DoD News Briefing - Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD
Bacon: Good afternoon. Charlie, you're right. I did pass up going to Boston with the secretary to be here and talk to you. The secretary is in Boston. He will speak at an event honoring the Coast Guard this afternoon and he will be joined by Admiral Loy, the commandant of the Coast Guard and by Governor Paul Cellucci of Massachusetts. He will recognize 12 Coast Guardsmen for their extraordinary performance and hold a press conference at 3:20 -- 1520. In addition, the Coast Guard will announce today that its drug seizures reached an all-time high in the current year -- current fiscal year.
Second, the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization will announce later today, if they haven't already, that they have completed two risk reduction flights, which are not intercept flights, but are designed to test various components of the national missile defense system that's currently under development. Each flight involved firing a Minuteman III from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California into the Kwajalein missile test range in the Central Pacific Ocean.
The first flight was designed to test the radar's ability to discriminate among objects in space, and 20 objects were released from the payload, and the ground-based radar then tried to discriminate among them. We don't have the results yet; obviously, they have to be analyzed. And then the next flight, which also took place today, was designed to test some of the components of integrated flight test six, which will take place sometime early next year.
I bring this to your attention to highlight the fact that although President Clinton did not make a decision to -- an affirmative decision to move ahead with building any part of the system at this stage, the testing of the system and the development of the system continues apace, and we're on our normal schedule to continue development of a national missile defense system.
Finally, I'd like to welcome all the guests here in blue, and a few in green and brown. They are Pentagon interns participating in a professional development seminar in media relations.
Is anybody here from the Defense Information School? And welcome to you. I was at the Defense Information School yesterday -- a very impressive facility -- and was shown around by our old friend Colonel Larry Icenogle, who is retiring tomorrow after 29-1/2 years in the Army, but the last several have been at the Defense Information School, which he's been running with great skill. So we will wish him well in his new venture, and his wife, Mary, who used to work here in the Public Affairs Office for many years.
With that, I'll take your questions.
Q: Ken, could you give us some comment on the JCS testimony on the Hill yesterday that -- in a nutshell, that increasing amounts of money are going to have to be added to the defense budget, and that now more than $60 billion, probably much more than $60 billion a year is going to be needed for procurement.
Bacon: Well, the first thing I'd say about the chiefs' testimony is that it was not new and it was completely expected. Secretary Cohen himself has said that we need to spend more on procurement. I think there are two sides to the procurement story. The first is that procurement has increased by 40 percent, from $43 billion in 1997 to $60 billion in the fiscal year that starts over the weekend. But Secretary Cohen has said we have to go higher. And in fact, in the five-year plan, it's scheduled to go up to $70 billion a year.
So a steady increase in procurement will be necessary, particularly as we move into the heavy costs of the Air Force and Navy and Marine Corps tactical air recapitalization programs. Each one of the services will be replacing older planes with newer planes -- a combination of the F-22 and the Joint Strike Fighter for the Air Force; a combination of the enhanced F-18 and the Joint Strike Fighter for the Navy; and the Osprey and the Joint Strike Fighter for the Marines.
In addition, of course, the Army is moving ahead with its transformation project, which will basically lighten up the Army, make it more mobile, with the same amount of lethality, maybe even increase lethality, over the next decade or so. And that also will require heavy investments in modernization and capital expenditure, so we will need more money for that.
But I think the chiefs have been very explicit, over a number of years, that while we are maintaining a very well-trained, ready, and well-equipped force, particularly for the first-to-fight deployed forces today, we do face capital spending needs in the future. And obviously we face the responsibility to continue keeping military and pay benefits high enough to retain and recruit new people in the military.
In that regard, since many of you have paid a lot of attention to possible recruiting shortfalls, I'd like to point out that earlier today Secretary Cohen and Secretary of the Army Caldera announced, first, that all services will meet their recruiting goals for the active-duty force in the current fiscal year. That's the first time since 1997 that that's been the case.
Second, the Army will meet its recruiting goals for both the active and the Reserve force in the current fiscal year.
And a third element that's important is that we are seeing higher retention rates in the services -- not in the Air Force, but in the other services. And I think this all reflects the progress that we've made on pay, on benefits, and on increasing the number of recruiters on the streets.
Q: Ken, what's the Defense Department doing in response to the comments reported in a Lansing newspaper today about the medical examiner who says that the death of a BioPort worker was apparently related to his taking the anthrax vaccine?
Bacon: Well, we're obviously very concerned by that report. It's only a newspaper report right now; we have not seen the autopsy report. We have launched, through the Armed Forces Institute for Pathology, our own study into the autopsy of the BioPort employee, Mr. Dunn. And we also will look into all the facts that we can gather as quickly as possible.
At the same time, the Food and Drug Administration has launched a similar concurrent but independent investigation into the facts behind this person's death. So far, we only have a newspaper report of an autopsy. We have not seen the autopsy report. We --
Q: Have you asked for it, or --
Bacon: I know that BioPort has asked for it and been denied it. I believe that we have asked for it, but remember, we just saw the newspaper report this morning. I believe we have asked for it and do not yet have it. Whether we can get it remains to be seen, because sometimes these are hard to get.
We only know a very small number of facts right now. We know that the autopsy report said that Mr. Dunn died of ventricular arythmia, which suggests that he may have had some heart problem; that the cause of death may have been associated with his heart.
Q: How do you know that if you haven't seen an autopsy report?
Bacon: That's what's been reported to us and that's what's been reported to us by BioPort. It was in the newspaper article, and it's also been reported to us in conversations about the autopsy report; that the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology officials have already had with medical officials associated with the autopsy.
So we know that the autopsy report listed the cause of death as ventricular arythmia.
Second, we know that Mr. Dunn died two months after having his last anthrax vaccination. He had been taking the anthrax vaccine for a number of years. He was a worker at the BioPort plant, both when it was under BioPort's control and before that when it was under the state of Michigan's control; I think he'd worked there for about eight years. And he was involved with handling the animals on which they test the anthrax vaccines.
So he had been taking the anthrax vaccine for a long period of time and his death occurred -- the death attributed to ventricular arythmia -- occurred two months after his last shot.
We also know that our forces continue to face a threat from anthrax; that Saddam Hussein had weaponized anthrax prior to 1990. As far as we know he still maintains supplies of anthrax, perhaps in weaponized form. And therefore, we believe it only prudent to continue the vaccination of the forces who are going to high-threat areas, and those are Southwest Asia, the Gulf area and Korea. So we will continue those vaccinations while we evaluate the facts associated with Mr. Dunn's death.
And we also know that the vaccine has a long history of safety. Nearly half a million members of the military have been vaccinated since we began our program. There's been a relatively low incidence of side effects and adverse reactions. The vaccine has been in use for 30 years, is approved by the FDA. And I checked with the medical authorities today; we're not aware of any deaths associated with the vaccine over a 30-year period.
Over that period, more than 2.5 million doses of the vaccine have been administered. So our posture right now is we need -- we need facts. We have a newspaper report, and we're trying to find out what's behind the report.
Q: On the same subject, what can you say about reports that squalene has been found in some of the vaccine lots?
Bacon: There have been recurrent reports of squalene. We have never found any confirmation of those reports. These reports go back to the use of anthrax vaccine during the Gulf War period. Squalene has not been used in vaccines for a long period of time, and we're not aware that there was any squalene in any of the vaccine.
Q: Where does the inoculation program stand? How short of vaccine supplies are you at this point?
Bacon: Well, we have -- we're now administering 17 and a half thousand doses a month. We have a supply of over 100,000 doses right now. So we have enough to take us into about March at the current rates. We're currently administering vaccines to soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who are deploying for more than 30 days to the Gulf area or to -- it's actually to the Gulf, it's boots on the ground, who will be on the ground in the Gulf for more than 30 days or in Korea for more than 30 days.
Q: This medical examiner who is quoted in the newspaper as saying that there was -- there's evidence of a connection between the anthrax and this man's death, he says also that he didn't actually do the autopsy. Have you had a chance to look into the man's record to determine whether there's any reason to question his reliability?
Bacon: I don't think right now we can answer questions like that. He's a medical examiner. I don't know what his specialty is. He did not -- you're right, he did not do the exam himself. It was subcontracted out to somebody else. Maybe that's because he's not a pathologist, but I don't know that for a fact.
Many medical examiners are elected. I don't know in this case whether or not he was elected. I just think we have to -- what we have to go on right now is the newspaper article. And we have to move from the newspaper article to a fuller appreciation of the facts. And that's going to involve getting the autopsy report. It may involve reviewing tissue samples. It may involve a whole series of medical and scientific tests.
And we're going to do this as quickly as possible.
Obviously, this is something that we take very seriously. But we can't act just on the basis of a newspaper report. We need more facts, and that's we've set up to -- we've set out to find more facts.
Q: Are there any legal restrictions on the release of this guy's autopsy report?
Bacon: Well, all I know is that the BioPort officials today said that they have requested the report and they have not gotten it. I have -- I know that we have not gotten the report yet. There are some people in the building who think it may be difficult to get, but I don't know on what basis they think that. I think we just have to proceed.
This is a situation where it benefits everybody involved: the family, the pathologist who did the report, who did the autopsy, the medical examiner who commissioned the autopsy and made the comments to the newspaper, the newspaper reporter who wrote the story, and us, and everybody in the military. It benefits us all to get to the facts as quickly as possible. And we need a lot more information than we currently have.
Q: Ken, a related question: can you give us a status report on where BioPort's facility is in terms of the FDA approval process? Why does that keep slipping?
Bacon: Well, I'm not aware that it's slipped any further. They're still working hard with the FDA. I don't know when that approval will take place. We're hoping it'll take place at the end of this year or early next year. But I can't update you on where that stands.
Q: When is the critical day, when you -- when you completely -- the cupboard is bare is March.
Bacon: Yeah. It's really -- it's March. It's in the spring. Early spring.
Q: Is -- two questions. The March date: is that unless FDA releases more vaccine, or is that it?
Bacon: Well, there are more vaccines that could be tested and released under certain circumstances. But we've made it very clear that we want to be very certain that the vaccines are sterile and pure and potent. But there are some other lots, as I understand it. But right now, on the course we're on, we would run out in March.
Q: And the vaccine that this -- that Mr. Dunn would have taken is the same vaccine that has been used for over 30 years, the same manufacturer, and -- ?
Bacon: Well, the only manufacturer was the Michigan facility, which was then acquired by BioPort. BioPort tore down the old plant.
Q: Well, BioPort hasn't produced this vaccine, it hasn't done anything outright.
Bacon: No. This is not a new vaccine. It's not a new lot. It's from the stored vaccine, the same supplies that we've been using on the military.
The same supplies that I've take, and that Secretary Cohen and General Shelton and many others have taken.
Q: Dr. Winegar had told me that there were five separate sources that have, I guess, responded to the CBD requests. Now, have -- they're being reviewed right now, but what's the status with them right now as far as -- (off mike)?
Bacon: I'm sorry?
Q: There are five other companies that --
Bacon: Right. I'm afraid I don't know. You're right. We have put out a request for proposal to set up an alternate production facility, and I just haven't followed that. We'll check into who those people are and where that stands. It'll take -- it'll take a long while to get an alternate facility up and running, but we have started that process of creating a second producer.
Q: Can I take it back to the chiefs' testimony yesterday --
Q:-- when you said there was nothing new, the way I heard all five gentlemen, they basically said that the path of climbing procurement, going up to 70 billion in 2005, I think it is, that that was not going to make it; that they were not going to be able to modernize with that, that that wasn't even close. And although they would not endorse a specific number, they said that the 90 billion per year procurement number was a lot closer than the current plan. That's what I heard every single one of them say, that it wasn't even close, that there was not going to be modernization with those numbers.
Bacon: Well, we've begun modernization. Everybody realizes that as you move from the development stage into the procurement stage into the production stage of new airplanes that the cost, the amount of money you spend every year, shoots up. Everybody knows that's going to happen. When that happens and how quickly it happens, of course, depends on whether the planes are produced on schedule, whether development continues on schedule.
By saying there's nothing new in that, what I meant was that it's long been known that in order to buy -- particularly all the tactical aircraft we have on the books right now -- is going to require more money than we're currently spending. Some of that money is provided in the budget, in that the procurement budget goes up. What the chiefs are saying is it'll have to go up further. How much it has to go up will depend on what the procurement plans are.
There's a new Quadrennial Defense Review coming out, coming up in the next administration. It will give the new secretary of Defense and the new administration a chance to review all sorts of questions -- the national military strategy, the force structure, the procurement schedule, modernization schedules, et cetera, and I'm sure all of that will be done.
It's also true that some members of the Joint Chiefs believe that we should increase the size of their forces. That's also a consideration that will have to be factored-in to the Quadrennial Defense Review, and the cost of that. If people were to decide to increase the size of one force or the other, they'd have to ask themselves several questions: In the current recruiting environment, could they recruit more people? What would be the costs of doing that? How much would they have to give up in terms of money for procurement or for readiness in order to get more people? Could they increase the top line enough to pay for more people to continue the increase in pay and benefits, to continue funding readiness, and to meet the higher procurement bill? All those are questions that will have to be answered.
Secretary Cohen has made it very clear that while we've done a lot to increase military spending, we've added -- the administration and Congress have added about $180 billion to the top line over the last several years, since 1998 -- we have to do more. And that was the message that the chiefs delivered as well.
Q: When the chiefs were asked specifically how much more they needed for modernization, recapitalization, for everything, they all gave figures which seemed to add up somewhere in the neighborhood of $50 billion. Is that a realistic possibility that the Pentagon -- that defense budget spending could increase by $50 billion a year?
Bacon: Well, just as you were making your entrance, I was explaining that next year there's going to be a Quadrennial Defense Review that will set the parameters of the defense program for the next four years, and that will determine a lot -- that will answer your question, to a certain extent.
But Secretary Cohen has made it clear, and many of the chiefs made it clear -- General Shelton made it clear yesterday that we have been fighting for four years now for more BRAC rounds that would save $3 billion a year. And this is money that could be channeled into procurement or channeled into readiness.
There are a combination of efficiencies and budget increases that we should look at for the future. That's what the chiefs were saying, that's what the secretary has said, and we'll figure out what the right amount is.
Q: Just so the record will reflect it -- just because I just came in doesn't mean I'm not listening to every word that you say -- (laughter) -- through the marvels of modern technology!
Bacon: Well, I appreciate that. But there might be a nano-second between your office and the briefing room when you would miss some very, very precious words of wisdom.
Q: Pearls --
Q: Well, I might have missed this, then, but just to go back to the missile test, when precisely did these two missile tests take place? And is there a reason that they weren't announced ahead of time?
Bacon: They took place at 1:01 a.m., Pacific Daylight Time, and 3:01 a.m., Pacific Daylight Time.
Q: Which was the one that tested the discrimination?
Bacon: The one that tested the discrimination was Risk Reduction Flight Number 9. And that took place at 1:01 a.m., Pacific Daylight Time. That was the one that tested the discrimination capability of the ground-based radar.
Q: And what kinds of objects, and how many were there?
Bacon: Ask BMDO [Ballistic Missile Defense Organization] for that. They'll have that information.
Q: Well, maybe you're going to say the same thing to this, but were these -- I don't remember these being on any schedule, and -- or where did these come from? They sort of do what some of the earlier tests that were going to look at a number of targets sets, which were simplified, and it seems like they're sort of a replacement for those. But when did they come up with the idea to do this?
Bacon: Well, first of all, these were piggybacked on Minuteman flights that the Air Force already had planned.
Q: Verification flights or whatever they are?
Bacon: Yeah. So they clearly have been planning to do this for some time, but I can't tell you exactly how long they've been in the schedule. I mean, there are a whole series of tests that have been in the schedule for a long time, and I assume these are among them.
Q: So --
Bacon: Not every test we do is an intercept test. There have been a lot of tests that test various components of the system without intercepting.
Q: This didn't do anything except for -- this was just from targets from Vandenberg and ground situation --
Q:-- nothing being launched for elsewhere?
Bacon: Exactly right.
Bacon: Exactly right.
Q: So why were -- why wasn't this announced ahead of time or --
Bacon: I don't know. I just learned about it this morning myself. I mean, I don't think there's anything nefarious about this.
Q: Well, the other thing is, there was -- you know, we had -- the last test, the last intercept test, wasn't fully successful. And there were some problems identified with the boosters. I mean, was anything about these two tests designed to look at any problem that developed in the last test? And was there anything about this that was testing any new fixes or anything that might have been aimed at -- because you said this was a -- what was it? -- risk reduction flight.
Q: And it seems to imply that you're testing things to make the system more reliable or something.
I'm just wondering whether --
Bacon: Well, clearly in the first part we're testing the discrimination capability of the ground-based radar, which is important; the phased array radars. But the problems we've had have been with the interceptors and they've been with the kill vehicles. And we didn't test an interceptor or a kill vehicle in this case.
Q: Well, last time the problem was with the booster. The booster failed to separate --
Bacon: Right. We didn't test that. It was the booster on the interceptor; it wasn't the booster on the target rocket.
Q: And that doesn't use a -- this kind of booster?
Bacon: We're developing a new booster, as a matter of fact. I mean, this booster is on its last moments of its life -- the booster that didn't work is in the last moments of its life and we're developing a new booster.
Q: And on --
Q: Ken -- excuse me. You said these two tests were previously scheduled so --
Bacon: I said I assume they were previously scheduled because they were piggybacked on -- I mean, I don't think somebody woke up this morning -- (laughter) -- and said let's have a couple of risk-reduction flights.
Q: You said they were previously scheduled.
Bacon: Right. I said I assume they were previously scheduled, you know.
Q: Do you know how much they cost?
Q: These aren't part of the 19 in the series at all?
Bacon: Give me a break. (Laughter.) I know everything I've told you about these tests. Ask the BMDO; they'll have the rest.
Q: Just back on anthrax for one moment. Is there -- was there any consideration at all about suspending inoculations for U.S. troops? And, if not, what would have to happen for that to be a consideration? Would there have to be a more definite link found between the vaccine and this man's death or -- ?
Bacon: It's not proper to speculate at this stage. We have a newspaper report; that's all we have. We haven't seen the autopsy report. We haven't been able to examine any tissue samples. We have not had any detailed conversations with the doctors involved. It's just premature to speculate.
On the basis of the newspaper report, we're setting out to get more facts, and we hope to do that as quickly as possible. We hope that within the next week or so, we can know much more.
But all we're doing is going on a newspaper report, and as I pointed out, we know -- we know only two things as this stage. One, that the cause of death listed in the autopsy report is ventricular arythmia, which suggests a heart problem; and two, that the man died two months after he had -- approximately two months after he had his last vaccination -- or it was actually a booster shot because I think he'd been through the whole series before.
That's all we know, and we need to find out much more.
Q: The Army secretary was asked this morning whether it was true that he had delayed the completion or release of the No Gun Ri investigation report until after the election. He said that was not true. Are you aware or is Secretary Cohen aware of any discussion about linking the release of the report to the election?
Bacon: I don't think the report is done yet, so I don't think there's anything to release at this stage. My understanding is the report is still being completed, and it's probably premature to talk about release until the report is done.
Q: Has there been any discussion about a connection to the election?
Bacon: Well, the report will be released when it's ready to be released, but it's not done at this stage.
Q: You're not saying directly that there's no connection between the election and the release of the report; that's what I'm asking you.
Bacon: I'm saying that we set out to do a very thorough report. The report is not done; we're still working on that. And when the report's ready to be released, we'll release it. It's not connected to the election, it's connected to when we complete the report.
Q: Thank you.
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.