United States Department of Defense United States Department of Defense

News Transcript

Press Operations Bookmark and Share

Transcript


DoD News Briefing, Tuesday, April 18, 2000 - Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA
April 18, 2000 2:00 PM EDT

Tuesday, April 18, 2000 - 2:00 p.m. EDT

MR. BACON: Welcome. Good afternoon. Let me start with one announcement and two welcomes.

The announcement is that tomorrow, Wednesday, at 11:00 a.m., Secretary Cohen will host a full honors ceremony in recognition of Rudy de Leon, the new deputy secretary of Defense. This will be his formal welcome to the Pentagon as deputy secretary. He was sworn in a couple of weeks ago, obviously, and has been on the job.

The highlight of the ceremony, aside from the general ruffles and flourishes that go along with such an impressive ceremony, will be participation of 80 Junior ROTC cadets from Columbia, South Carolina. As you know, the ROTC -- the Junior ROTC program is a nationwide program that includes 410,000 participants now. And many of them go on to join the military, but whether they do or they don't, it's a program that gives discipline and direction and excitement to high school students. And Mr. de Leon saw some of these Junior ROTC people perform and asked that they come to his ceremony.

Second, I'd like to welcome a group of students from Indiana University, Hoosiers, who are breaking away for some time in Washington. We welcome you here. They are assigned to various Washington, D.C., agencies. How many of you are here from the University of Indiana? Great. Welcome.

And finally, we also have a group of Russian visitors here. Where are you? Welcome to the Pentagon briefing. These are 10 Russian journalists and press secretaries -- see, they send on a one- to-one ratio a journalist with a press secretary to visit in the United States, to -- as part of our international visitors program. So we're glad to have you here.

With that, I'll take your questions. Yes, Tammy?

Q: On Area 51, a company yesterday released some Russian satellite imagery of an area that apparently is a classified U.S. test facility known colloquially as Area 51. The question is what sort of security concerns does the department have about the commercial availability of imagery like that?

MR. BACON: Well, since Sputnik, we have operated in a world of overhead surveillance, and we have had more than 40 years to learn how to deal with overhead surveillance.

And we, as most countries in the world, understand that satellites fly around and that they take pictures and we know very precisely when they fly, what their courses are, and we know that about all types of satellites. So I think we've learned to live in a world with satellite surveillance and we will continue to take whatever measures we need to take to protect our dearest activities and secrets.

Q: Can you say whether any aspect of national security was compromised by the publishing of the photographs on the Internet?

MR. BACON: The part that struck me the most about the news coverage of those photographs was the conclusive statement that no aliens were observed near Groom Lake, and I was gratified by that because we've long said that this is not a center for UFO or alien activity. So I was very glad that commercial satellite photos were interpreted by some leading news analyst to make the same conclusion.

Q: But nevertheless, did these compromise any national security? Did it present any national security concerns at all, or is it simply a matter of no information was revealed that was in any way compromised?

MR. BACON: I'm not aware that any information was revealed that compromised our activities.

Q: Okay, and just to be clear, since this is a matter of some speculation for years about what exactly goes on in Area 51, what can you say goes on at this test facility?

MR. BACON: Darn little. All I can tell you is that we have a right, as a sovereign nation -- in fact, a responsibility to the citizens of the United States -- to develop various weapons from time to time. Sometimes these weapons are developed in classified locations, and we have several locations where we do this, as do a number of other countries in the world.

Q: And although you've talked about this sort of obliquely and somewhat satirically, can you just say for the record whether or not, can you confirm or deny whether there are any alien spacecraft, alien -- anything extraterrestrial stored or at any time stored at this facility?

MR. BACON: I think I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that we have no classified program that relies on aliens from outer space. (Laughter.)

Q: Another non-denial. (Laughter.) (Off mike.)

MR. BACON: Chris?

Q: A sort of serious side of this Area 51 thing is there's been some litigation on worker conditions and, I think, toxic contamination and things like that, which I think the president acted a couple of months ago to exempt this entire area from that sort of thing.

Is that right?

MR. BACON: The president did issue an order on February 1st applying to a location near Groom Lake, Nevada. And he did in fact exempt it from various disclosures to unauthorized persons, and some of those disclosures involve environmental operations -- waste disposal, et cetera -- at the site. And that's a publicly available document.

Q: But does that -- what is the effect on this litigation? Does that just end -- just throws out these workers' plights?

MR. BACON: Well, I haven't looked into the litigation issue for some time, so I should probably withhold comment on it. My -- the last time I looked at this was several years ago, and I don't know what's changed since then.

Q: I think there was a recent -- I think it had moved forward recently, but I didn't know how this presidential order affected that.

MR. BACON: Well, it is probably better for environmental lawyers to comment on that. But the litigation, as I understand it, has to do with health effects -- alleged health effects by people who have worked there over a long period of time. And the -- I haven't kept up with the litigation, but the last I knew, there had been no conclusive finding of a link between health effects and working near Groom Lake. But that was several years ago, and it could have changed.

Yes, Pam?

Q: Can we talk about Taiwan a little bit? Were there any recommendations that the Pentagon made that didn't get accepted by the White House?

MR. BACON: Well, on the Taiwan issue, basically, the Pentagon recommended a package, which I'm not going to be able to describe in great detail from the podium. And the package was adopted by the president's national security team and by the president himself, and has been presented to Taiwan. And it was, I think, a very good process that involved a number of governmental agencies. There was a good discussion.

I think the important thing to stress here is that it is part of a process, that over the years the United States has authorized fairly extensive arms sales to Taiwan under the Taiwan Relations Act, which commits us to meeting Taiwan's defensive needs, helping Taiwan meet its defensive needs.

And we have sold approximately $18 billion worth of arms to Taiwan over an extended period of time. These include F-15s (sic) [F-16s] and some frigates, Knox Class frigates, some air defense missiles, radars, tanks to defend against amphibious invasion, and other types of equipment, including Patriot missiles. So this was another part of that ongoing process to help Taiwan meet its defensive needs.

Q: Was PAC 3 part of the package?

MR. BACON: I don't think I'll get into what was in the package and what was not in the package. If something wasn't in it this year, it could well be in it in some future year.

Yes?

Q: What's the next step now in this whole process?

MR. BACON: Well, the next step is the way we handle arms sales to Taiwan traditionally -- at some appropriate time, Taiwan will agree to specific packages that will include numbers, price, delivery schedules, training and support packages. And at that time, the Pentagon will make proposals for arms sales to Congress.

And the way the system works, we propose an arms sale. If Congress doesn't object, after 30 days, we can go ahead with the transaction. If Congress does object for some reason, it obviously has the right to hold hearings to explore the reasons for the sale, the dynamics of the sale, et cetera. I don't anticipate that there will be problems with these, when they are formally proposed, but it may take some time for the details to be worked out and the formal proposals to go to Congress.

Q: What can you also tell us about meetings that Pentagon officials have had with the Chinese CNO over the last couple of days? Has this whole issue come up? Have you discussed it with him?

MR. BACON: Well, we do not consult with the People's Republic of China about our responsibilities to help Taiwan meet its defensive needs.

Obviously, the Chinese have strong views about our relationship with Taiwan. So do we, and our relationship with Taiwan is well-specified in law and we have explained that law to the people from the Mainland many, many times, and I think they understand what the law requires us to do.

We have also made it very clear to them, and Secretary Cohen has done this on several occasions, we've made it very clear to the PRC that because we, under the law, help Taiwan respond to defensive needs, the greater the threat posed by China, the greater Taiwan's defensive needs will be. And we have called on both sides to show restraint -- particularly on the Chinese -- to show restraint in their arms developments and deployments and use of arms.

Q: Can I just ask one last question? Could you assess -- do you still see China increasing or upgrading or expanding its missile positions along the coastline of China facing Taiwan?

MR. BACON: Yes.

Q: Can you quantify some of this for us?

MR. BACON: Well, Admiral Blair quantified it here in a briefing. He said they're adding about 50 surface-to-surface missiles a year, and nothing has changed that pace as far as I know, from Admiral Blair's briefing. It was about two months ago.

Q: Even though you won't outline what's in this package of arms, can you say whether or not some of the weapons are designed to counter that specific threat? Are there systems or weapons that would be defensive in nature that would help against a threat from missiles?

MR. BACON: Well, as I pointed out, we in the past have sold Taiwan versions of the Patriot Missile, and it's no secret that last year we made a decision to help Taiwan upgrade its early warning radars, and that process will continue. Obviously, early warning radars can be used to alert populations and militaries to airplane attacks as well as missile attacks, and we are in the process of working closely with Taiwan to help it upgrade its early warning radar operations.

Q: Is there anything in the package that represents a new capability for Taiwan, or is this adding to stuff they already have?

MR. BACON: No, there are several weapons that were approved for the first time, some that we've denied in the past and approved this time around.

Again, it's a recognition that the threat seems to have increased, and therefore their defensive capabilities can reasonably be expected to increase as well.

Yeah, Pam?

Q: On a different subject, Great Britain has approved the sale of 75 percent of its ARPA, its Defense Research Agency. And I hear you have something to say about it. (Laughs.)

MR. BACON: Well, we've been working very closely with the British. We've had many discussions with them over this. And we're satisfied with the way they're proceeding.

Q: You don't think they're trying to impact U.S. national security at all, having an organization that we've been working so closely with over the years all of a sudden going public?

MR. BACON: I think that we'll be able to continue to work very closely with the British. And I also think that they are aware of some of the national security risks that can occur from spinning off this research organization, and I think they are prepared to deal with those in a reasonable way.

Q: Could you elucidate what some of those risks are?

MR. BACON: Well, I think you appreciate them, based on your question.

Q: I'm not allowed to make them up, though --

MR. BACON: But obviously, as I said earlier, countries have a right -- really, a responsibility -- to develop weapons to protect their people. And the British certainly have an aggressive, successful program doing that. They have over the years. And we worked very closely with them in a number of respects, and I anticipate we'll still be able to. But nothing in this privatization of 75 percent of their research operation is going to cause us to lessen our cooperation with Great Britain.

Yes?

Q: What's the status of the investigation of the V-22 crash? And when might we expect to hear what data, if any, has been retrieved from the black box?

MR. BACON: The black box, as you know, has been found. It was checked out to find out whether it had in fact survived and recorded the 227 sets of data it was designed to record. The Marines have found that it has in fact survived and protected the data, and now that's being analyzed.

As I understand it, this could take several weeks before the analysis is complete. And the Marines will then make a decision about what caused the crash, after they complete the analysis.

This is called the black box. In Marine parlance, it is known as a crash survivable memory unit or CSMU. And it was manufactured by a company called Smiths Industry. Smiths Industry retrieved it, found out that the black box survived the crash, and then turned it over to Boeing, a Boeing unit in Philadelphia, for translation into raw data from the digital stuff inside the box. And that data will be analyzed at Patuxent River, as I understand it, as the Marines and contractors work to find out exactly what happened.

Q: Is this device unique to the B-22, or do other military aircraft have anything similar to this?

MR. BACON: Many do have similar devices to this one.

Q: (Inaudible) --

MR. BACON: This one -- because the aircraft is newer, my guess is that the crash survivable memory unit may be a little newer and more advanced than some in older aircraft. But it's similar to what we have in many aircraft.

Q: When you said this analysis could take several weeks, will it be several weeks before the B-22s fly again? Or do you know if --

MR. BACON: I think that's a question for the Marine Corps to determine.

My guess is that, when they made a decision to start flying the planes again, they'll take a phased approach. And they'll start out having test pilots fly them. And then they'll move on to flight operations with crews but without Marines aboard; in other words, the flight crews will be aboard, but not groups of passengers. And then the third phase would be for the planes to fly again with Marines.

Yeah?

Q: So in a sense, you are saying that this production aircraft that was going through operational evaluation, will sort of go back to an earlier test phase?

MR. BACON: No, I didn't say that. I said that I think they'll have a phased approach to complete flight operations, when they decide to do that.

Yeah, Tammy?

Q: A new subject?

MR. BACON: Sure.

Q: Bernie Rostker, who has been nominated to become personnel chief here, apparently has made a proposal to reduce the number of military personnel on food stamps by tightening eligibility requirements.

I'm wondering, is this a proposal that's been endorsed by Secretary Cohen? And could you explain a little bit how this is going to help the situation, when the Defense Department has taken great pains to increase what's available to troops in terms of pay and benefits in the last couple of years?

MR. BACON: The issue here is equity, and this is really the obverse side of what Secretary Cohen is doing with the basic allowance for housing. Right now, we have an inequitable situation where people who live on base receive all of their housing free. People who live off base are supposed to receive an allowance that covers 85 percent of their cost of housing off base. So right away, there's an inequity between people who live off base and who live on base, in that people who live off have to pay 15 percent out of pocket, by law. And in fact, they actually end up paying 19 percent out of pocket. So they have to pay more for their housing than people who live on base.

To correct that inequity, Secretary Cohen has proposed gradually to eliminate this disparity so that the -- basing the allowance for housing for people living off base will cover the complete cost of their housing if they pay the average rent or cost of living off base.

As I said, the food stamp issue is the obverse of that, in certain respects. It's because people who live on base get free housing, but that housing is not counted as part of their total income. So for the purposes of determining who qualifies for food stamps, you can have two people of equal rank with equal time in service and equal family sizes. One, if he lives on base and gets free housing, which is not included in his or her income base, gets food stamps; qualifies for food stamps. The other, who lives off base and, actually, may have to be paying more because on average, be paying 19 percent of the cost of housing out of pocket, gets no food stamps because the housing allowance is counted as income.

Now, let me give you an example of how this works out. We're focusing on an E-5 -- that's a sergeant in the Army with six years of service, household size of five; husband, wife, three children. The basic pay, starting in January, for this E-5 would be $1,691.70 per month. If a person lived on base, he'd get no housing allowance because the person would get free housing. Both would get the subsistence allowance to cover food of $227.40 a month.

So the total monthly cash payment to the person living on base would be $1,919.10 a month. The person gets free housing. That person would qualify for food stamps.

A person of exactly the same rank, family size, time of service, living off base, would get everything the same, except would get a housing allowance of $530 a month. So that person's total cash take for a month would be $2,449.10. That person would not qualify for food stamps.

Now the person who lives off base is disadvantaged in several other ways. First, he has to pay a certain amount of income out of pocket for his housing, because, by definition, the housing only covers -- right now the allowance covers 81 percent of the total cost of housing. In addition, the person may live far away from the base, far away from the unit day-care center, far away from the commissary, far away from the base schools, and may have a substantial commute.

The person living on base faces none of those additional costs. He or she lives close to the commissary, maybe within walking distance, close to duty station, close to day-care facilities, and close to the base school facilities, if they're on base, or, if they're just off base, close to them just off base.

So the issue that Bernie Rostker is trying to deal with -- and he's the person who's been nominated to be the undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness -- is how to make this equitable between people who live on base and people who live off base. That's the issue.

Q: So why not increase those who are eligible for it, as opposed to make it tougher for part of the population?

MR. BACON: Well, we have -- there's debate over the -- over how to deal with people on food stamps in the military. In a perfect world, nobody would be on food stamps, and nobody in the military would be on food stamps. In fact, the military comes closer to perfection in this respect than the general population as a whole. Approximately 7.5 percent of the general population qualifies for food stamps. Less than 1 percent of the military population qualifies for food stamps.

One of the proposals that's been made for dealing with people on food stamps is to give low-ranking people with large families more money than are paid to people of similar rank with smaller families. The military has decided that that type of inequitable payment would not be fair, and so we've been looking for other ways to deal with the problem.

The main ways we found so far are, one, the largest pay increase in a generation, 4.8 percent, last year.

Many people in the military will get an additional pay increase this year, up to 5.5 percent, so they will have a pay increase of over 10 percent in a relatively short period of time; and to increase the basic allowance for housing for those who live off base, which will eliminate -- it will eliminate the food-stamp problem for some people. That's the way we have tried to deal with it, by making across-the- board salary increases and benefit payments to everybody in the military. And...

Q: (Inaudible.)

MR. BACON: Yes?

Q: (Inaudible) -- see how this comes across, though? It comes across as the Pentagon, embarrassed that some of its troops are on food stamps, has decided simply to change the rule so they don't qualify for food stamps.

MR. BACON: Well, there will always be some people who qualify for food stamps because we will always have some people in relatively low ranks with relatively low pay and relatively large families. And I would anticipate that -- some of them would continue to qualify for food stamps. So this is not something that's going to eliminate the food-stamp problem. We have tried to eliminate the food-stamp problem through steps that affect everybody, and the primary way is a pay increase.

Q: Now you're saying that that young sergeant, hypothetical sergeant, you gave in the example there, the one that lives on base, doesn't deserve food stamps?

MR. BACON: I am saying that -- no, I am not saying that at all, because I think that whether somebody deserves food stamps is really a function of family size and income. What I am saying is that we are moving toward -- that Bernie Rostker is proposing to move toward a system that provides equal treatment to those who live off base and those who live on base. And the reason is that the way the system operates now, there are certain inequities built into the system.

Yes?

Q: Can you just help us understand a little bit; how are the requirements under this proposal, going to be tightened? And why not just have housing declared as income, regardless of whether someone lives on base or off base?

MR. BACON: That's what would happen.

Q: (Inaudible.)

MR. BACON: Right now, housing is declared as income if you live off base but not declared as income if you live on base. This would equalize it; that's the whole point.

Q: So --

MR. BACON: It would treat all housing equally.

Q: Okay --

MR. BACON: So it would be part of income whether you live on base or off base. They would impute a value for the housing for those who live on base, and it would be included in their income --

Q: What -- can you -- can I just follow?

Q: In other words, just a day after tax --

MR. BACON: Just a "sec," just a "sec," just a "sec." Let --

Q: Can I just try --

MR. BACON: Yeah?

Q: -- and understand two other points? Do you have any statistics as to what the changes -- how many less people would be on food stamps as a result of this?

MR. BACON: I am afraid I do not. In general, 60 percent of the people who receive food stamps live on base. So they are people who -- 60 percent of the people in the military who receive food stamps live on base, which means that the value of their housing is not included in their income for determining food-stamp eligibility. Some percentage of those would no longer qualify for food stamps, but I can't tell you what percentage that would be.

Q: Ken, I just -- I want to follow up also on Jamie's question. Regardless of what people may or may not think, what concerns do you have, and does the secretary have, about the message that this sends to the troops and what it's going to do to morale, to have people forced off of food stamps?

MR. BACON: Well, I think you have to look at the overall force, not just a segment of the force. And as I said, the idea here is to design an more equitable system for accounting for compensation and a more equitable system of assigning benefits of various sorts.

Now remember, food-stamp eligibility is determined by the Department of Agriculture; it's not determined by the Defense Department.

So what would change here is the definition of income for determining food stamp eligibility.

I tried to point out -- in fact, I did point out, whether you heard it or not, or registered it -- that there are already substantial inequities between people who live on base and who live off base. It costs more to live off base, and there is more inconvenience for people who live off base than people who live on base. And one of the things that Secretary Cohen is trying to do is to reduce some of those differentials.

Yes, Pam?

Q: What this comes down to, though, is -- I mean, at the end of the day, is taking money out of people's pockets, rather than putting money into it. Why go that way? Why not undeclare the income allowance that you give to people off base, so that more people are able to have more cash in their pockets, which is the whole point behind giving all these pay raises?

MR. BACON: Well, that's what we're doing. We are trying to put more money into people's pockets, and the two ways we've done that is by increasing pay for all people, which will have an impact by reducing the number of people who qualify for food stamps, and by increasing the basic allowance for housing for people who live off base, which will also --

Q: But there's this whole sector of people on base, who now have to take more money out of their already pretty meager paychecks, if they're getting food stamps, and put it towards food, towards making their kids have milk and bread and peanut butter to go to school with. I mean, that just -- it doesn't look good.

MR. BACON: Well --

Q: It's fine for the people off base; they're getting more money. But people who -- I'm just not sure that many people -- I don't think anyone -- any lieutenant colonel that's living on base is begrudging anyone who has to have food stamps.

Q: Well, just put the same question another way. For instance, to address this inequity, why not, for instance, change the housing allowance that goes to people off base, so that it goes, for instance, directly to -- so they get essentially subsidized housing --

Q: So it goes to the account -- yeah.

Q: -- and then they would also qualify for food stamps?

Q: Right.

Q: And when you talk about equal treatment, it sounds like you want to treat them equally badly, instead of treating them equally well.

Q: (Chuckles.)

MR. BACON: Well, I disagree, actually, with that. I think that's an objectionable characterization.

Actually, people who go into the military, if you look at their total compensation, the fact that what their basic pay is, what their housing allowance is, whether they live -- whether they get free housing on base or they get a housing allowance off base; the fact that they get free medical care; the fact that they frequently get, at a decent rate, some of the best day care in the country; and if they have access to a Department of Defense school system, frequently go to some of the best schools around; the compensation package is actually -- for a high school graduate, a young high school graduate in the military, is better than people who would be working in McDonald's or gas stations, or other entry-level jobs.

I don't think that the military is anything to be ashamed of in this regard. We do get obviously into issues when people have large families at a young age. We try to deal with those in a number of ways, including pay increases and including making day care as available as possible. But -- and we will continue to try to work this problem.

As I said, our goal would be not to have anybody on food stamps in the entire country, but particularly in the military, and in that regard, we are much better off in the military than the country as is a whole.

Yes?

Q: Assuming with the working assumption that no one in the military is fraudulently on food stamps, that everyone who is getting them genuinely needs them today, as we speak, what does the Pentagon recommend that people who are on food stamps who will no longer qualify for them, then, once this goes into effect, what are these people supposed to do?

MR. BACON: Well, as I say, people who live on bases have a number of benefits that people who live off base don't have. One is ready access to a commissary, which has -- concentrates on providing lower-cost food to help people meet some of the costs of military life, and we will continue to work very aggressively to resolve these problems.

But I think it's clear from recent reporting, and I think you understand this, that a large part of this problem deals with -- a large part of this issue -- reflects the fact that different groups of people are treated -- their income is treated in different ways, or their total compensation is treated in --

Q: Can you also, just another question, can we assume, since you're discussing this from the podium publicly that this proposal has Secretary Cohen's support?

MR. BACON: I actually have not discussed this with Secretary Cohen, so I can't tell you that it does or it doesn't, but I know that the idea of equity certainly has his support, and that's one of the reasons that he's been working hard to increase pay and benefits.

Q: (Off mike) -- at this point a formal proposal, or is it just an idea that was floated by Bernie Rostker during his confirmation hearing? What is the -- how should we refer to this concept? Is this something that the Pentagon advocates?

MR. BACON: Well, it is something that he has suggested and said that he wanted to deal with this inequity, so I suppose that when he takes over his job, this is one of the proposals he'll make and we'll consider it.

Q: Just a point of information. You cited some percentages and some other things. But do you have any sort of rough number of how many U.S. military personnel qualify for food stamps?

MR. BACON: Yes, less than 1 percent of the total population of the military, compared with 7.5 percent of the U.S. population. That works out for the military to be under 12,000 people [current estimate is 6,300 military members currently qualify for food stamps].

Q: A couple of questions. A very good explanation of a complicated subject, by the way.

MR. BACON: Thank you.

Q: But the housing allowance, is that -- we are just a day after national tax day, you know -- is that stuff that is taxable income, the housing allowance for --

MR. BACON: The housing allowance is not taxable.

Q: So it's reported to the Department of Agriculture, for purposes of food stamps, but it's not taxed --

MR. BACON: Right.

Q: -- right -- for either group?

Now, the other thing I wanted to know; obviously, there people --

MR. BACON: Well, one group doesn't get --

Q: Right --

MR. BACON: -- it gets housing --

Q: Right.

MR. BACON: -- but it doesn't -- and that's not taxable either.

Q: (Inaudible) -- you will start to impute some value to their off-base housing, right?

MR. BACON: And that would not be taxable.

Q: Right, would not be taxable --

MR. BACON: Right.

Q: -- but it would be Department of Agriculture-relevant, right?

MR. BACON: Well, if the Department of Agriculture goes along with this. They set the rules for this.

Q: Right. Got you. Okay. (Laughter.)

Q: Have they?

Q: We are talking -- sorry --

Q: I just want to -- that would take an act of Congress to changing the law?

MR. BACON: I am afraid I don't know --

Q: You don't know.

MR. BACON: -- how the Department of Agriculture rules are changed.

Q: (Inaudible) -- the other thing about the people on base or off base; as I understand it, as you go through your military career, some of the time you are going to live on base; some you're going to live off. And these are not two groups that are -- you know, you live on base your entire career or vice versa, right? So you might go from one group back and forth during your career?

MR. BACON: Yes. Most people would.

Q: Okay.

MR. BACON: Yeah.

There is a strong preference among many in the military to live on base because you're closer to the services that are provided on base.

Q: Right. It's -- right -- that's --

MR. BACON: And the out-of-pocket costs living on base is less than living off base.

Q: Sure.

Now on the commissary benefit, this is something that basically everybody gets. I guess, it's more convenient if you lived on the base, but everyone is coming to the base at some point. So you have got that access. What do you estimate that as being worth, in comparison to buying in the open market your groceries?

MR. BACON: I am sure that we have guesstimates on that, but I don't know what they are. We'll try to get the answer.

(Pause.)

Q: Thank you.

Q: Wait. Yes. (Laughter, cross talk.) Iraq?

MR. BACON: Like a Jack in the Box. (Laughter.)

Q: We thought you were about to end --

Q: The tanker. The tanker.

MR. BACON: The tanker?

Q: Anything new on the tanker?

MR. BACON: Nothing new on the tanker,

Q: Why is it taking so long? The last one --

MR. BACON: It's a complex problem.

Q: -- Last time it was a couple days?

MR. BACON: That's right. This is a complex problem.

I would anticipate that it will be resolved relatively soon, from this point on. But --

Q: Is the issue that this ship just has more different holes or something? What's the --

MR. BACON: The issue is one that we will explain once it's resolved, but not before. You know, you wouldn't want to go to half a movie, right? You'd want to wait until you could go and sit down and get the end of the film, and so we're saving you from the mystery of ending in the middle without the --

Q: There is a mini-series construct -- (laughter) -- where you give an installment.

Q: Last night, Secretary Danzig, the Navy secretary, made a speech, and he talked about how he didn't think the military ought to be the leader in social change regarding homosexuals in the military, but it ought to reflect the consensus of society once society has come to an understanding about things like gay rights. Does that reflect the view of the Pentagon, as well?

MR. BACON: Well, the way we deal with homosexuality in the military is specified by law, and right now, we have a law which we're doing our level best to obey and to implement fairly to everybody, and we'll continue to do that.

Yes?

Q: There's been some recent reporting about the dearth of applicants to the service academies. Is that something you perceive as a problem? Is there something you're doing about that as a department, or is that being left to the services?

MR. BACON: It has not emerged as a department issue at this stage. I think it's one that the services are dealing with. I'm happy to say that the son of my military assistant, Colonel Ogilvie, is going to West Point next year, so West Point is recruiting good people -- at least one good person. And I think that, you know, this again reflects a series of good trends that are happening in the country. The financing of college education has become much easier for many people going to college. It's one of the reasons why the percentage of high school graduates going on to college has increased to 67 percent from 57 percent during the Clinton administration. And one of the advantages of the service academies is that it's an all- paid education. To the extent that paying for a good education becomes less of a concern to people, it might be one advantage that the service academies give up.

I think that there are many other reasons to go to a service academy, obviously. It's very good leadership training that benefits not only people who want to make a career in the military, but people who want to meet their military obligation and then move on to other jobs in life outside the military.

Q: Thank you.

MR. BACON: You're welcome.

THIS TRANSCRIPT WAS PREPARED BY THE FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE, INC., WASHINGTON, DC. FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE IS A PRIVATE COMPANY. FOR OTHER DEFENSE RELATED TRANSCRIPTS NOT AVAILABLE THROUGH THIS SITE, CONTACT FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE AT (202) 347-1400.