United States Department of Defense United States Department of Defense

News Transcript

Press Operations Bookmark and Share


National Women's Law Center Recognizes DoD's Child Care

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
May 16, 2000 10:00 AM EDT

Tuesday, May 16, 2000 - 10 a.m. EDT

(Presentation of the National Women's Law Center report, "Be All That We Can Be, Lessons from the Military for Improving Our Nation's Child Care System," by Co-President of the National Women's Law Center Nancy Duff Campbell. Also participating: Senators Christopher Dodd (D-CT) and Jeff Jeffords (R-VT).)

Mr. Bacon: Thank you all for coming to this event where the National Women's Law Center is going to release its report, "Be All You Can Be" -- the report on military child care. Nancy Duff Campbell is here from the National Women's Law Center to describe the report and then introduce Secretary Cohen. She'll make a presentation to him.

I want to point out that we have press kits in back. We have b-roll if you're interested in that. And we've also posted a lot of pictures of child care centers on the Internet so you can download them from DefenseLINK to illustrate your stories.


Ms. Campbell: Thank you very much.

Thank you, Secretary Cohen, for hosting this event and for taking the child care needs of your workforce so seriously. In doing so, you set a proud example for the rest of the nation.

Thank you, Senators Dodd and Jeffords, for being here today, and for all your efforts in the U.S. Congress to address the child care needs of America's families.

And thank you to the military families who are here today, representing the many families who are benefiting from military child care, for your important service in our nation's defense.

Today the National Women's Law Center releases a ground-breaking new report, "Be All That We Can Be: Lessons from the Military for Improving Our Nation's Child Care System." This first-of-a-kind report shows how the military successfully transformed a seriously deficient child care system into one that now serves as a model for child care reform nationwide. It offers concrete lessons that policymakers, advocates and others can draw upon to make similar improvements in child care for civilian families across the country.

Just a decade ago, child care in the military was plagued by problems that are all too familiar to civilian families today. Demand for child care had surged as a result of changes in the workforce that included more families with two working parents and more women. Tens of thousands of children were on waiting lists for care. Military families could not afford care, even if they could find it. Care-givers lacked training and were so poorly compensated that they didn't stay long in the field, and the quality of care suffered. The recruiting, retention and performance of military personnel were affected, putting military readiness at risk.

But the military responded in dramatic fashion, an "about face," if you will. The Department of Defense consciously set out to and did build a child care system that effectively links centers, family child-care homes, after-school programs, and resource and referral services, and that provides high quality, affordable child care to a steadily increasing portion of the military families who need it.

It's time, indeed, past time, for the civilian sector to catch up. With over 70 percent of American women with children now in the paid labor force, the demand for child care is at an all-time high. Yet too often, high quality child care is unaffordable or simply unavailable to the many families that need it.

The military's experience teaches us that it doesn't have to be this way. The Defense Department has shown that the quality of care can be raised by establishing comprehensive standards and enforcing them with unannounced inspections, increasing provider training and pay, and helping providers meet the standards required for outside accreditation. Today more than 95 percent of military child-development centers are accredited by outside experts, compared to only 8 percent of civilian child-care centers. Today all children in military child care are cared for by staff who receive basic pre-service training, unlike the children in 31 states whose laws and regulations require no such training. Today the entry-level wage for a military child-care-center caregiver is nearly $8 an hour, increasing to $10 after core competency training, compared to just an average wage for a civilian child-care caregiver of only $7.40 an hour, and for a civilian family child-care provider of only $4.70 an hour.

All of the improvements the military have made contribute to their high quality child care.

The Defense Department has also addressed affordability, with subsidies and sliding fee schedules based on family income. As a result, the average weekly fee paid by military families is some 25 percent lower than the average weekly fee paid by civilian families for comparable center-based care. And the lower fees paid by military families are a result of the subsidies they are provided, not the lower cost to the military of providing high quality care. Indeed, the military's costs are substantially similar to the costs of providing comparable high-quality civilian care, when it is available.

Finally, the military is continually assessing the need of its families for high-quality affordable child care, and moving steadily towards its goal of meeting 80 percent of its families' needs by 2005.

In short, Congress and the Defense Department have recognized the importance of child care to the military workforce and to the welfare of children in care, and have committed the resources necessary to create a model system. The need is no less great, no less urgent, no less compelling for such a commitment outside the military.

Today the National Women's Law Center calls on lawmakers at the federal and state levels to learn from the military's success, to follow the military's lead, and to make the investment necessary so that all our nation's children, like the children of military families, can be all that they can be.

Secretary Cohen, I am delighted to present you with a copy of the National Women's Law Center new report, and to thank you and the Defense Department for your continuing leadership on this issue.


Secretary Cohen: Thank you much, Duffy.

Senators Jeffords and Dodd, I want to thank both of you for coming, because your presence here today demonstrates what I have known during my own service on the Hill with the two of you: that you are truly committed to strengthening America's families. So thank you for being here this morning.

And let me also thank the National Women's Law Center, not only for the nearly three decades of service as a strong and sustained voice for women's opportunities, but also as a valued partner and what I would like to call a loving critic of the Department of Defense, because you helped us change when change was needed, and you have supported us when we've been on the right path, such as we have been with child care. And indeed I think your study reminds us of what we have long known to be true, in that quality childcare is essential to the readiness of America's armed forces. So Duffy, let me thank you again.

I think that all of you in this room know that the United States is blessed with the best-led, the best-equipped, best-educated armed force in the world. But in the end, our military is the best not just because of our technology and training and tactics; it's the best because we recruit and we retain the best men and women that this country has to offer.

I think that many of you are familiar that in recent months I've done a good deal of traveling all around the world and have had a chance to meet the men and women who are serving us. In Kosovo recently I saw them when they were engaged in helping to maintain peace in a very volatile and important part of the world; over in the Persian Gulf, aboard the USS Stennis, which at the time was supporting operation Southern Watch over Iraq; then in Korea, where our soldiers daily patrol one of the most dangerous borders in the world. But everywhere that I go, I hear a familiar refrain from the young people: that they feel a deep sense of purpose and pride in their work, and confidence that they can get the job done.

In turn, they ask those of us in the Department of Defense that we do our job right, to provide them and their families with a quality of life they deserve and the morale that they need to be effective. This isn't a mere nicety; it's a military necessity. And we simply can't afford to have our service members worried about the basic well-being of their families. And the reality is that more of our service members have families to worry about.

And this report reminds us that the makeup of the military has changed dramatically since the advent of the all-volunteer force more than 25 years ago. Where our force once was largely comprised of single men, today nearly half of our men and women in uniform are also fathers and mothers. And so ensuring a high quality of life means recognizing that many of those who make up the force are not only personnel, they are also parents. And so we are fortunate indeed to have some of those parents with us today.

And this study points out that the Defense Department has made a great deal of progress in recognizing the needs of the military parents over the past 10 years. And again, as an early supporter in the Senate when I was there, of the Military Child Care Act, and now as secretary, I can tell you how enormously proud I am of the commitment and the leadership that this department has shown and has brought to these programs, from the civilians and service members guiding the policy right here in the Pentagon, to the military commanders across the country and around the globe, who have made child care a priority.

And it's because of their dedication and their determination that the Defense Department can offer some 200,000 children the largest such day-care system in the country. We can offer them high-quality care that is, as Duffy said, "comprehensive, credible and consistent": comprehensive, with a broad range of choices from full-time centers to after-school activities; credible, with high standards that are nationally recognized; and consistent, with little turnover in our well-paid and well-trained staff. And so, as a result, we are able to offer some of the finest child care in the country.

And I believe that the lessons that we have learned, that the National Women's Law Center has showcased, will not only guide us as we continue to improve our child-care programs, but also can truly inspire similar gains in the civilian world. And so once again, Duffy, let me thank you and the National Women's Law Center for undertaking such a very worthwhile cause. Thank you. And before I conclude, I would like to let Senator Dodd and Senator Jeffords have a chance to say a few words, since they have some -- at least Senator Dodd has traveled far and long to be here today and I know that he would like to offer a couple of words.

Senator Dodd: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. That was very gracious of you. Well, thank you, Mr. Secretary, immensely, and we appreciate the leadership that you and Janet have shown as well. I know she's not here with us, but we're also very aware of the fact that the secretary's wife has been a strong advocate of the families of our men and women in uniform around the world, and so we deeply appreciate her efforts as well.

Duffy, I really don't have much to add to your comments. You really were very comprehensive in your analysis of this report. Ten years ago, when -- the descriptions of child care in the military were -- the kindest descriptions used the word "troubled." And today, child care as it's offered to our men and women in uniform is the gold standard, truly, in the country. The 200,000 children that are served, it's -- the best child care anywhere in the world is today being offered by the Defense Department. It's truly a remarkable turnaround in 10 years.

It's interesting to note that when there are criticisms of organizations, you can do one of two things: You can dig the hole deeper or you can respond to it. And the Pentagon responded to it in a very direct and forthright way by dealing with the very issues that we've known have existed for a long time, and that is the affordability, the accessibility and the quality of child care.

In this report, the National Law Center highlights those, in their summary, the six areas where the military has improved the quality of child care. And all I would suggest is that we take this report and just draft it in legislative language and provide a dollar amount here and you've got what I would call a fine national child care program. You don't need to have a congressional report, don't need more hearings. Just follow what has been documented here in this report and we would do a great deal in terms of reversing the difficulties that parents face.

It's about 10:15 right now. About two hours ago, at least at East Coast time, there were literally millions of families worrying again about how to cobble together a place for their child to be. It just goes on every -- there are 13 million every day who are in child care across this country and too often, when parents get up in the morning, there's that deep sense of anxiety. Is that child care center going to be open? Who is going to be working it today? Is my child going to be safe? Sending people off to work in any endeavor where you have the nagging, nagging concerns about whether or not that child is going to be in good shape, going to be well cared for, the quality of care will be there, is something that makes it impossible, even for the brightest, most determined, highly motivated employee to perform their functions well.

You can't do a job well if you're worried about how your infant child is doing in a child-care center or where the care is being given. And so this is about as fundamental as it gets. What Secretary Cohen and his colleagues have identified here is we cannot expect our men and women in uniform to perform at the high level we expect in the citizens of this country when it comes to our national security if they're worried about how their children are doing. Well, we can't expect people to function well in any endeavor in our society if they're worried about the same kinds of issues.

So we're determined to try and reverse that. This year we've had good news already with some additional dollars in appropriations for this issue. But Senator Orrin Hatch and I and Jim began more than 15 years ago trying to develop a national child-care program, and this year we hope to exceed $2 billion in federal monies. That's still only serving about one in 10 children in our society. Most states don't even have standards at all, and if they do, they don't enforce them at all. Child-care workers get paid about $12,500 a year across the country. That's well below a poverty level for a family of three.

We just don't seem to put enough effort and to attribute the importance to this issue as we should yet. Things may be changing, but we've got a ways to go. This report and what the military has done is going to help us, I think, make that case.

But I think the important news here today is I know the secretary and others work all the time at seeing to it that we succeed in this volunteer force. They've done that, and also retaining people, how difficult and how hard it is, good people, with the attractions of civilian life. But having a good child-care program is a major step in that direction, and I commend you, Mr. Secretary, and your staff for the fabulous job that has been done on this issue and so many others, but on this one particularly today.


Senator Jeffords: Well, thank you. And Bill, it's wonderful to be here with you today. I just happened to note that, of course, we're all from New England. And that sort of tells it all as to why it gets done. But anyway, as Chris has pointed out well, the drastic situation that our child-care system is in this country, he also pointed out that there's good news in the sense that Ted Stevens, who is also from the northern climates, anyway -- (laughter) -- who has come forward with the child-care program which is now up -- actually, it's up before the Senate to be voted on, hopefully sometime, though the educational programs have been kind of set side for other issues at this point. But it recognizes the dire need of this nation to have a good child care system, and we do not have one now. Chris has pointed out the seriousness of it. But we must make child care more affordable for business, too. Absenteeism caused by poor quality child care is estimated to cost American business more than $3 billion a year, and child care is essential for businesses to recruit and retain a skilled workforce.

The United States military has shown us what can be accomplished. Now, I hope my colleagues in Congress and the American people will join with me and Senator Dodd in being willing to concede the problems, being determined to find the solutions, and being committed to provide the resources. We must take these steps to bring quality child care into the grasp of millions of American who, unfortunately, do not have it now. And I know Chris and I are dedicated, and I just cannot tell you how important it is and has been right now for the military to show us the way that it can be done.

And so we praise all of you for this exceptionally good work to show the nation that it can be done and that Chris and I and, like Bill Cohen, are going to make sure it will be done.

Secretary Cohen: That's great. Very good. Who is going to -- (inaudible)

Senator Dodd: Really, it is a very success -- he told us all about it in the Senate, too, you know. (Laughter.) They disappear, you know -- (Laughter.)

Secretary Cohen: I just wanted to give you a chance to --

Senator Dodd: I know you were, Mr. Secretary. (Laughter.)

Secretary Cohen: What happens here is that questions are usually asked --

Senator Dodd: Usually unrelated to child care, eh? (Laughter.) Why do I have a feeling that might be the case? We appreciate your --

Secretary Cohen: If there are any questions on child care, we have some wonderful parents in the military who would be happy to share their experiences and talk about the high quality and the great satisfaction and the reduction in anxiety that Chris Dodd was just talking about that every parent feels as he or she moves off to work. I'll let --

Q: Mr. Secretary, I do have one child care question. You talked about the importance of the subsidy that allows child care to be more affordable and, I guess, fees to be higher and so forth. Can we get a relative cost of that subsidy in the Pentagon? And what might it be nationwide, if it were to be applied nationwide, to give you the kind of quality program you're looking for?

Ms. Campbell: Well, I think it's very hard to estimate what the cost would be. In the military, the subsidy can be up to half of what the cost is for the family. There are a lot of systems that are now trying to finance child care at the state and local level. There's federal dollars coming in, there are state dollars coming, and there's a range of programs, through the block grant, through Head Start, through after-school programs. And so projecting what the added cost of that would be is somewhat difficult. But as Senator Dodd said, we're now -- even if you just take the poor and near-poor families that are getting help through the current block grant, we're only serving one in 10 of eligible families through that program, whereas the military is serving 58 percent of families, at really all income levels. So the need is very desperate on the civilian side. If we could even come close to serving 58 percent of families, I think we'd be a lot happier.

Senator Dodd: Let me just add, to give you a perspective on it -- we didn't go into details -- but there are two-thirds of the states -- and states set the income levels -- two-thirds of the states have an income cap, a ceiling, of $27,000 a year. Anything above that, you don't get a nickel in child care support. Eight of those -- seven of those states, of those two-thirds of those states, have income caps or ceilings at $19,000, and you don't get a nickel in child care support. So -- you can just imagine.

So you leave that to states -- because obviously their income and -- cost-of-living, rather, differences can be significant. But nonetheless, it's very, very low before people can qualify for it, which creates huge waiting lists. There are literally hundreds of thousands on the waiting lists in California, Texas, Florida, trying to get into any kind of a child care setting at all.

Ms. Campbell: I think another thing is that the military has a system for continually assessing its need and increasing it. They didn't do it all at once, and they haven't done it all yet. They still haven't met all their needs. But they made a very important determination, which was, "Let's address quality and affordability first; we won't be able to serve everybody, but we'll make sure they're getting the highest-quality care and that they can afford it."

And we really don't even have that commitment on the civilian side -- to build a system, to make sure it's a high-quality system, to make sure it's affordable, and then to have a plan to expand it to serve more families.

Q: Ms. Campbell, what sparked you to do this study in the first place? And how long did the study take? I couldn't tell from here.

Ms. Campbell: Well, it's interesting -- this is a study we've been thinking about for a long time, because we work on issues affecting women in the military, and we work on child care issues. And back at the time of the original block grant legislation in the late 1980s and early 1990s, we knew that the military had had a very good record on improving its standards even then. They were addressing this before the MCCA, the Military Child Care Act. But -- and that was an important piece towards prompting the child and development block grant, as I'm sure Senators Dodd and Jeffords remember.

But it was really more recently when we began to look at the improvements they had made since that act, that in 10 years they had done this turnaround. And we said, well, a lot of people are talking about this, but let's take what they did and try to figure out what lessons we could apply in the civilian side, because it is a somewhat different environment. So we really started looking at this the end of last summer, last fall, so it took us really about six months, with a lot of stops and starts, to pull it all together and apply the lessons.

Q: What was the role of the military in doing this study?

Ms. Campbell: Well, they didn't have any particular role at all. We did have some questions for them when we couldn't understand some pieces of the system, but it was our idea to do the study. And, as I said, we looked at a lot of sources. There were GAO reports, there were congressional hearings, we had seen some centers, so we compiled a lot of different material. And we did ask Linda Smith, who heads the Office of Family Policy, a few questions to clarify some of the policies and to bring up to date some of the data that wasn't up to date from other reports.

Senator Jeffords: I would just point out that, again, the amendment --

Senator Dodd: (Inaudible) -- you're not going to get to ask those questions. (Laughter.)

Senator Jeffords: -- that we have pending an amendment that really for the first time will make a meaningful improvement in the ability to have childcare, which is pending in the Senate right now, and that's the, as I told, this Stevens-Jeffords-Kennedy-Dodd amendment, which will -- it's a multibillion dollar help to the states, primarily, to be able to really get serious about the efficiency, the proficiency of child-care providers and the goals which need to be established to make a good system work. So, hopeful we'll pass that. And since the chairman of the Appropriations Committee is the lead, we have some good hope that it will probably get funded very good.

Q: Mr. Secretary, if I might ask you briefly about Kosovo -- (laughter) -- both the House and the --

Secretary Cohen: You can say --

Ms. Campbell: (Laughs.) Maybe I can answer! (Laughter.)

Q: Both the House and the Senate have sought to remove U.S. troops from Kosovo as early as next year --

Secretary Cohen: Right.

Q: -- if improvements aren't made, if changes aren't made, and especially in allied contributions. And you have warned that you would recommend that the president veto such moves. How do you answer charges by critics of the U.S. in Kosovo that there's been no improvement in the situation there and the United States is bogged down in an endless military mission there?

Secretary Cohen: First of all, I would point to the fact that there has been considerable progress made from where we were a year ago. You recall that the air campaign was still underway a year ago and there were nearly a million refugees created in that country. And since that time, we have succeeded in driving Milosevic's thugs out of Kosovo, the refugees have returned, children have gone back to school, farmers are in the fields planting crops, and generally speaking, peace has prevailed in that area in Kosovo, subject to some important flash points, Mitrovica being one, the Presevo Valley being another. But nonetheless, the situation over the past year has changed dramatically.

And the question becomes how long we have to maintain this presence. It's going to take some time, just as it's taken time in Bosnia. We've made significant progress in Bosnia over the last five years, coming down from 20,000 troops to roughly 4,300 today. We anticipate that we can achieve similar types of reductions in Kosovo in the future, but it's going to take a concerted effort. It's going to take the participation of all of our allies. It will take greater burden sharing on the part of our allies, but they are in the process of measuring up to those commitments that were made.

For us to legislate at this point criteria under which we would mandate the departure of our troops I think would do two things. It sets an artificial deadline, and number two, it would lead, in my judgment, to a severe strain within the alliance itself. If the United States were to mandate an artificial deadline for our departure, then I suspect that other members of NATO will do the same and that you will see a return to the kind of conflict we witnessed last year. And I think it would call into question NATO's viability under these circumstances. So for those reasons, I would recommend a veto should the provisions stay as they currently are.

Q: Has the president indicated whether or not he would veto?

Secretary Cohen: He has not. I do know that there was strong opposition in the White House, but I haven't had a chance to speak directly to the president.

Q: On a different subject, the Joint Chiefs have been fairly blunt lately on their views on strategic warheads, about wanting to stay at the current bracket level of 2,000 to 2,500.

Secretary Cohen: The chiefs have made no decision about staying at specific levels. They are in the process of reviewing our policy and the guidance, and that's something that we are all reviewing at this point. They are operating on the basis of looking at the numbers that were agreed to or suggested during the Helsinki meeting between President Clinton and President Yeltsin. But we are examining that at this point, but there has been no decision made.

Q: If I could just follow up for a second, do you see any room for discussion in the 1,500 range? And do you think that that puts conventional forces at risk -- B-52s, submarines -- by coming down so low?

Secretary Cohen: Well, we have not had discussions in the 1,500 range. What we are looking at is the range in Helsinki, in terms of what President Clinton and Yeltsin agreed to. That's our framework at this point. We are reviewing the entire spectrum, but we are focusing upon the Helsinki range right now.

Q: Mr. Secretary, I'd like to ask you about the No Gun Ri investigation. To what extent at this point has the evidence collected corroborated the central charge in this matter, which is, of course, that a large number of civilians were killed at No Gun Ri by American troops?

Secretary Cohen: There has been no conclusion reached at this point. The investigation -- or inquiry, I should say -- is still under way, and any declarations on the part of some that there have been conclusions reached is premature.

Q: But short of conclusions, I mean, what does the evidence really point --

Secretary Cohen: Well, until they can -- until there is a report, then there will be no conclusions reached.

Q: Mr. Secretary, on Sierra Leone, as the United Nations secretary-general made a criticism of the United States for being slow in responding, and then offering too expensive services, how do you respond to that, to what the secretary-general said?

Secretary Cohen: Well, we have been coordinating with a number of countries in terms of responding. We have provided airlift for the transport of munitions from Jordan. We have a team in Sierra Leone looking at the security situation surrounding the Lungi airport. We have in fact been in contact with the Nigerians to see how and if they can participate in a very active role and what will be required to support their efforts. So we have been actively engaged in that.

With respect to the cost, it does cost more for military aircraft, as required by law. We have to charge, for example, if a large aircraft leaves the United States and is on its way to Sierra Leone with intermediate stops in Spain or wherever along the way; that is all calculated according to law.

Secondly, because we have aircraft which carry outsize equipment -- large tanks, for example -- then they are not nearly as efficient as commercial aircraft. They do not operate with as many flying hours, and so, therefore, the cost is much higher than it would be for a commercial aircraft, which can't carry that type of equipment and which fly many more hours per day, reducing the cost of operation.

So for all of those reasons, it costs more to utilize military aircraft to accomplish either transportation, movement of supplies.

Q: But what about to the direct charge that the United States is too slow in responding?

Secretary Cohen: Well, I think we have been sufficiently responsive, that we have many obligations worldwide. And when called upon to provide transport for munitions and personnel, we have been willing to do so.

Q: Thank you.

Mr. Bacon: Thank you very much.

Q: Thank you.

Secretary Cohen: No questions on Joint Strike Fighter? (Laughter.)

Q: Do you want to say something?

Secretary Cohen: I do want to say something. (Laughter.)

There have been a number of reports that have surfaced in the last day or so about the, quote, "lack of support" within the services for the Joint Strike Fighter. I would like to be very clear about this. This aircraft is important, not only to the Marine Corps; it is also equally important to the Air Force, which will depend for a very large number of the Joint Strike Fighter to fill its inventory in future years. It is also equally important to the Navy.

And the notion that somehow, because certain aircraft, such as the F/A-18E/F mode now coming off the line, or that funding has been secured for the F-22, that there is no need to support the Joint Strike Fighter is simply wrong. And I am confident that the Joint Strike Fighter is the fighter aircraft of the future, that the Air Force fully understands this. The Navy fully understands that it's not going to be the F/A-18E/F model that will provide the kind of capability and security for our fighters of the future but it will be the Joint Strike Fighter. And so I will make it very clear that there is strong support coming from me. There is in fact support, strong support, from the services. And we will see the Joint Strike Fighter come into the inventory.

This is not something that was mandated by either me or the department or the Office of Secretary of Defense. This is a program that was designed by, and offered by, the services because they understood that they needed to have an aircraft that would serve the needs of the Marines, the Navy and the Air Force. And that's precisely what the Joint Strike Fighter is going to do. And so it continues to enjoy my strong support, just as I have supported the F- 22 and the limited number of F/A-18E/F models. That was always within the Quadrennial Defense Review's recommendations. It was supported by the Joint Chiefs then, it was supported by the Service Chiefs, and it will be supported in the future.

Thank you.

Q: Anything else you'd like to get off your chest while you're here? (Laughter.)

Thank you. 



Additional Links

Stay Connected