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DoD News Briefing: Secretary of Defense William J. Perry

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William J. Perry
October 20, 1995

Thursday, October 19, 1995

(This transcript contains only SecDef Perry's portion of the Task Force on Quality of Life Final Report Briefing.)

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon. Welcome to our special briefing on the Quality of Life Report. Secretary Perry will start with opening remarks and then take some questions, first on the report and then on other topics should they arise. After that, Secretary Marsh will continue the briefing, and he has a panel of experts to walk you through the report.

Secretary Perry?

Secretary Perry: Today the United States is protected by the most capable military force in the world. It is well trained, well equipped, and well motivated. The foundation of this military capability is the quality of our people -- the officers, the NCOs, and the enlisted personnel who command our ships, maintain our airplanes and drive our tanks. Therefore, the surest way to keep our force the world's best is to recruit, train and retain high quality men and women.

In November of 1994, President Clinton approved an increase in defense spending of $2.7 billion over six years, specifically designed to improve the quality of life for military personnel. Much of this money will be used to improve military housing -- a key concern to military families. This was an important first step, but there is much more to do.

So shortly after the President approved this increase, I asked former Army Secretary Jack Marsh to head a panel to find out how we can best maintain readiness and retain high quality people. This distinguished panel has finished its work and I am receiving their report today.

The panel concentrated on three areas -- housing, personnel tempo, and community and family services. I told the panel I was not interested in business as usual. The panel members accepted that challenge. Their recommendations are decidedly not business as usual.

For example, in the area of housing they proposed the creation of an entirely new Military Housing Authority that will tap private capital markets to replace or repair a large stock of inadequate housing.

In the area of personnel tempo, they proposed several measures to reduce the amount of time that service personnel spend away from home, doing this without compromising readiness. For example, greater use of simulation technology and long distance learning to reduce personnel turbulence and to cut travel and deployment costs.

Finally, the report makes a number of suggestions on ways to approve access to community and family services such as child care.

This report will not sit on the shelf. We are already working with Congress to find ways to tap private capital markets and private enterprise to improve military housing. By preparing this important report, Jack Marsh and his panel have performed a real service for our men and women in uniform, but the proposed actions are not just to help our military personnel. These actions are to ensure the readiness and the fighting capability of our military forces on into the next century. So I am indebted; indeed, the country is indebted to Jack and his panel for their dedicated and creative work.

With those opening comments, I'd be happy to take a few questions.

Q: Mr. Secretary, when they looked at housing, they decided it was approximately a $29 billion problem and that it could take anywhere from 10 to 40 years to fix it. When I look at numbers like that and then I look at your budget, I'm trying to figure out how you're going to square those two together. Now obviously, it's just a recommendation, but with dollar figures like that, is it realistic to expect any big change?

A: That was exactly the issue they were confronting -- how with the size of the problem and with the size of any reasonable expectation of budget, we could solve this problem in less than tens of years, and if we could only count on appropriated funds used in conventional ways to solve the problem, it would essentially be unsolvable. That's why I said we could not accept business as usual, and that's why they have proposed this Military Housing Authority. I'm going to let them explain it to you. I'm not going to explain the proposal in detail. But the concept is designed specifically to get around the problem that you're describing. It brings private capital into the system in a way that it can greatly accelerate not only the creation of new housing but the repair of existing housing.

Q: Does your reading of the findings of this report tend to reinforce or change your thinking about what the morale in general is of troops?

A: The report reinforced my views in three different areas. First of all, it confirmed that we have a substantial problem in housing. We've got problems in personnel tempo. And we've got problems in community services such as child care. But it also confirmed my view that our military personnel and their families are responding very well to those problems, and their morale has stayed high, notwithstanding those problems. But I don't think we can count on the morale staying high forever in the face of these problems. We have to address them.

One of the things that I've been impressed about, Bob, in my discussion of these issues with military personnel, they don't expect us to solve all these problems next week or even this year. They do expect us to be working hard and creatively to get solutions. They want to see light at the end of the tunnel.

Q: On Bosnia, Mr. Secretary. When you talk about the budget, you're so close to the line now in operations and maintenance that you're going to have a gap, for instance in carrier presence in the Gulf. You're trying to get some Air Force planes in there to cover that gap.

You've said that you expect Congress to come around on the Bosnia troop deployment. If Congress does not approve $1.5 billion for those troops are you ready, and in fact able, to take $1.5 billion out of operations and maintenance to pay for those troops in Bosnia?

A: In order to do this operation we will have to request a supplemental appropriation. The supplemental appropriation will be on the order of $1.5 billion. I want to caveat that. We have given this figure of about $1.5 billion not because it's difficult for us to calculate how much a given operation costs, but because there's still some uncertainties about the size and the duration of the operation. We do not yet have a peace plan. We do not yet have a final NATO plan. But if it turns out to be $1.5 billion, we will have to go in for a supplemental appropriation.

In any supplemental appropriation, the source of funds for that appropriation will need to be specified. I'm not prepared to specify the source of funds as I stand here today, because I do not yet have an approved '96 budget. I must have the '96 budget before I can look to that budget and say what are the approved sources of funds.

If the defense budget for '96 turns out to be approximately the budget which was approved by the Senate, then that has in it more than $6 billion additionally to what we had requested for a budget. Quite clearly, I would look to that extra $6 billion as the source of funds. If it turns out to be substantially less than that, then I would have a different problem.

So I cannot really answer the question as to what the source of funds for this appropriation would be until I have a '96 budget approved.

Q: Isn't that money targeted for other things, that $6 billion? And are you willing again, if they don't give you the supplemental appropriation, to take the money out of operations?

A: It is targeted for other things, but they are all things which were not in the budget which we requested and therefore they are, to my judgment, would be the source of funds which I would turn to. Some of the things that are in that extra $6 billion are things that not only we did not request for '96, but were not even in our five year plan. For example, the money for the B-2 bomber. So that would clearly be high on my list. Others, some of the ship programs, for example, are in our five year plan, but were not programmed for FY96. So we would propose still to do them, but to do them at a later date.

Q: Mr. Secretary, you've now completed a marathon series of testimony before Congress and there have been many different reads from the press but not from you. Can you tell us whether you think Congress has been moved, how much further you have to take Congress in order to get the kind of support you feel you need, whether there is a vote or not on Bosnia.

A: I said this morning that I believed we had a compelling case, and I do believe that. But I also believe we have a long way to go to make that case, not only to the Congress but to the public.

We began this serious systematic explanation of our position on the Bosnian implementation force just two days ago, so we do have a way to go. More importantly, I should point out that we do not yet have a peace plan. We do not yet have a final NATO plan. We're many weeks away from those. So we have a good many weeks available to us to do that. Moreover, the details of what we're presenting may change as we get a specific peace plan and as we get a specific NATO plan.

I also think that the saliency of the issues we're discussing will become clearer to the public and clearer to the Congress when we actually have a peace plan, either in hand or very close to in hand. We're still many weeks away from a peace plan at this stage, and there are still substantial uncertainties in getting there.

Q: Were you surprised by the level of hostility from some of your questioners, most of which were on the Republican side of the aisle? But there was a fair amount of taunting going on.

A: I was disappointed at some of the questioners who not only had a very negative air about them, but seemed to have made their mind up on this question even before they'd heard the briefing and even before they had seen a final peace plan or seen a final NATO plan to consider.

These are important and serious issues we're discussing, and we must rise above political considerations in dealing with them. The security and stability of Europe is the issue which we're considering here. Some of the questioners pointed out that there's risk in the operation. It will be no surprise to you that General Shalikashvili and I have thought very deeply about the risks involved. We do not minimize that for a minute. We've also thought very deeply about the risks involved in allowing this war to continue. It's not just a matter of the casualties and the killings that go on in Bosnia. It is the risk that this war will extend, expand to other parts, and truly affect the security and stability of Europe in such a way that it affects the vital security interests of the United States.

The point that I made to Congress and will continue to make to Congress and to the public, that we are not in a risk-free world. We do not have a choice between taking the risks and joining this NATO implementation force and a risk-free course of action. The other alternative are the risks that are associated with allowing that war in Bosnia to continue. I will continue to make that point, and I hope that point will begin to catch hold both with the Congress and with the public.

Q: What's the biggest hurdle that you have to overcome, you believe, in convincing Congress to go along with this?

A: My judgment on that, Ed, is that I have to persuade them that they should be thinking in terms of real alternatives. The real alternative is the war in Bosnia continuing. Many of the Congressmen were preferring to postulate alternatives which are not real. They postulated a peace agreement that did not have the United States participating in the implementation force. The fact is, there will not be a peace agreement unless the United States commits to enforce it. The Bosnian government, and possibly the other parties as well, will simply not sign such a peace agreement. So those are not real alternatives.

The hurdle then is getting clear to all parties to this debate of what the real alternatives are, and then making a contrast, making a comparison among real alternatives -- not making comparisons between the alternatives we're proposing and some non-existent alternative.

Thank you very much.

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