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DoD News Briefing: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)
January 14, 1997 1:30 PM EDT
Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon. Welcome to our briefing.

I'd like to start by welcoming three members of the Royal Canadian Air Force here today. They have been reviewing the Air Force public affairs operation and the DoD public affairs operation. There's Brigadier General Donald MacKay, Lieutenant Colonel Richard Adam, and Lieutenant Commander Philip Anido. If you see them walking around, you can give them advice on how to structure the Canadian press operation. I'm sure advice from you would be welcome.

Secondly, at 2 o'clock this afternoon, Under Secretary Paul Kaminski will come down here and announce the newest dual- technology projects. As you know, this is a program that combines private and public investment to work on new technological innovations that can have both public and private usage. He'll be down here to discuss that at 2 o'clock.

With that, I'll take your questions.

Q: Where did you get that tie?

A: I'm actually not in the tie sales business. I don't think I should promote these ties, but I'll be glad to talk to you later about it.

I can see this is going to be a heck of a briefing! [Laughter] Actually, this is one of the best questions I've gotten in a long while. Maybe I should give a lecture on how to tie a bow-tie. I could give you a demonstration up here.

Q: There was an item in Newsweek, this week, that suggested that perhaps the new, incoming Secretary of Defense, William Cohen, was not being given a free hand by the White House to fill all the positions at the Pentagon he might want to fill. He was being limited to a number of positions. Can you comment on whether that report is accurate?

A: Senator Cohen called Newsweek and said the report was inaccurate.

Q: So does he have a free hand to replace or fill any positions he feels necessary at the Pentagon?

A: He's had discussions with people at the White House about that, and he will have the normal authority that a Cabinet Secretary has to put together a team, working with the White House. That's what all Cabinet Secretaries do. That's what Secretary Perry did. He has not, with one major exception, focused yet on personnel to a significant degree. That exception is his military assistant, Lieutenant General Jones of the Marine Corps, somebody he's known since he became a Senator in the late 1970s, will be his Senior Military Assistant.

When he takes office, he will have to face a number of personnel decisions. We know that Under Secretary Kaminski plans to leave in the spring; Under Secretary Dorn plans to leave; several Assistant Secretaries plan to leave -- one, Emmett Paige, has already announced that he's going. In addition he'll have some military personnel decisions to be made. For instance, General Joulwan has announced that he plans to retire in the first half of next year, so he will have a number of decisions to make. He may also, after he's been here for awhile, decide to make other changes. But I think it's premature to comment on that right now because he's been spending most of his time getting briefed on policy and military issues, and I don't think he's had a large amount of time to spend on personnel decisions.

Q: Will Secretary Perry or the new Secretary of Defense be the one to present the Department's budget to Congress in February?

A: I assume that the new Secretary of Defense will present that budget to Congress and to the press. Right now, it looks as if the budget will go to Congress on Thursday, February 6th, which means that we would have our standard background briefing the day before, on February 5th, and the Secretary would then present the budget to the press and to the public here on February 6th, and it would be transmitted to Congress at noon on the 6th.

Q: There was a published report suggesting there was some feeling in Congress that perhaps the confirmation of Cohen would be delayed so that Perry would present that budget since he was the one that was instrumental in preparing it.

A: I don't anticipate that will happen; Secretary Perry doesn't anticipate that it will happen; I don't believe Senator Cohen believes that will happen. Right now, the plan is that he'll have his confirmation hearing on January 22nd. We hope and assume that he'll be confirmed by the full Senate shortly thereafter. We don't have a firm date on that right now, of course, but the assumption is it would come relatively soon after his hearing on the 22nd.

Q: I saw Secretary Perry in a recent interview commenting on the problem of enlisted personnel on food stamps. He didn't see it as that big a problem, a major problem. But food stamps are being radically cut back here next month. How will that affect enlisted personnel?

A: I can't answer that question. Let me say a little bit about food stamps.

I believe, according to a GAO report in the last year or so, there are about 11,000 to 12,000 junior enlisted people and their families on food stamps. This is too bad, but it's a function of the size of their family more than anything else, and a function of the fact that if they live off [on] base, I don't believe their housing allowance is counted in their compensation base. If you're a young soldier -- E-1, E-2, E-3 -- and have a large family, you could fall below the income level and, therefore, qualify for food stamps. This has been true for a long period of time. It's not something that's just become true in the last year or so. It's been true, depending on family size, for a long period of time.

What's different now is more soldiers are married and have families now than in the past. About 60 percent of people in the military are now married. Twenty years ago it was about 40 percent. So, there has been a fairly important demographic change.

Your specific question is, How will a change in the food stamp program affect the military? I'm afraid I can't answer that. We'll try to get an answer.

Q: You say 12,000? You're citing a GAO report ...

A: I believe the figure is about 11,500.

Q: Is it part of the GAO?

A: That's the source I've been given on this, yes. I haven't read the report.

Q: I hear it's as high as 17,000.

A: That's been reported in a recent book, but my information is that it's 11,500.

Q: You're citing the GAO. What does the Army and Navy say?

A: My only source of information on that right now, Pat, is the GAO. We'll try to get what the Army and Navy says. I'll just leave it at that and we'll try to get more precise figures.

Q: Also that it involves ranks up to E-4, E-5.

A: As I said, it's a function of family size. If somebody had a very large family, it's conceivable that somebody that up to E-4, E-5 could qualify for food stamps.

Q: Do you know the average amount of monthly income this involves?

A: I'm afraid I don't.

Q: If they cut the program, if they're cutting off the program next month, between 12,000 and 17,000 American enlisted men are going to have big difficulty, are they not?

A: Pat, I already told you that I don't know the details of what's going to happen to the program. We will get those for you.

Q: Is it possible they may not be affected by the food stamp program?

A: If I can't give you the details of how they'll be affected, I can't tell you that it's possible they won't be affected. We'll get the answer to that question.

Q: When?

A: As soon as we can.

Q: Can you also clarify whether those people, if the report states that those people are actually getting food stamps or if they are eligible for food stamps?

A: Sure. We can find that out.

Q: There's a difference evidently between whether people ...

A: There's certainly a difference between the eligibility and the actual receipt of food stamps, but we will try to sort that out.

Q: Do these enlisted personnel get any sort of allowance for family size? Is their pay the same despite their family size?

A: Yes, it is.

Q: So just to summarize here, you're saying, essentially, the problem with these servicemen on food stamps or servicemembers on food stamps is not that their pay check is too small, but that their families are too big.

A: I'm not saying that. I'm saying it's a combination. I'm saying that the pay is set by rank and the benefit packages are set by rank. The pay is not high for the people entering into the force. If they happen to enter into the force [or] if they have a large family at the time they join the force -- suppose somebody came into the service married and his wife had triplets. That person, I believe, would qualify for food stamps under the current rules. A single soldier could live adequately, a married soldier could live adequately on the pay. But, if the family size increases, because the cutoffs are determined, the eligibility is determined by family size, somebody with a large family could qualify.

Q: What's been the Administration's view on this? Has there been a request for any kind of change in pay to get these people off food stamps or ...

A: First of all, we have 1.5 million people in the military. This is a problem, and it's a serious problem, but it's a serious problem for a small number of people, I think. It's a problem for 11,000, 12,000 people.

Secretary Perry has worked very hard to improve the pay and the quality of life for service people. One of the things that's been done in the last year is to build in what's called the full military pay increase over the next five years. In the past, every year -- when the size of the military pay increase came up -- it had to be negotiated with Congress, and frequently it turned out to be a residual. We have funded this pay increase in our five-year plan, the maximum amount allowed by law, which is determined by the inflation rate for the wage inflation rate over the next five years. So, that's a step forward. It not only will increase the pay over time, but it gives some predictability to future pay.

Clearly, there are problems for a small number of soldiers, and I will check and find out what we're doing specifically to address those problems, but I think some problems involving family size are beyond our control. There is not a separate pay increase or a separate benefit determined by family size.

Q: Couldn't you just increase the allotment for each child they have, so they'd have enough money to feed them?

A: I'm not sure that there are allotments for children now. I think the basic pay is pay per soldier. There are other benefits that deal with housing. Those are also set, I believe, by whether a person is single or married. But, I don't believe they're determined by number of children. That would be a way to deal with it. This is an issue which we'll look at.

Q: Do you know what the entry level pay is?

A: I'm afraid I don't. We can find that out, though.

Q: Do you know if these enlisted personnel qualify for any other benefits such as welfare, Aid to Families with Dependent Children?

A: Of course, probably the most expensive benefit that many welfare families get is Medicaid, and that wouldn't be necessary for people in the military because they already get health care through their military service. I believe that food stamps is primarily the benefit for which they qualify.

Press: Thank you.