DoD News Briefing with Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Michael Dominguez from the Pentagon
Also participating; Director, Federal Voting Assistance Program Polli Brunelli, Deputy Director, Federal Voting Assistance Program Scott Wiedmann and Moderator, Office of the Secretary of Defense, Public Affairs, Col. Jeremy Martin
COL. MARTIN: Well, good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to the round table where we kick off Armed Forces Federal Voting Week.
This afternoon we have the Honorable Michael L. Dominguez. He's the principal deputy undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, and he'll conduct the round table today, going to talk to you about what the department is doing this year, as the department does every year, to ensure that our military personnel and their families and also American citizens abroad have the opportunity to vote.
Now we also have Ms. Polli Brunelli. She's the director of the Federal Voting Assistance Program. And we have her deputy, Scott Wiedmann, who's here as well. And they'll help to answer what may be some of your questions.
We're going to go for about 20 minutes here. We'll have an opening statement by Mr. Dominguez. And then we'll -- he'll turn it over to Ms. Brunelli, Scott, and we'll take some of your questions. And with that, I'll turn it over to Mr. Dominguez. Sir.
MR. DOMINGUEZ: Okay. Thanks very much, Jeremy. And thank all of you -- thanks to all of you for joining us.
Every election is important, and it's important that all Americans exercise their constitutional right to vote.
To call attention to this right and responsibility of citizenship, the secretary has designated this week as Armed Forces Voter Week. Now, our objectives are to first ensure that servicemen -- service members and their families are aware of their opportunity to vote in this election and every election; second, to ensure that they know where to get the information they need to know how to vote; and third, to ensure that they have the opportunity to exercise their right to vote.
Since we in the DOD are undertaking this task for our population of service members and their families deployed around the world, the president, by executive order, has made the Department of Defense responsible also for ensuring the right to vote for American citizens overseas. And we have those same three goals for those citizens: to ensure that they are aware of their opportunity to vote, they know where to go to get information to be able to do that, and that they indeed have the opportunity to vote and participate in the elections.
Now, we accomplish this mission through the Federal Voting Assistance Program Office, led by Polli Brunelli and her deputy, Scott Wiedmann, who are, as Jeremy said, both here and will be able to answer any questions you might have about the details of what they're doing to accomplish these objectives.
But generally, what we do in the Department of Defense to enable this -- our ability to accomplish these objectives are first, a(n) outreach campaign to state and local election officials.
Second, an outreach to the population we serve -- (audio break) -- the voters that we're trying to reach.
And the third is through building capacity and improving the mechanisms to enable us to get information to voters and enable the voters to vote.
With regards to the mechanisms and that capacity, it's no surprise to all of you that in the last several years, we've had a special challenge of reaching the deployed warrior on the battlefield, whose particular circumstances that they may not be where their mailing address is -- and even if they are, they're likely to move before mail can reach them -- and that's a particular problem in voting where time does matter. So with regards to those mechanisms for enabling the vote, enabling information about the ability to vote, I do want to take this opportunity to express on behalf of the department and all the men and women in the department our deep appreciation to the Congress for their continued support and encouragement of our push to expand the use of modern technologies in the voting process, and in particular in this last few months to the Congress for appropriation that they pushed through to allow us to pilot in the 2006 election the application of web technologies to the special problem of the deployed voter.
And in that, I do want to say that Senator Burns -- Senator Conrad Burns was instrumental in taking the initiative to move this forward and through the Congress and into an appropriation. And for that, we are deeply grateful, and we're pretty excited about the breakthroughs that we're hopeful for in terms of applying web technologies to the ballot request and receipt by a deployed servicemember on the battlefield.
I think that's everything I have to say in terms of opening comments. I think probably at this stage what we ought to do is go ahead and turn it over to people to ask questions, and then Polli and Scott can chime in their -- in response to your specific information requirements.
COL. MARTIN: Yeah, if you would, a question and a follow-up, if you have one -- just state your name and your media affiliation before your question.
Thank you, and go ahead.
Q This is Roxanne Nautolong (sp) with The Hill. If you could go a little bit more into detail about what you're going to do to help the people in Iraq -- deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. What exactly -- you know, how are they going to go about voting in this midterm election?
MS. BRUNELLI: This is Polli Brunelli. What we're doing is working with the U.S. Postal Service and Military Postal Service agency as well to make sure that we can move the mail into those areas and that those individuals who are serving have an opportunity to receive their ballots, vote them and return them by the state deadlines for counting.
What we also have been doing over the years and are continuing to do this year and improving upon this year is offering alternatives to the by mail, which includes faxing of blank ballots to these individuals and also working with the states to make sure that there are other alternatives, such as e-mailing a blank ballot.
OPERATOR: Someone has joined the conference.
COL. MARTIN: Whoever just joined, go ahead and state your affiliation real quick.
Q It's Gordon Lubold from Army Times. I'm sorry I'm late.
COL. MARTIN: Okay, thanks, Gordon.
Q Such as e-mailing the ballot. But then how do they -- they will have to send it by mail, then.
MS. BRUNELLI: The states are the ones that run the elections, so they would determine how a ballot would be returned. And if the state has a law in place that would allow the ballot to be returned by fax or e-mail, then that would be an option for the voter. If the state requires that the voted ballot be returned by mail, then the voter would have to return it by postal.
MR. DOMINGUEZ: Let me jump in. This is Mike Dominguez again. The particular initiative for which we want to -- and which I called out the Congress and Senator Burns for recognition, was to help us apply Web technologies to this particular problem so that you can use the Web either through e-mail or through a secure server like you would do your online banking at to connect with your local voting official, request a ballot, have that ballot request be approved and a ballot distributed to you through the Web, so where fax lines aren't available, where the mail is going to be problematic, most people can get to e-mail or to the Web at least for some part of their day and we hope to be able to address that.
Now, as Polli pointed out, the states are in control about whether and how they will accept those kind of technologies, and so we have reached out to the states and we've gotten help from the members of the Congress in encouraging their states to participate with us in this kind of program so that we can actually pilot this year a good use of Web technologies at least for some portion of our eligible voting population.
Q And when you say pilot this year, is there specific technology that helps with this, or just -- how about the money? How much? I mean, when you mention and when you say pilot program, you know, what exactly does that program do; just mandates the use or encourages the use of these Web technologies, or are there some specific Web technologies that you're using?
MR. DOMINGUEZ: Yeah, we'll let Scott do that. Let me first -- no mandates, right? These are -- we're trying to get as many options as possible out to people. But it is local and state election officials who decide what they will or will not accept, and we just enable all that full range of tools to the voters from those dates. There is no mandate from us around voting.
So, Scott, why don't you talk about --
Q No, no. I mean Congress, when they said that they appropriated --
MR. DOMINGUEZ: What the Congress wanted -- the appropriation was for us to apply Web technologies to this problem of that -- of the overseas voter and the deployed voter. And so that was, you know, the mission handed to us by the Congress, which, you know, it's a challenge we are excited about and happy to take on.
And Scott can now talk to you about the specific technologies we're pursuing.
MR. WIEDMANN: Well, what we wanted to do was use our website to communicate, as we have done for several years, out to the citizens covered by the act, the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act, all the alternatives, electronic alternative, to the "by mail" process offered to them by their home state so they would be aware of all those. If they're in a position, if they're on the move or if they're -- during that September/October time frame when the ballots are going out to them, or if they're in a remote location where they may not have regular mail service, we wanted to let them know that mail was not the only option from every state, and when they checked the website, they'd be able to see what options are available to them. So we have that on our website, a new portion of the FVAP --
OPERATOR: Someone has joined the conference.
COL. MARTIN: State your name and media affiliation, who just joined the conference, please.
Q Oh, sorry. I don't have a media affiliation. Sorry. I'll hang up.
COL. MARTIN: Okay, go ahead, Scott.
MR. WIEDMANN: Okay. A new portion of the Federal Voting Assistance Program website at FVAP.gov, is the Integrated Voting Alternative Site. And when you click on that from the FVAP site you'll see a map of the United States and the territories. When you click on any individual state or territory --
Q What's it called? Integrated -- I'm sorry.
MR. WIEDMANN: Integrated Voting Alternative Site. And you'll see a map of the United States and the territories. When you click on a specific state or territory, you'll see a listing of the options available from those states, and that includes what's been talked about already, the faxing and e-mailing that the states may allow.
Also, there's two tools that the department has developed and offered to each of the states.
The first tool is a(n) e-mail delivery of an automated version of our Federal Post Card Application Form. Now, typically, that's the form that comes in by mail. It serves as both registration and absentee ballot request. These particular tools are designed for individuals who are already registered to vote in their home state, so they would go to the website. And now the tools are available to members of the armed forces, their family members, Department of Defense employees outside the United States and Department of Defense contractors outside the United States. And the reason for this grouping is that all of those individuals are already in a Department of Defense database that's in existence, and they all have pre-existing passwords to gain access to that database.
So a registered voter, using that password that they already have, would log in and then be presented with an automated version of our Federal Post Card Application Form. With the first tool that the DOD has created, they would complete that automated FPCA Form, and then it would be attached to an e-mail, and that e-mail would be sent to their local election official or county official directly. When that county official receives that e-mail, they would open up the attachment, which is a PDF -- now, that form would not be signed, which is the reason why it's designed for folks who are registered because the state would already have the person's signature on file. So this is meant as a request for a ballot because they may be in one of those situations where they're going to be on the move or in a remote area during the time when they'd normally be receiving their ballot.
Q Yeah, yeah.
MR. WIEDMANN: Now, when the state opens that FPCA and processes it, they would then transmit the blank ballot to the voter, using whatever means are generally available to the state, and then the voter would -- so it could be faxed, regular mail, e-mail, and the voter would then follow the instructions from the state and return the ballot, also, again, by either mail, fax or e-mail.
Now, in the second tool that the department has created and offered to the states, the voter would do the same thing. It's the same group of individuals using the DOD unique identifier password to log in. They'd be presented with the automated FPCA Form, but in this case, when they finish the automated FPCA, that form would be saved to a DOD secure server.
Then the local election official from the participating state would log in, using a password also provided to them by the Department of Defense, and download that completed FPCA. Just as with the tool number 1, the FPCA would not have a signature. So the local election -- when they print it out, they would see the FPCA with all the information and how the voter is requesting a ballot, and then they would be able to process it.
Now, the second tool also offers the ability for that local election official, when they're ready to send the blank ballot to the voter, they can upload that blank ballot to the secure server. And then a message is sent to the voter, and the voter can go back in using that unique identifier and log into the server and pull down that blank ballot from the server. And they can print it out and then follow the instructions from the state and return it either by regular mail, fax or e-mail, depending on what the state law allows.
Q This is --
COL. MARTIN: Okay. Next question?
Q Yeah, this is --
Q Can I just really quickly -- can I get the spelling of your names both for Scott and Paula (sic) -- Paul (sic)?
MS. BRUNELLI: Polli Brunelli, P-O-L-L-I B-R-U-N-E-L-L-I.
Q B-R-U-N-E-L-L-Y (sic)? Okay.
MS. BRUNELLI: I.
Q I. Okay.
MR. WIEDMANN: And Scott --
Q And your position is what?
MS. BRUNELLI: Director, Federal Voting Assistance Program.
Q Thank you so much.
MS. BRUNELLI: You're welcome.
MR. WIEDMANN: And my first name is Scott, S-C-O-T-T. Last name: Wiedmann, W-I-E-D, as in dog, M, as in Mary, A-N-N. And I'm --
Q W-I-E- -- sorry.
MR. WIEDMANN: Correct -- -I-E-D-M-A-N-N.
Q Okay. Thank you. And your position?
MR. WIEDMANN: I'm the deputy director at the Federal Voting Assistance Program.
Q Thank you so much.
COL. MARTIN: Next question, please.
Q This is Josh Rogin from Federal Computer Week magazine. Thanks for taking the time. Let me -- hello?
COL. MARTIN: Go ahead, Josh.
Q Let me ask you about the security part of this. What measures do you have in place to verify that the people being authenticated in the system are actually the people they purport to be? And what other steps are you taking to ensure that the data is free from tampering?
MR. WIEDMANN: Well, the individuals would use their unique identifier that they have with the Department of Defense, which is already pre- -- it was already set in place. It -- to use for other purposes within the department. So that's the way that we can tell the local election officials that this person does have an affiliation with the Department of Defense.
Q Is that just --
MR. WIEDMANN: And then all of the information, the automated FPCA from the voter, to the secure server and the connection as well that the local election official would establish with the secure server are done through a secure socket layer connection, which is at a -- the standard 128-bit encryption.
Q Mm-hmm. And so is it just the human authentication, or does it work with the common access card?
MR. WIEDMANN: No, it's using the password.
Q Okay. And who developed this site? And where is it housed exactly?
MR. WIEDMANN: Well, we had -- the first tool was developed by the Department of Defense at the Defense Manpower Data Center. And the second tool was developed by a company called PostX, who also has the security and secure e-mail and secure communications for many major banks and other commercial institutions.
COL. MARTIN: All right. Next question, please.
Q Pauline Jelinek of the Associated Press. Could we get three statistics, please? First, the total number of potential voters -- service members, family and other expats that you expect or that are out there, potential.
MS. BRUNELLI: This is Polli Brunelli. The -- there are approximately 1.4 military --
MR. DOMINGUEZ: One-point-four million --
MS. BRUNELLI: Million. I'm sorry. One-point-four million military. And there are almost as many family members.
Q And can you venture a guess on the others, expats?
MR. DOMINGUEZ: In the --
MS. BRUNELLI: On the expatriates, there are approximately -- and this is an estimate -- 3.7 million.
Q Okay. Second statistic would be the appropriation figure that Mr. Dominguez -- Secretary --
MR. DOMINGUEZ: Yeah. It was $2.5 million that the Congress appropriated just for the Web technologies pilot.
Q Okay. And the third figure. Can you give us some idea of the number of states that are capable of doing it this way, that either will do it online or faxing or e-mail?
MR. DOMINGUEZ: The number of states?
MS. BRUNELLI: There are a number of states that are coming in every day, and we've been talking to them right now, and there are approximately six to 10 states that are interested in this.
MR. DOMINGUEZ: Well, on the Web technologies application, but she also asked about faxing.
MS. BRUNELLI: Oh, faxing. We have a number of states that already allow faxing for the registration process. There are 50 jurisdictions that allow that. And if you're talking about faxing of the blank ballots, there are 34 states that will do that.
Q Okay. Thank you very much.
COL. MARTIN: You're good, Pauline?
Q I'm good.
COL. MARTIN: Okay, next?
Q If I could follow up on that. This is Scott Foster with NBC. That first figure, 1.4 million, is that total deployed overseas who are eligible for this?
MS. BRUNELLI: That's total active duty.
Q Okay. What about total deployed who would vote through one of these processes?
MS. BRUNELLI: They would be included within that figure. If you're talking about overseas, we have approximately -- I'm sorry.
MR. : (Inaudible.)
MS. BRUNELLI: Yes, about 225,000.
MR. DOMINGUEZ: Let me again make -- everybody in the armed forces is eligible to vote absentee because most people in the armed forces are not at their local county, you know, of residence. So, you know, people in the armed forces deployed inside the United States can use those absentee ballots, which include mail versions, the Web technologies, the faxing, you know. So the whole range of opportunities that their state and local election official permits are available to all of these members, all of their family members, as well as the 3.7 million overseas citizens.
Q This is Gordon (Will ?) from Army Times. What is the 3.7 million? Those who are, again?
MS. BRUNELLI: Three-point-seven million, those are the overseas citizens not affiliated with the federal government.
Q Oh, I see. Okay.
Q This is Rich Wolf with USA Today. Just to confirm on that one again, that's of voting age, those are voters? Or that's the families -- (off mike)?
MS. BRUNELLI: Approximately, yes, 18 years old and older.
Q If I could ask another question -- it's Rich Wolf with USA Today. Can you talk a little bit, any of the three of you, about some of the problems that you experienced in 2000 and in 2004 that you hope or expect to be able to overcome this time, for whatever reason?
MS. BRUNELLI: Well, in previous elections, we've been wanting to make sure that, for example, with the mail, that it's postmarked when it's returned for those states that allow late counting, for example. And I think we've been making tremendous success in that regard. Every year we improve upon that, and we work very closely with the mail systems to make sure those mail-cancelling devices are out there.
Also, what we want to make sure is that for those people who want to vote, that they have the opportunity to vote and the means to vote. And we want to make sure that in addition to the mail, that we do have these electronic alternatives. So, for example, in Iraq, what we discovered in '04 is that we didn't have fax machines in there. And so what we heard from the voters over in Iraq was that they had access to the Internet and they had access to e-mail, you know, they had satellite hook-ups, and they said, can you work with the states and can you get these ballots to us that way? So we've been working with that, and we've been working on fax-e-mail conversion systems as well, just to provide access to these individuals, broader access to the voting process.
MR. DOMINGUEZ: I think one thing -- if I could -- Polli has been doing extensive work with states and with local election officials about getting their ballots printed and out soon enough to the deployed voters to allow them to be able to, you know, vote on time. So -- and that's a non-trivial issue for some of these local officials in local elections where the -- you know, the slate of candidates and the issues that are going to be voted aren't determined until late, but there's a prescribed, you know, time for the deployed servicemember and these expatriates -- you know, that they need to be able to get the ballots early enough in advance of the election to be able to vote or that the local election officials and the state have to hold open the period at which they will count the ballots once they arrive, you know, after the election date if they didn't get the ballots out soon enough.
Q Is there a target --
MR. DOMINGUEZ: And so Polli, working with the Department of Justice and local and state officials -- you know, that's a continuing area of interest and focus for us.
Q Is there a target date that you guys have in mind? The last primary dates are coming up pretty soon. Is there a date by which you want all states and locals to have gotten those ballots out?
MS. BRUNELLI: Yes. We want to make sure that they have sufficient ballot transit time, so we're monitoring that process 45 days out and 30 days out as well. We do two periods right before the election.
Q But I mean, do you tell the states and the locals, we would like to see all ballots printed and mailed to all of the deployed and overseas potential voters by X date?
MS. BRUNELLI: What we recommend to the states is that they allow a certain period of time for ballot transit. And what we're recommending right now is 45 days' ballot transit time, and that's the ideal. And from the time that the ballot is sent out, for example, overseas -- because it can be very difficult to receive mail on time -- we want to make sure that there's enough time for that ballot to go out from the local election office, reach that voter and for the voter to have enough time to look at that ballot, maybe do some research and then vote that and return it by the state deadline for counting, and 45 days generally does that.
Q One more quick follow-up. The percentage, particularly military and particularly overseas military that voted in recent elections -- do you have that?
MS. BRUNELLI: Yes, I do. If you're talking about the presidential election in '04 --
Q Sure. Uh-huh.
MS. BRUNELLI: -- we had 73 percent of our uniformed services members who participated.
Q And would you --
MS. BRUNELLI: And we had 53 percent of our overseas citizens, those who are not affiliated with the federal government.
Q Okay. And do you have --
MS. BRUNELLI: And we had 77 percent of our federal employees overseas who participated.
Q Is there a separate figure for uniformed servicemembers overseas? Because that's really the most difficult population, isn't it?
MS. BRUNELLI: I think it was about the same when we were looking at those statistics. You know, I'd have to look at that, but --
Q About the same as the uniformed servicemembers or about the same as the overseas --
MS. BRUNELLI: No. For the uniformed services members stateside and overseas -- let me look at that. Give me a moment.
COL. MARTIN: We'll come back to that one.
Q Okay, thanks.
COL. MARTIN: Go ahead. Who's next?
Q I've got a quick one again. Scott Foster with NBC. Is this the first election cycle you've used this new secure online system?
MR. DOMINGUEZ: Is this the first election cycle we've used this secure online system?
MR. WIEDMANN: Oh. As it stands today, yes, it is the first one, but we did have a similar project in the 2004 election, and of course we had -- in 2000 we did a voting-over-the-Internet pilot project as well.
MR. DOMINGUEZ: Well, which we did not deploy that.
MR. WIEDMANN: Well, no, in 2000 we did. In 2004 we were planning to do the Secure Electronic Registration and Voting Experiment, or SERVE, and that was not deployed.
MR. DOMINGUEZ: Okay. But this year, using the technology Scott told you about earlier, that's the first time for this, but in the '04 election we did have another project that again tried to use Web technologies --
MR. WIEDMANN: Correct.
MR. DOMINGUEZ: -- just not this architecture.
MR. WIEDMANN: Correct.
MR. DOMINGUEZ: Much more sophisticated, modern architecture.
MR. WIEDMANN: Yeah, the capability for the citizen to both request and receive an absentee ballot through the system.
COL. MARTIN: Go ahead, Polli.
MS. BRUNELLI: I have the statistic on the military overseas. Seventy-five percent. And we've been focusing on the overseas military and the overseas citizens to make sure that we could improve upon our past efforts.
Q Thank you.
COL. MARTIN: Okay, next?
Q Let me ask one more question -- it's Rich Wolf again -- to follow up on what Scott just said. Is the reason that it wasn't deployed in 2004 having to do with -- (inaudible) -- attacking, or what is it about 2004 that you didn't deploy and this year you feel confident you can?
MR. DOMINGUEZ: Let me first -- what Scott said was the secure voting system did not deploy. That's the SERVE.
MR. DOMINGUEZ: Which was actually transmitting a vote over the Internet. Right? So that we participated in the pilot and development of, but at a point kind of late in the development, some -- I guess it was independent assessors or a --
MS. BRUNELLI (?): Part of a peer review group.
MR. DOMINGUEZ: Yeah, peer review group, a faction of them , you know, said that there were security risks with that. Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz at the time was persuaded by that and coordinated with the Congress to decide not to deploy SERVE, which was a voting project, voting over the Internet.
We did, in '04, deploy an earlier version of a ballot request and electronic ballot delivery capability in '04, and that is what we're doing again this year with two technical architectures available to the overseas voters.
Q And just to clarify, they are still not able to register their vote over the Web, that's correct.
Is that right?
MR. DOMINGUEZ: I don't know if that is true for every state. Is that true --
MR. WIEDMANN: I think the exception is Arizona. If you have a driver's license that you've gotten since 1996, where they've had a photo ID of you on their records, if you have that, you can register on line in Arizona.
Q And deliver your vote on line?
MR. WIEDMANN: No, it's to register to vote.
Q Oh, register. But there are no people who are actually voting online? They're getting ballots and sending them back some other way, is that right?
MS. BRUNELLI: No, not online.
MR. DOMINGUEZ: Yeah. No, even e-mail returned ballots, PDF?
MS. BRUNELLI: It's e-mail and PDF, yes.
MR. DOMINGUEZ: All right, so there are some states that will accept a -- but it has to be soft, right? You have to -- printed ballot, signed, scan it in, attach it to an e-mail. There are some states who will accept that. But not a online voting, you know, in a secure server. There are no states or territories, yet, who do that. And again, our -- the technologies we're talking about are to get -- enable a request for a ballot, and then the delivery of a ballot to that individual, and then they follow their state and local election officials' instructions on how to get it back to them.
Q Okay, thank you.
Q Rich Wolf with USA Today. Are you in the position of encouraging more overseas voters to use e-mail or fax because of delays with the regular mail? Is that something you guys are not only enabling, but I guess I'd say pushing, because the mail can be slow?
MS. BRUNELLI: This is Polli Brunelli. What -- I think you're right when you're saying "enabling." We want to make sure that they have some options out there if the mail doesn't get through. So we're informing the voters of what the states are allowing. And if that state ballot does not arrive when the voter needs to vote it and return it, then they have the option of doing some sort of faxing or e-mailing or request alternative.
We also have prepositioned overseas a federal write-in absentee ballot, which is a back-up ballot that's available to our overseas voters and also to our military and their eligible family members here in the United States. So that's a write-in ballot that allows them to participate in the general election and vote for federal offices.
MR. DOMINGUEZ: Let me add that the U.S. Postal Service has bent over backwards to help us in the deployed theater. They committed, you know, to move this mail rapidly, specially identified voting materials, and get that through. So we have great, great partners in the U.S. Postal Service on this effort.
So we're not pushing one solution over another, we're just trying to enable everyone that we can, and doing everything we can to make sure that the capacity is there to educate, inform the voter, and enable their vote.
COL. MARTIN: Next question, please.
Are there any other questions? Are we good?
Q Okay, thanks a lot.
MR. DOMINGUEZ: Thanks very much. Appreciate your time and interest in this.
COL. MARTIN: Well, you've got the number on the bottom of the media advisory. If there's any follow-ups before you post your stories, please give us a call if we need to clarify anything. And thank you for participating.
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