Media Roundtable with Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness David Chu
Chu: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us. I've asked a couple of my people to join us -- Sharon Cooper who is effectively the Chief Operating Officer of Consumer Resources Activity and Bill Carr, who watches out for Military Personnel Policy, to join me. They'll answer all the difficult questions. [Laughter].
Let me provide some context here which I think is important in understanding this issue. I know most of you are aware of this context but I think it is important to just very briefly summarize it.
Thirty-two years ago now, I guess, President Nixon made a very important decision that returned the United States to its tradition which is that we staff our military on a voluntary basis. It's easy to forget for those of us who were born during the Cold War, grew up in that period of time, that the United States typically, unlike continental European powers but like the United Kingdom, has typically staffed its military with volunteers. That was true during the Civil War, by the way. A very interesting point. Much of the Civil War staffing was volunteers. Only during the 1st World War and the 2nd World War and then in the period after the 2nd World War in the Cold War, did the United States use conscription, and Nixon decided in '73 to end that.
We went to what people call the All Volunteer Force, and that issue of course has been debated in our political system.
Recently, as you recall last year I think in the legislative cycle, Mr. Rangels's bill was brought up and lost, to return to conscription, lost 400 to 2. So the country has I think very decisively, even Rangel voted against it. [Laughter]. Why did you propose this? [Laughter]. So the country has spoken decisively, we want a volunteer force.
I think what some of you, and I know Vince appreciates this, know in a way the phrase volunteer force is a bit of a misnomer. This is a recruited force. Professional recruiters speak of it this way, as an all recruited force because while I suspect some in the public think people simply walk in the door and sign up, that's not how it works. People have to be made aware that we're interested in them, that they are good candidates for military service, and we have to convey to them what the attributes of military service entail and what the elements that might be attractive to them include. And of course for those who are seeking to go on to college, one of the very important benefits this country established starting in the 2nd World War in different forms over the decades I would acknowledge, is the GI Bill. That we will help finance your college education if you serve in the military.
For those who are headed to college already, one of the very important attributes in the last 10-15 years has been the ROTC scholarship. The majority of ROTC commissionees these days are scholarship students, so the ROTC scholarship is a very important way for young Americans who want to go, particularly to a private university which can be, as any of you paying the bills these days know, very expensive. It can be a very important way particularly for a middle class youngster who's not going to qualify for financial aid under most standards, to be able to help finance that $40,000 a year bill which is typically what it costs at a private university today.
And it's even aimed at people in graduate school or acceding graduate school. The Health Professional Scholarship Program for medical students. It's aimed -- and I have personal knowledge of this -- at people who have finished a graduate program. We recruit doctors. Our recruiters send out nice little notes to doctors saying wouldn't you like to think about coming and serving in our facilities?
To sustain this we need a source of names and addresses, or more accurately, the military recruiters need a source of names and addresses and that's what was reported in the Washington Post this morning.
The Congress actually sanctioned this with statutory language. It goes back at least to 1982. It may go back earlier. That said you will, this is Section 503 of Title 10, United States Code, and reads, "The Congress finds in order for Congress to carry out," I think you could put Secretary of Defense, "to carry out effectively its [inaudible] to raise and support armies, and essentially the Secretary of Defense obtain and compile directory information pertaining to students enrolled in secondary schools throughout the United States."
So this is something that Congress has properly directed the Secretary to undertake, in other words, to contact people.
Now how do we put this list together, and I think that's what's triggered the current interest? For many years we simply acquired various lists. Some of them were purchased, commercial lists, some of them were government lists. The services did it for a period of time on a decentralized basis. In the last decade or so we've tried to give this a more organized supervision and have as we've come in the last few years, to one list for everybody that is a merger of these various lists.
Now I should emphasize, we don't give this list out to other people. It is given only to the military recruiters and again what they get basically is what's in these lists. Typically it's name, address. There are occasions where the commercial list contains some other fields. Apparently some of the commercial list compilers ask students what's your GPA [grade point average] and so on, and the list could preserve that information, but people have volunteered that information.
One point that did come up in the story is that were we retaining social security numbers. The short answer is no. We do get the social security numbers and they're used in a scrambled manner from the Selective Service system file. They're used to purge the list of duplicates and to ensure its cohesion, but they are not maintained.
What I'd emphasize is this is, to come to the key points here, contacting young Americans, making them aware of their option in the service is critical to the success of the volunteer force; it is an activity that Congress sanctioned in statutory language 23 years ago. This is not new. It was done by the Department in various ways over the years, in a more organized fashion in the last few years. That is what triggered, as I understand it, the Post attention. The responsibility for this changed locations within Ms. Cooper's enterprise and under the statutes governing the maintenance of records. The Privacy Act statute, we have to file a new notice. So it's the new notice that gained people's attention and I think created this impression that somehow we were doing something new and different. The short answer is generically this is something we've done for a couple of decades or more.
Media: That was a new notice in the Federal Register?
Chu: The Federal Register, May 23rd.
Media: So you have in the past, I'm the author of the Washington Post story, by the way. You have in the past contracted with a private database marketing firm in order to conduct collection analysis of data to --
Chu: That's a bit of a misnomer. Again, the Department does a lot of things through contractors. We do a number of recruiting/marketing activities through Mullen, which helps provide some of our advertising copy. We in turn task Mullen to carry out the mechanics of putting this file together. They in turn turn to a subcontractor who actually carries out that enterprise.
Now they do not use it for any other purpose. They give it back to us. They are a mechanic. We get the files from the various sources including buying the files from commercial writers. We get them set, and their job is to merge those files into a single non-duplicative list.
One of the last things you want to do when you're sending people material is to send the same person five copies of the same thing. That's, I know as a recipient, that's a quick turnoff, that I couldn't even take the trouble to make sure I only sent it to you once. So their job is to put together a single file, give it back to us, we give it to the military departments to use. That's the contractor's involvement. That's the extent of it.
Media: Why did you say it was in the Federal Register?
Chu: There Under the Privacy act if you maintain a system of records -- If a government agency maintains a system of records, both through a private organization, you have to give public notice if you're doing so. What the purpose is, what the constraints are, et cetera. And we move responsibility for this within our organization which, I'm not the lawyer here so forgive me, I don't want to be accused of practicing law without a license if I'm not quite precise, but as I understand it, the notice applies to the organization and the situation for which it was originally filed. The movement triggered a conclusion by the legal staff that we had to refile.
Media: Why would you use a vendor that specializes in targeted marketing if all you're doing is aggregating a list?
Chu: We didn't choose this vendor.
Media: Who chose them?
Chu: Mullen chose the vendor. We give the task to Mullen, Mullen chooses a subcontractor. That's standard contracting procedure. There's nothing --
Media: Why would they have chosen them but for their expertise in targeted marketing?
Chu: I can't speak to how they chose a particular vendor.
Media: Do you know the value of the contract?
Chu: I'm not sure, but we can get it for you if it's releasable.
There's nothing sinister in giving it to the subcontractor. They're the mechanic. They have no policy role.
Media: Sinister is I don't think the issue. I think the issue is that under the Privacy Act there are restrictions to how much data the government can collect. And as you know, many of the privacy groups have said that by transferring this function to a private database marketing firm --
Chu: They don't collect the data. We collect the data. We give it to them to create a single file.
Media: That's not what the notice says. The notice says that the vendor can collect the data from multiple sources.
Chu: I'm not the lawyer here. I'll defer to the legal staff as to why this is worded the way it is.
Media: How many names are in the database?
Chu: I don't know. Sharon, do you know how many names there are?
Cooper: No. Do you know how many --
Carr: 4.5 million.
Media: That's called the high school master file?
Chu: That's essentially it.
Media: 4.5 million.
Media: So that does not include the college students then that will be in this database. Because the database says all college students.
Carr: The high school master file is one component of the database as well as the college file. There are a number of components within the consolidated database that houses this data.
Media: Is 4.5 the total number of names? No, that's not what I asked. I said how many people's names are in this database. It's high school, college, people registered with the Selective Service. What's the total number in this database?
Carr: Now it's approximately 12 million names.
Media: Thank you.
Media: One of your web sites says there are 30 million names, ages 16-25 I think.
Carr: If you look over the reports of the last few years, the database is robust at that number, but as far as keeping a maintenance of names on an annual basis, based on the target audience range, on the prospects that we're trying to recruit it usually is about 12 million names.
Media: So the 30 is more accumulated over the years.
Media: When was it centralized?
Chu: I think 2003.
Cooper: We started in 2002 and it was finalized in 2003.
Media: Is it because of the centralization that you're required to put out a public notice?
Cooper: It was because it changed organizations. It had been under one sub-organization and that data then was not covered under that sub-organization, it was covered under that sub-organization, it was covered under another one that did not --
Media: When did that occur?
Cooper: That occurred in 2002 also.
Media: Why did it take so long --
Cooper: He thought we were still covered under 2002, under that particular, under the Privacy Act. We were going with the rules that were under that, and then we were informed that we needed, in 2004 we were informed that we needed to do this and we've been working on it since we were informed to do that. Then we put it in the Federal Register.
Media: So since this database was consolidated in 2003 you should have put a notice in the Federal Register under the Privacy Act, correct? And that notice has just gone in last month?
Chu: The consultation doesn't quite trigger the notice. That's Sharon's main point.
Media: What I'm saying is --
Chu: If we had conducted a consolidation under the aegis of the organization where it was originally housed, no new notice would be required. We changed the sub-organization within our [Division] Resource Activity that oversees this. By doing so, upon reflection, the legal staff concluded we needed to file a new notice covering that organization.
Media: That change was made in 2002 you just said though.
Media: So since that time, you should have put something in the Federal Register and --
Chu: That was the --
Media: -- and that didn't happen until last month.
Chu: That's a fair point. That's a retrospective conclusion on the part of the legal staff. These things are reviewed. The review suggested we should file notice. We did so.
Media: Why did Mullen choose to subcontract?
Chu: That's standard practice. Your prime contractors, whether it's a weapon system or a software system or a service, prime contractors typically subcontract tasks that are the province of a high quality provider to the best quality, best cost source.
Media: So they would be looking for the expertise that the subcontractor --
Chu: There's nothing inappropriate about that.
Media: My point is they would be looking for the primary expertise that the subcontractor provided.
Chu: The expertise that the subcontractor brings is the manipulation of large files of this sort to ensure that you wind up with a unique entry for each person rather than five times having John Smith at 2300 Oak Tree Lane. That's all that's involved here. Again, I would emphasize, this is a straightforward matter of recruiting young Americans to serve and contacting them with information to say would you be interested. If they then respond positively, then there's a followup from the recruiter. This is nothing more than starting the conversation from a central perspective, because each service does this for its offering. People don't join the Department of Defense, I think that's something most of you appreciate. They join particular services, so each service wants to contact young Americans, it wants to push from a central point its literature. The stuff is really very good. I have teenage kids so I've seen it. In fact my son is insulted only his sister got something because he's not quite old enough to make it to these lists. So they want to push their literature out so people can see what they have. And it's different literature for different communities.
Media: But presumably the recruiters want to be efficient in their jobs so that's why there are target marketers, to sort of help make the decision of who you want to go after.
Chu: They don't do it for us. We give these lists back to the, gives these files. What's being considered here is a file, period. They give the file back to the military department for its recruiting apparatus to use in deciding to whom it wants to send its literature. Literature ranges from literature appropriate to someone who's going to enlist right out of high school, to literature appropriate for someone who is aiming at college, to literature -- My wife has received this stuff. It's very well done. It's actually very interesting.
Media: But that file is going to include all of these extra fields now that --
Chu: On the extra field point, that comes off of commercial lists. It's not from government lists. That's from commercial lists.
Chu: Those are commercial fields. They're generally populated from questionnaires that people fill out.
Media: but the military recruiters, whether it's services or whether it's a private contractor --
Chu: No, no. We use military recruiters. We don't --
Media: You're saying the military services use the database for their recruiting.
Chu: They do.
Media: But presumably they use the database in order to tailor, to identify, to look up dead profiles, to identify people who are more likely to be susceptible to a pitch, and to tailor their message to --
Chu: Presumably. Although I think most of it is stratifying it by is this someone who is a candidate for enlistment versus someone who is further along in the educational process and is more a candidate for a different kind of program.
Media: How much integration might there be with other government databases such as Department of Education databases on college students, and so on and so forth?
Chu: I don't think we use those. This is a very, again, I would urge we keep this in perspective. This is a very straightforward, simple activity. We're not trying to create very fancy files here. Our main purpose is to create a reasonably complete file and to purge duplicates. So this is not high end, this is not like the magazines targeting different advertising inserts for every city in the country. We're not -- Maybe we'd like to be at that level of sophistication, but that's not what we are.
Media: What do you say to privacy advocates who view this as government intrusion into the privacy of citizens and that this is a big brother situation?
Chu: I don't think so. We're only using it to mail stuff to people.
Media: You're not calling recruits?
Chu: I don't think this contains telephone numbers.
Media: Yeah, it does.
Media: It certainly does.
Carr: One portion is --
Chu: Oh, okay.
Media: And the data that's collected from No Child Left Behind is included in this database, is that right?
Chu: No, no. It's not. This has no connection to No Child Left Behind.
Media: Why wouldn't that be included if you're going to be --
Chu: I think it was included, if I may say so, only in your article. Let me put on the record. It has no connection to No Child Left Behind. We do not merge this with No Child Left Behind --
Media: I was told that you do merge it with the opt outs from No Child Left Behind.
Chu: You can under the Privacy Act write in and say I don't want to be on your list and we then take you out of the list.
Media: How can anyone have opted out if they didn't know the program existed?
Chu: That's why we have a notice in the Federal Register.
Chu: I grant, most citizens don't read the Federal Register, but it is there. We also, actually probably the largest source is people who get the literature and say I don't want to hear from you. We put their names -- We do maintain a master list of people who don't want to be heard from and I think we do merge it with -- We try to take advantage of all the information about who doesn't want to be contacted. We don't want to intrude on people who don't want to hear from us, so we try to be very respectful of that fact.
Media: Earlier though you said you've been moving toward a system where you're consolidating your efforts and it makes perfect sense from an efficiency standpoint. So why would you keep the data that is collected via No Child Left Behind separate?
Chu: No Child Left Behind is basically a local and decentralized operation which gives recruiters at your local recruiting station the same right that private companies have if the high school is giving out information, to have a list of the kids in that high school. High schools give it out to the yearbook companies, they give it out to ring companies. I think the status in the Congress, and this is statutory, again, I want to emphasize both the activity we're describing this afternoon and No Child Left Behind, are the product of statutes voted by the Congress.
Media: But you request it.
Chu: Well this actually, this goes back 20-some years. This is back to Congress trying to ensure, and that's I think the main point I want to make this afternoon. Congress wants to ensure the success of the volunteer force. Congress does not want conscription. The country does not want conscription. If we don't want conscription you have to give the Department of Defense, the military services, an avenue to contact young people to tell them what is being offered. And you would be naive to believe in any enterprise that you're going to do well just by waiting for people to call you.
Media: Then why not simply restrict the data fields to name, address, telephone number?
Chu: Well I'm not trying to argue with you, sir. The information that goes beyond that comes off of commercial lists. Anybody could buy that information. We're not, this is not a government file. This is off a commercial file, commercial providers. So we're not intruding -- And typically that information has come off of forms people have voluntarily filled out to a commercial source. So I don't see the --
Media: They may not have intended it to be the property of the U.S. military.
Chu: Well, I'm not sure I see the big issue there, quite candidly. If it were a government file, different matter. But it's not, that stuff is not coming off a government file. It's coming off commercial files.
Media: On this issue of social security numbers, you said something, if you could clarify. You said they're used in a scrambled manner, --
Chu: They are scrambled. We don't retain them. We use them to deconflict the file so that we don't have the same person twice.
Media: so the Selective Service stuff comes over and it's got their social security number on it. So what, it runs through some kind of algorithm that mixes it up?
Carr: It's actually scrambled before we even receive it. Once we receive it via SecureNet, an FTP site, it's therefore housed in our consolidated database.
Media: And it's only used to deconflict.
Chu: Correct, sir.
Carr: The thing is, we can do address, basic zip code, but social security number, when we have that it's [inaudible]. So it's really a great tool to suppress those duplicate files that --
Media: What other sources would you get it from other than the Selective Service? How can you use it to deconflict if it only comes from one place?
Chu: We don't get any other social security numbers from any other place.
Carr: The deconflict would be deconflicting within government records those who are already in the military or those who have already enlisted. That's where it's used.
Media: There was some question about, you said earlier the information is not given out to anybody else. There was some question whether the information was actually given to other government sources or --
Chu: My understanding -- As a matter of policy we don't give it to anyone else.
When the notice was filed, as I understand it, and again I'm not the lawyer here. The standard disclaimer is put in that you can give it as lawfully required to other government agencies. I think that's boilerplate for the most part. It is, it's my understanding, intended to deal with situations where there is a legitimate government purpose for the other agencies inquiry, but as a practical matter we have not given it to other government agencies, we do not intend to give it to other government agencies, and I would be hard-pressed to think of what would be the use of it outside of wanting someone's name and address which could conceivably be of somebody's interest but also obtainable from most other sources.
Media: Do you know if any names have been provided to law enforcement or tax collectors or anything along those lines?
Chu: I don't think so.
Media: You don't know or they haven't?
Carr: They have not based on our capabilities. We have not released any additional information. It goes straight to the recruiting commands and that is it.
Media: So it's never gone to any other government agency?
Chu: No. Nor is it our intent. It wasn't put together for that purpose. I think this is a safeguard. I should emphasize throughout this, those who understand how the recruiting system works I think have long appreciated that this is the kind of data we maintain. It is a directive of the Congress we ought to do this. I think it's an appropriate directive. And the change here is a change of bureaucratic status that has triggered this notice which has given a person set on doing something new and different. This is not something different.
Media: From which office to which office did it --
Chu: It went from Defense Manpower Data Center to our Joint Advertising --
Carr: -- Recruitment and Advertising --
Chu: Thank you.
Media: But it went there a number of years ago and nothing was put into the Federal Register until last month. Even if you decided last year that it should have gone into the Federal Register, you're still dealing with a significant delay in putting it in the Federal Register.
Chu: That's a fair complaint.
Media: What was the reason for the delay? Even once you realized it should have been in there?
Chu: First, it was only triggered by a review of where we stood on all these matters that we realized we should be filing a new notice. And these notices do take a while to prepare. I don't have, I'm not trying to defend the delay, don't get me wrong.
Media: -- numbers of [inaudible] and those who opt out of the No Child Left Behind --
Chu: I'll be glad to get those for you.
Thank you all very much.