Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon.
Q: Can you give us an update of the briefings that Senator Cohen has been receiving and what the schedule might be for the transition?
A: Senator Cohen has been receiving a very complete series of briefings on policy questions, and he started out initially when he came to the building for briefings being filled in on certain operations such as the operation in Bosnia. He has been meeting with a wide range of people in the building, but he's been specializing on people from the Walt Slocombe policy area, being brought up to date on various international and military-to- military operations. But the last couple of days he's been concentrating on going up to the Hill and doing his consultations with members of the Senate Armed Services Committee. These are senators with whom he's served for 18 years, some, but he's going up there in a new capacity as the potential Secretary of Defense and discussing issues with them.
He plans to complete his Senate consultations by the end of this week, and I believe if current plans hold, he will have a chance to sit down and talk with every member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. His hearing is scheduled for January 22nd, and we anticipate that he will be confirmed shortly after that hearing.
The White House is finishing -- it may have finished, as a matter of fact, today -- the final stages of its vetting process which is a series of financial, security and other checks that every nominee goes through. I think today the White House may actually formally announce his nomination, send it to the Hill. If it doesn't happen today, it will happen very soon.
So the progress on Senator Cohen's nomination is just that, progress. It's moving forward in an orderly, measured fashion. It will all come together at the end of this month.
Q: For the record, can you tell us what your status is?
A: My status is that I'm the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, and I will stay in that job until I have a chance to talk with Senator Cohen about my future, which I haven't done yet. I think that's the case of many people here.
Q: Would you like to stay?
A: As I said earlier from this platform, some questions are so important they can't be discussed from the podium. (Laughter)
Q: What will Dr. Perry's plans be? Do you have any idea?
A: Dr. Perry plans to return to Stanford University where he ran an institute before he came back into the government. I'm not suggesting that he'll take up the management of that institute again, but he has said he plans to think, read, write, and listen to Mozart. His first project will be to write a book on national security issues -- a serious book. I think that's what he'll be devoting his time to, almost as soon as he gets back to Stanford.
Q: Can you give us the status on the National Defense Panel?
A: The National Defense Panel is in the final stages of formulation, and I say with some trepidation that I hope we'll be able to announce the composition of it soon.
Q: Can you run through the procedures, the Secretary was supposed to nominate these people by December 1st. Is that something that has to be set up by legislation, though? Are they are they approved on Capitol Hill or...
A: We've been talking fairly steadily with members of the Senate, Senator Lieberman in particular, who was one of the main fathers of this panel, and we've made it very clear to them that we're moving forward on this, that we're considering a list of candidates, and this is the type of thing that probably seems easy to an outsider, but it actually is more complex once you start down the path because all these people have to be vetted with the Senate and with people in the Administration, etc., and that's what we're working on now. Some of it is taking longer than it was initially scheduled to take, but we will get the panel set up relatively soon, I hope.
Q: They will have a staff and they're funded, and there's no question that it's going to exist.
A: There is no question that it's going to exist. It's mandated by law, and we will follow the law as we always try to do.
Q: Have you asked people on the Hill for their own nominations? The President is not required in the law, but he might have done that; and secondly, which bit of the process is taking longer than you expected?
A: I haven't followed this in intimate detail, so all I can tell you is I assume, and I'm quite confident that we've been getting suggestions from the Hill. I have not seen the list that's been coming in, and I haven't seen the proposal, so I can't answer it with total certainty.
Your specific question about which part of the vetting process is taking so long, some of it had to do with the change at the top of the Department. Some people wanted to know before agreeing to serve on the panel who the Secretary of Defense was going to be -- not an unreasonable question to ask. I think it's just, as I say, taking awhile to put it together, but I'm quite hopeful it will be done soon and we'll be able to announce it.
Q: Is Senator Cohen being consulted on this?
A: That's an interesting question that I can't answer, but I'll try to get the answer for you.
Q: Has the Department made up its mind on the merger of McDonnell- Douglas and Boeing, whether to approve it or try and block it?
A: No. Actually, that process is just beginning this week. There either have been or will be this week some meetings between Department officials and representatives of Boeing and McDonnell-Douglas. It will take us awhile to evaluate the information we'll get from them. As you know, we do not make a ruling on this. That will be done by the anti-trust officials. What we will do is make a recommendation to the anti-trust officials, and then they'll consider that as they contemplate the whole proposal.
Q: Will you make an announcement, when you make that recommendation as you did in the case of Lockheed/Martin?
A: I can say that we will try to do that. I believe in the Lockheed/Martin case and some other mergers, what we've done is actually released the letter that we sent, in the case of Lockheed/Martin to the Federal Trade Commission. We will try to do the same thing this time around as well.
Q: Will there be a delay in the release of the defense budget...
A: That's not for me to say. That's a broader question that should be addressed to OMB. That has to do with the timing of the budget.
Q: You've not received any formal indication...
A: I have not, and I just asked about this this morning. I think that you should go over and press your OMB sources to try to get an answer to that. Maybe you should ask the Director of OMB.
Q: Would you like to share with us what you did on your vacation?
A: That also is an important question I can't answer from here.