterans being told about their legal situation?
Deputy Secretary de Leon: Each veteran is being asked to make a statement on a voluntary basis, and if the Inspector General feels that the veteran would benefit from having counsel assist, then the investigator will not pursue a conversation and will help the veteran get counsel if he seeks one. We have not encountered that thus far.
Q: So you give them no guarantee that they will not be prosecuted in some fashion.
Deputy Secretary de Leon: No, I said if the inspector thinks that a veteran would need a lawyer, then the investigator will cease the conversation and will explain that if he would like to have a lawyer I will make one available or you can get one yourself. Thus far we have not encountered any difficulties in terms of veterans making statements.
Q: The way you handle it is to stop the conversation, I guess, as you go down a path hypothetically, as they're getting into trickier water, you stop the conversation.
Deputy Secretary de Leon: You start further out. If you're doing an investigation you start with people that have, are in the support position. Then as you get closer to the first person testimony you make an assessment. But thus far everyone has been willing to cooperate and there have not been a lot of legal issues that have surfaced.
Q: Are they being legally naive?
Deputy Secretary de Leon: I don't think so.
Q: Are they in jeopardy?
Deputy Secretary de Leon: This is not completed, but the focus here has been to learn what happened, to not have this be really a criminal investigation.
Q: So can we conclude from what you said that if this situation hasn't come up so far and if, that at this point you don't anticipate that anyone is going to be charged with any criminal acts as a result of this?
Deputy Secretary de Leon: I don't think I said that. I just said we haven't encountered any obstacles with veterans making statements.
Q: You also said if it came to a dangerous point they would stop the conversation and be advised... That has not occurred. So we can assume from that that we haven't reached the point in any of these cases where somebody might need legal representation. Therefore I'm just asking, at this point in the investigation ...
Deputy Secretary de Leon: Or that we still have more witnesses to interview.
Q: And you haven't gotten to the people who were actually pulling the trigger.
Deputy Secretary de Leon: We still have witnesses to interview that we have not yet interviewed.
Q: But it's clear also that these people are not immune to criminal proceedings going into this process.
Deputy Secretary de Leon: Well, that would quickly get us into a discussion of military law and things like that. Again, this is a fact-finding investigation.
Q: But people can say things at fact finding investigations that can get them in an awful lot of trouble, and there's no immunity going in.
Deputy Secretary de Leon: That's true.
Q: So they could theoretically be subject to criminal action based on what they say or what they describe as being their role in this situation.
Deputy Secretary de Leon: Again, we have a protocol for conducting this investigation. We're following it. We're trying to get the facts. We're not yet finished. There's going to be a full record and full report that will be available when this is finished. I don't mean to talk about your issues, but we're following a clear protocol. Again, our effort here is to ascertain what the facts were, and then...
Q: Any ball park as to when this is all going to be...
Deputy Secretary de Leon: I'd say a couple of months.
Q: In the protocol that you mentioned are people who are being interviewed being advised automatically of their rights? Miranda Act or something to that effect? Or is that solely left up to the discretion of the investigators to decide whether or not to put that on the table?
Deputy Secretary de Leon: Again, we are interviewing people. We are requesting their voluntary support. There are still more witnesses to be interviewed, but I think that all of the people doing the investigation have focused on getting the facts and treating these veterans with great dignity and respect.
Q: I guess I'm just curious because it's unusual that someone who is in an investigative standpoint is given entire discretion whether to advise the guy whether he needs a lawyer or not. And there may be nothing wrong with that. I'm just curious of...
Q: I've never heard of it.
Q: I'm just curious if your investigators are automatically required to tell these people you could get a lawyer if you'd like, I don't think you need one, but I just want to ask you a few questions. Or if they show up and say we'd like to ask you a few questions about a historical incident.
Deputy Secretary de Leon: It's a voluntary effort on their part. As I say, there are still more witnesses to be interviewed, but thus far there really have not been difficulties in terms of taking statements.
Q: Do you know how many interviews total we're looking at in this? Approximately.
Deputy Secretary de Leon: Total when we're finished or to this...
Q: How many you expect to have conducted.
Deputy Secretary de Leon: I'll have to check on those but it will be a considerable number.
Q: Dozens or hundreds or...
Deputy Secretary de Leon: I'll have to check.
Q: I was alarmed this morning to pick up my Washington Post and discover that none of the unified commanders was apparently going to be coming from the U.S. Army. As my youngest would say, "What's up with that?" No Army CINCs? Does that say something about the Army's leadership?
Deputy Secretary de Leon: If you're doing a score sheet at any given point in time you could say this service versus that service. I think if you averaged them over the decade of the '90s you're going to see a proportionality. In that same article I didn't see it referenced that the Army has had three consecutive chairmen of the Joint Chiefs.
Q: So you just think it's an anomaly that...
Deputy Secretary de Leon: The incoming CINCEUR has been the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs and a person of unquestioned judgment and capabilities, so I don't think that was a criticism of the Army so much as it was the great strengths that General Ralston brings to the table.
The key job in Norfolk, even though it's not been signed out, but it was rumored in the article, appears to be going to an Army officer rather than a Navy officer.
So if you look at all of these and look at the rotations over time I think you're going to see balance, and also going to reflect the fact that the bench is very deep in lots of the services right now.
Q: Does the proposal to... I guess it's not a proposal, but the decision now to open up the fully accurate GPS signal to everybody around the world, does that cause any heartburn here at the Pentagon in terms of allowing countries like Iraq or Iran or North Korea to develop more accurate guidance systems?
Deputy Secretary de Leon: I haven't heard of any heartburn.
Q: Have you felt any?
Deputy Secretary de Leon: I haven't heard, felt... I do take plenty of Tums in this job, but none that way.
Q: If I could switch to Iraq, can you give us some sort of sense of what kind of progress the coalition is making against Saddam's air defenses? The (inaudible) seem to still fly, the AAA seems to still shoot at U.S. aircraft no matter how many weapons are dropped, and we sort of never hear if you're hitting anything.
Deputy Secretary de Leon: I think it's safe to assume we shoot and we hit. As to why he keeps sacrificing his air defenses so we can shoot them, that's an interesting topic of tactics. I think...
Q: Is there a percent of degradation since this began?
Deputy Secretary de Leon: Let me see if I can quantify it, get a number for you, Tammy.
Q: Any chance of getting gun camera video?
Q: Just AGM-130 stuff.
Q: Is there anything new on any of the more controversial arms sales? For instance Israel's sale to China or the latest on the sale to Taiwan?
Deputy Secretary de Leon: I don't think there's anything new in terms of the positions are well established. The secretary raised concerns about the Israeli AWAC system. I think Walt Slocombe has briefed the Taiwan package.
Q: On the Israeli sale, is it too late to stop that? The Israelis publicly suggest, well we've signed a contract. Too late.
Deputy Secretary de Leon: I think it's...
Q: Would the U.S. be satisfied if the Israelis just did one instead of the entire package? Would that be a solution? Would the U.S. accept that?
Deputy Secretary de Leon: I think the secretary has raised concerns at the heart of the technology transfer to China, and the capabilities that this will transfer, so I think his views remain on the table.
Q: It doesn't make any difference how many.
Deputy Secretary de Leon: I think zero.
Q: Is there some mechanism, some leverage you can use through which you can affect that? Or is it a done deal?
Deputy Secretary de Leon: I think that's, our two countries transact a lot of business together, and I would hope that their government would be taking these concerns very seriously.
Deputy Secretary de Leon: I would just say I hope they take the concerns very seriously.
Q: Back to missile defense for a second. I've been reading this symposium from the Arms Control Association, who is obviously into a fan of missile defense, but they make a point in there that the last NIE significantly lowered the bar in what it takes to become a threat these days by saying North Korea could deploy within five, ten years. And that could has never been a standard which has shown up in NIEs before. They go on to suggest that (inaudible) and all that.
Do you have a sense that the bar, after the Rumsfeld report, sort of said we might not know it when it happens, when they make a decision to deploy, and then the NIE comes along and says could be. Did the bar get lowered there on what it takes to become a threat?
Deputy Secretary de Leon: There are lots of briefings and lots of discussions. I think if you look at the trend generally, things that the U.S. and the Soviet Union had a monopoly on during the Cold War are technologies that are likely to be available in one form or another in future decades. It is most seriously manifested by the North Koreans today, but the capability for that kind of delivery system to be obtained by other countries, Iran, Iraq or someone else, is serious and shouldn't be underestimated.
So the arms control community in some respects, I think if you look at things in terms of the classic model of the U.S. and the Soviet Union over the last 50 years, you look at it one way. If you look at the proliferation of technologies in the future you look at it a different way.
We can't uninvent nuclear weapons, and for better or worse, the U.S. and then Soviet relationship gave the world a fair amount of strategic stability. I think the U.S. and Russian relationship is very important, but the proliferation of missile technologies is something that is real and it is growing. It's seriously manifested with the North Koreans, but there are plenty of other folks that are either trying to develop this or to obtain it.
So I think it's the NIE plus other information that is out there, but I think looking at it from the secretary's perspective and the department's, this is a reasonable program, consistent with the five criteria to really look at for the future.
Q: We can't let you go without razzing you a little bit about this short-lived food stamp initiative -- probably the shortest lived initiative since the new Coke came around.
What happened with that? And now that the whole policy is reversed, have you done any calculations that would tell us how many additional members of the military would qualify for food stamps if the housing allowance wasn't counted?
Deputy Secretary de Leon: First, our general strategy has been through pay raises and pay table reform, things like that, to improve compensation for everybody. I think that has shown that the numbers on food stamps, because of the pay increases, are moving in the right direction. And when you further look at the numbers you see that the people in the military that are on food stamps are at the highest percentage in terms of the total number of people eligible for food stamps. That is the closest to the top, meaning being...
Q: Just on the border of not qualifying.
Deputy Secretary de Leon: Right. We're now doing another drill just looking at the equity issue that I think Secretary Cohen has appropriately raised in terms of on base/off base. At the end of the day, we want to continue the policy of improving pay and quality of life, and then we want to find some way to be equitable between those who are on base and off base, and we'll probably have more to say on that as we finish this...
Q: Can you tell us if you think next year there will be fewer or more people on food stamps in the military? The number they gave us was 6300 in '98.
Deputy Secretary de Leon: 6300 is the current number that came out of a 1998 survey. If you add to that the across the board pay increases, the pay table reform, pay raises in '99, '00, '01, then '02 and '03 that are targeted we think we're going to get a reduction of more than 30 percent based upon the increase in pay. We still need to go back and work the equity issue in terms of on base/off base.
Q: So do you think the number today is actually lower than 6300?
Deputy Secretary de Leon: ...additional raises. The '99 raise has already kicked in, the '00 raise kicked in in January, the pay table reform in July.
Q: During the Republican primaries that issue came up and I think McCain first raised it. He was, I think the proposal was to give a stipend basically to people with large families, is what it amounted to. Then I'm told that Bush has now kind of endorsed that McCain idea. Is that the wrong thing to do?
Deputy Secretary de Leon: I'd go back to our key point, and that is we're focused on equity, but then second, we want to continue the improvements on pay and quality of life. I think that's the real track that we're on.
Q: And that will take care of the problem pretty much.
Deputy Secretary de Leon: I don't think it ever takes...
Q: Not 100 percent, but...
Deputy Secretary de Leon: I think we're moving in the right direction and we want to continue to move in that direction. But again, we're still working this, we're still looking at the numbers, and we may have more to say soon.
Q: Someone argued that this McCain stipend idea is precisely going the wrong direction in terms of equity.
Deputy Secretary de Leon: I think now there have been several stories that have been written that gives us more perspective on this issue, but I think one, we want to continue to move in the positive direction that we're moving in terms of compensation for everybody. And second, we want to make sure that there is fairness between those who live on base and those who live off base.
Thanks very much.