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DoD News Briefing with Dr. David Chu and Mary Dixon from the Pentagon

Presenters: Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Dr. David Chu and Director, Manpower Data Center, Department of Defense Mary Dixon
November 01, 2006
BRYAN WHITMAN (deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs): Good morning and thank you for your patience, we had a short delay.

But it's always my pleasure to be able to bring Dr. David Chu back into the briefing room. He is the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness. And today he is joined by Mary Dixon, who's the director of manpower -- the manpower data center. And they're here today to talk to you a little bit about the implementation, the rollout of the new Common Access Card, the next generation, and the new capabilities that are associated with it, and take some of your questions.

And so with that, Dr. Chu, Ms. Dixon.

MR. CHU: Thank you.

MR. WHITMAN: Thanks.

MR. CHU: Bryan, thank you.

I'm going to ask Mary Dixon, who is the real expert on this subject, to join me to deal with all the hard questions here.

But let me, if I could, set the scene and then respond to your queries. As Bryan indicated, this department last week began issuing a new generation of identification cards to its personnel. This is the next step on a journey the department began some years ago. And I should emphasize that it is part of the president's larger management agenda. The president, in a series of arenas, has directed the federal government to adopt common business practices. In other words, across federal agencies we should all do things in the same way, so we can work more effectively with each other.

While this may seem like a small item, it is an important item in the larger picture. And so his directive in 2004 said that all federal agencies should have a common -- meaning interoperable -- identification card for their people. We should not have separate ones, each to -- in his own lane.

Defense builds on a strong foundation in this regard.

We had some years before already decided for the Defense Department, we should have a Common Access Card replacing proliferation of different credentials that have previously existed. So we are using that foundation as our stepping stone to reach the president's goal here that it is a card that is interoperable with other federal agencies, meets a common and more difficult, I should emphasize, federal standard than was heretofore applied.

An important element of this is that builds trust across agencies, because there is then one credential. Now, each agency, each installation can decide who has access to that place based upon their card. That's a different decision. But we all have a common way of identifying who is standing in front of you, who is this person. And a key element of this new card is it's a more secure document than even the card we had in Defense fielded before.

We really have three objectives in terms of the federal standards that have been set here for the federal government as a whole.

One is to make the process of identifying someone more efficient. One of the problems now is all these cards look different. Now, particularly at the electronic level, these will be the same.

Second, to preclude identity fraud so that we know the person standing in front of us is the person on this card, to whom that card has been issued. That's important, especially in Defense, for a lot of reasons, including how you get benefits.

And third, we want to make the card more secure in terms of your individual privacy, protecting those data that identify you from misuse by other persons.

I should emphasize that for all our listeners who may be holders of these cards today, this does not mean -- let me re-emphasize -- this does not mean to rush down to your card-issuing facility and get a new card tomorrow.

We will issue these cards as your current card expires. So the old cards remain valid during this transition period, and as your card comes up for renewal, then when you are renewed, you will get the new card. We have a visual here of what the card looks like. Among other elements, in terms of enhanced security, it's much harder to -- the old ones were hard to counterfeit. These are even harder I'm told by the experts to counterfeit. That's a real federal employee; although for this purpose we use John Doe as his name to protect his privacy.

We're delighted to answer your questions. We think this is a very useful step forward for the department, and we are pleased to be in the vanguard of this new important federal initiative.

Sir?

Q. Can you just talk a little bit about the progress by which people will get the new card? Is the process any different? I know it will be with the expiration date, but is the process anymore complicated, harder, more --

MR. CHU: I don't think it's likely to be more difficult from the individual's perspective. The technical apparatus that is necessary to issue the card is somewhat different.

Mary, you may want to say a word or two about that.

MS. DIXON: There will be some differences as we move -- as you get the replacement card. First of all, there will be a couple of new things that will -- we will put onto the chip -- the integrated circuit chip. One will be two biometrics, two fingerprints. One will be a digital photograph, and those things will be on the card. The other thing that we will be doing is there will be a much more direct process whereby we're going to check to make sure you've had your background checks before we issue the card. That is something that we have not done in the past, but we will be doing this now.

Q. So currently, a card was issued without all background checks --

MS. DIXON: No, let me correct that. The people in the Department of Defense for some time have been in compliance with all the rules and the executive orders whereby we do background checks on people before they come in. But what we haven't had is a good chain of trust that says I can go back to the people who actually did the check and make sure that in fact that check has been done just to do a verification. It's the old trust, but verify. So in the past, we've trusted, and now what we want to do is to verify to make sure that that's happened.

MR. CHU: Sir?

Q. How many of these new cards have been issued so far?

MR. CHU: A small number, but -- Mary?

MS. DIXON: Right, a small number, probably about somewhere between 10 and 20 cards since last Friday.

MR. CHU: Sir?

Q. Dr. Chu, as head of personal readiness, I'd like to get your views on what you think of Senator Kerry's comments about American personnel -- military personnel in Iraq being uneducated.

MR. CHU: Let me emphasize I have not actually seen Senator Kerry's comments. I have heard various press reports of what he is alleged to have said.

I do think I take this as a personal challenge to get the word out about the high level of education and ability in our force today. My understanding is that he questioned whether our people were graduates of high schools. We have a high school diploma graduation rate that exceeds the national average, as I think members of this audience are aware. So my challenge is to make sure everybody in the country understands that, and most especially members of our elected legislature.

They, by our standards, which the services are meeting, score -- the majority score above average on the Armed Forces Qualification Test, which is our aptitude battery, our SAT, if you will. So this is a bright, highly motivated, proficient, highly educated community.

If I understand the alleged comments correctly, they are off the mark in terms of the facts. That's what I can speak to, what are the facts here. Our challenge is to get those facts out so that the American public and its elected representatives understands what those facts might be.

This is a very fine set of young people on all dimensions. That includes physical fitness; it includes moral ethics. And we hold them -- we demand high standards to entrants; we hold them to high standards during their period of service. And I think everyone, your colleagues, yourselves have seen that high standard in the performance of our troops in the field.

Yes, ma'am?

Q. Are you at all concerned that the senator's comments will have any effect on recruiting or on morale, anything like that, of the U.S. --

MR. CHU: Well, I shouldn't comment on what the likely effects are. We'll all see what they might turn out to be.

But my job is to get the facts out, and the facts are this is a high- quality force, highly educated, more so than the American public at large. And I should emphasize they are encouraged, and to their credit, typically pursue additional education while they're in the military. That's one of the big changes in the last generation to make the completion of college compatible with military service instead of competitive with it. And so we now have secured college credit for many of the training courses we give. We provide substantial tuition assistance monies to our troops, which many take advantage of. The result is by mid-career, most -- many of -- the majority of our enlisted personnel -- I'll get the facts for you on this matter as to what the numbers look like afterwards -- but a significant fraction of our enlisted personnel have some college education; an impressive minority earn a college degree. And we do have, especially some senior enlisted personnel, who have advance degrees. The former Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard, for example, has a Ph.D.

Our standard for officers, as you all appreciate, is even more demanding. I'm sure there's always going to be exceptions. But as a generalization, to be a commissioned officer in the United States military, you have to have a college degree. And again, these individuals pursue additional education. Typically by mid-career, a significant fraction has a Master's degree, and a number go on to Ph.D. degrees. Just to give you some luminous examples, Bill Crowe, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has a Ph.D. in international relations, if I recall correctly, from Princeton. Monty Meigs, who is currently in charge of the IED Task Force, is also a Ph.D., I think in operations research; wrote a highly regarded thesis that was published on anti-submarine warfare. In other words, raised some dissonance because he was an Army officer. But it was a well- regarded piece of scholarship.

So this is a well-educated force. It is a very intelligent force. It's a highly motivated force. And it's, in our judgment, certainly, I think the country's too, a high-performing force.

Sir?

Q. Have you heard -- have you received any feedback from people within the military about these comments, what they perceive them to be? Do they feel insulted? Has any of that come to your level?

MR. CHU: I've only talked to people here in the headquarters, so that's probably not a good sample frame. Most of the people I've talked to were astonished, you know, what -- this is not consistent with the facts as we know them, at least as I understand the reports coming in.

Again, I have not seen the senator's comment.

Other questions? Especially on the Common -- (chuckles) --

Q. I'll ask one --

MR. CHU: Access Card. Yes, sir.

Q. But I do have one other question.

MR. CHU: Okay.

Q. Okay. Can you just talk a little bit about the way ahead with regard to the card -- it's new, high-tech, improved and all that, but what do you expect to see and what kind of changes do you expect to see over the next year or two, using this new card?

MR. CHU: Well, one of the things that we are looking at -- and I'll give you -- this is a practical example without promising a deadline -- is, can we use this Common Access Card more easily as the building access card here in the Pentagon? It's accepted today, so you can -- if you have a Common Access Card, you can show that instead, but the card readers aren't set up to read it the way they are, the swipe cards that we have for the building.

And so people like Mr. Whitman, who I think carries four different identification cards -- can we cut that number to two? Now, that's a practical change. It's also important. If you have four, you know, the chances you're going to leave one behind, lose one start to increase.

Also, in terms of security, the fact that the personnel who are safeguarding our installations have to deal with all these different forms of identification -- it makes it easier for somebody to come in with something that's really not legitimate, wave that and gain access; not necessarily the Pentagon per se, which is more carefully secured, but other installations. So I think the security level of our enterprise will improve over time when we get to a common credential that everybody uses, because then the security force knows what it has to look for. And as Ms. Dixon indicated, embedded on the card will be -- in the chip -- we have a picture physically on the card now -- will be a photograph, will be a biometric, meaning two fingerprints. We are already using fingerprints in some areas of the world on the current generation of cards to deal with access issues, to make sure that the person standing in front of me, whose digit I place on the scanner or whatever device I'm using, is the same person to whom I issued that card.

So we're not just relying on photographs anymore. That's a major step, major step forward.

So I think security will be enhanced; ability to deal promptly with benefits issues will be enhanced by the use of these cards. They're also being used -- and this is the internal step within the Pentagon -- increasingly as the way to verify that you are indeed authorized access to our computer networks that deal with computer network security as well.

Sir?

Q. You mentioned that the infrastructure isn't quite there to use the high-tech part of the cards. Where are we at with the infrastructure rollout?

MR. CHU: Mary, you want to say a word or two about this?

MS. DIXON: On the logical side, access to our computers, I think we are moving -- we're, like, within 85 percent of compliance with the requirement to do what's called cryptographic log-on. In other words, use your card to log-on to the computer. When that is completed and when we also move to the next step, which is to enable our website so that you can use the same thing, we will be able to significantly reduce the number of user ID and passwords. So we all know how many you can have of those, and the more that you have, the more likely you are to write them down. Instead what we'll be able to do is use your pin.

So on the logical side, we've made great strides over the last six years. On the physical side, that's the place where our challenge is and that we will be working very hard over the next several years to try to put that into place so that we can again increase the number of people that are using that card to gain -- to authenticate their identity if they've been given access to a building or a facility.

Q. And then let's say that the -- you know, the gate is set up for the new card. Will it be backward compatible to the old card for people who don't have the new card?

MS. DIXON: Yes. As a matter of fact, that's been one of our biggest challenges because although we were at an advantage because we had an existing infrastructure, when HSPD-12 came along, the difficult part for us was that we had to make sure that as these cards are going to coexist for the next three or four years, that we didn't, A, break anything that was using the old card today and that those cards could both be used in our applications. So they are backward compatible.

MR. CHU: Let me emphasize again for your readership, our people, if you have a valid Common Access Card that you do not -- you should not rush down and get a new one. When yours is up for renewal, then it is time to get a new card.

Sir?

Q. A quick -- just a personnel question. They also authorized a bunch of changes for officer retention and issues like changing the selection boards, changes with you. There was, like, four or five particular ones. Can you just speak to why they did not ask for those changes and what they're going to do?

MR. CHU: I think the broad answer to your question is that we are reconsidering and coming to conclusions about what would should a military career look like in the 21st century.

And among the attributes that we believe need to be reinforced are, first of all, joint credentials, joint competence, joint service; second, that many people ought to be invited to serve for longer periods of time, longer tenure, longer service to the country if they are so inclined, (and to have policies with regard to ?) incentives for that to be likely the result; and third, that they have to meet the highest -- back to the standards issue that was raised earlier -- they have to meet the highest standards. That deals with the question of adverse information.

We proposed over the last several weeks a number of initiatives in each of these areas. I'm delighted that the Congress particularly, although not exclusively, in the fiscal 2007 national defense authorization has concluded that they are meritorious. So it adopted the approach that we're recommending on joint preparation, joint service, which takes ideas that came to us from the mid-'80s and modernizes them, brings them up to date; will make it, I think, easier to develop and properly assign officers with joint qualification. So I think that's probably the biggest news in the bill, even though it's highly technical in its specifics.

Q. (Off mike) -- get rid of some people, potentially, who aren't qualified, and make other changes, a move to a more performance-based retention --

MR. CHU: The military has long been a -- as you all appreciate -- a performance-based organization. That's the whole post-World War II emphasis on "up or out," particularly on the officer side, but also adopted on the enlisted side with high year of tenure or length-of- service type rules of various kinds to have made various grades by different points in your career.

This -- some of these changes, yes, do tune it up, but I don't think that's necessarily a fundamental change. I think the important changes in the bill, in my judgment, involve joint service, involve length of career and involve the application of our standards.

Q. Do you know when the implementation is --

MR. CHU: Well, the provisions vary in the implementation date. Some provisions are immediately effective. Some provisions have a date or a regulatory requirement that we have to fulfill before they can be applicable.

So it varies across the set that I've just described.

But the short answer to your question would be, over the next year, all of these provisions should be in place and actually operating on the department.

Q. Okay. Thanks.

MR. CHU: But some are effective immediately.

Any more questions?

Thank you very much for your attention and for your interest. I know this is a somewhat technical subject, but we appreciate your helping getting the word out. Thank you.

Q. Thank you, Dr. Chu.

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