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DoD News Briefing with Assistant Secretary Hall

Presenter: Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs Thomas Hall
May 16, 2007 12:00 PM EDT
            BRYAN WHITMAN (deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Public Affairs): Well, good morning, and thank you for joining us. Our briefing this morning is on the commission -- the task force recommendations of the Independent Commission on the National Guard and Reserve. And with us today we have the assistant secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs, Mr. Tom Hall, who will be talking to you about the recommendations that were made by the commissions, his review of those recommendations, and eventually what the secretary of Defense approved and how we are going to move forward in implementing many aspects of the task force's recommendations. 
 
            I think he'll give you a brief overview and then is prepared to take your questions. And with that, let's go ahead and get started. Thank you, Secretary Hall, for being with us today. 
 
            MR. HALL: Thank you. 
 
            Good morning. It's my first chance to be with you this morning and -- delighted to be here and talk a bit about this task. 
 
            Just a little bit of background before I get into the some of the specifics: 
 
            As you might know, last year, Congress, being very interested in the commission on the Guard and Reserve, having appointed it, gave them a more narrow task.   
 
            Mr. Punaro's commission is actually in session until January of '08, where they will put forth an overarching report on the Guard and Reserve. But they were given a narrow task to complete by the 1st of March, and that was on the National Guard and recommendations that they might have.   
 
            The backdrop to that were two acts called The National Guard Empowerment Act. The House had one version, the Senate had another version. They could not come to closure on an overarching act, so they asked the Commission on the Guard and Reserve to take a look at their recommendations in those two versions and to come up with their own independent recommendations. 
 
            The commission had very thoughtful and deliberative discussions. I appeared before them a number of times, as did the rest of our leadership within the department and outside the department. And on the 1st of March, they published their report. I think you have copies there that we have provided you in that bound form. 
 
            The substance of that report by Mr. Punaro and group were 23 recommendations -- which we can discuss any or all of them -- on what they thought would move forward in three particular areas. And if I could group them -- and these are my groupings, not necessarily theirs. But the first concern was how do we better empower the chief of the National Guard Bureau? And of course Lieutenant General Steve Blum is serving in that capacity now. The second overarching concept was enhancing the National Guard Bureau itself, how it functions, where it functions, what its tasks are. And finally, to determine the adequacy of federal planning for homeland security and civil support, because the National Guard Bureau and, obviously, the National Guard, as you well know, in many of our ongoing challenges and disasters are a major player. So within those three areas, they looked at how do we structure these 23 recommendations.   
 
            Soon after the completion of their work, I chaired a working group which was throughout the department, also including NORTHCOM, included representatives from the Department of Homeland Security. And we sat down over a period of two weeks and looked at the 23 recommendations, made our recommendation to Secretary Gates on what we thought he should pronounce on the commission. And on the 10th of May, he came forth with his tasking memo on those 23 recommendations.   
 
            And I think the bulletin and headline is essentially the department is in agreement with the 23 recommendations. And in fact, on 20 of the 23, we are substantially in complete agreement. There are three recommendations which I will cover in particular because these are ones that the department did not agree upon. 
 
            But most significantly on those we have an alternative. We believe conceptually they are the way we ought to move, but we think we have a different alternative than what the commission had in those three areas. And let me cover those now because they might be of most interest to you. 
 
            The first was placing federal forces under the direct control of a governor. The commission recommended that this be more or less an automatic type of situation that all the forces within the confines of the state would automatically be under command of the governor. I think a lot of this is because of Katrina and other events along the way. We do not agree with that. The secretary did not agree because this is a matter of governance. It is his belief, and I certainly support that, that the commander in chief, the president, should determine who best commands forces in any situation, either active duty, National Guard or Reserve. And it certainly could be a National Guard commander. We've had many instances where that occurred. But the governance should remain with the commander in chief. 
 
            However, we believe protocols should be developed that would allow a unity of effort and not a unity of command, and a unity of effort is very important. And just a little sidebar to that, I just returned last night from Louisiana. Part of my trip was to visit with the governor, with the TAG, and with 14 days until the official start of hurricane season, I wanted to go see if our unity of effort in the state was there. Were they prepared? Were they satisfied, because obviously this unfortunately was a test bed. 
 
            They just completed an exercise in which they looked at all the forces they had available. They looked at the emergency compacts, and as you might or might not know, all of the states, all 50 have assigned emergency compacts with other state governors by which if they need assets, would automatically come to them from the other states. Louisiana's particular circumstance is -- from Arkansas, Oklahoma and surrounding -- and Texas, surrounding states. They are satisfied that they have the equipment. They are satisfied that they have the compacts in place. And so the goal of this recommendation we concur with for unity of effort, but the unity of command ought to rest with the president. 
 
            The second one which we don't agree with was designation of the National Guard Bureau as a joint activity of DOD. Now it might sound interesting -- why a joint activity, a joint bureau. But a joint activity, if you divorce the National Guard Bureau from the Army and from the Air Force, in my view and I think in the secretary's, we're certainly reversing from what we had in Goldwater-Nichols. For my entire career, which is 34 years of active duty, we were trying to figure out how to put the services together. How do we better integrate those services? How do we make the National Guard and the Reserve forces a better part of their service? And so rather than pull them apart, we think that the National Guard Bureau should remain connected to the Army and to the Air Force. 
 
            My view is the three-legged triangle. What we need to do is merely extend one of the legs of the triangle. We have the Army and Air Force. The third part of the triangle would be to connect the National Guard Bureau to the secretary of Defense reporting through the chairman. 
 
            Thus General Blum would have connectivity to the chairman, to the secretary, to the Army and to the Air Force. And so we have that as a proposal. Rather than just automatically divorce them from the service and make them a joint activity, we think that's a better way to approach.   
 
            The third concerned NORTHCOM. There was a feeling within the National Guard Empowerment Acts that since NORTHCOM is the primary command concerned for the defense of the homeland, there might not be the kind of National Guard command-level person at NORTHCOM to represent the National Guard. So part of that, and a recommendation of the commission, was to make the deputy commander automatically a National Guard officer.   
 
            The secretary does not agree with that. Again, he believes it should be the best-qualified officer, active, guard or reserve. But we have an expansion of that. We think it's a larger issue, and a more productive way is to look at it in a very broad sense.   
 
            And in my view, in my years of military experience, what we ought to be doing is qualifying National Guard officers, reserve officers and active duty officers to hold any commands, up through 010. We should have a joint qualification, a joint education system. And we should actually have a National Guard officer qualified to go in as commander or deputy commander of any command throughout the world. So our view is to expand that and not just focus on NORTHCOM.   
 
            So those are the three areas that we differed somewhat with the commission on. On the other 20, we were in substantial agreement. This memo, which I'm sure you can get a copy of -- this is public domain -- tasked the department to implement these 20 recommendations and the alternatives for the three that we don't agree with.   
 
            And it puts a very short timeline, gives two weeks, 14 days, which is warp speed for the Pentagon, to get back with the plan for implementation and either policy or in-law all of these recommendations. And there are four law changes that you might be interested in. Then I will stop and take any questions.   
 
            But there are four pieces of legislation that would be required. The secretary's goal is to forward those so that they are considered in the 2008, not 2009 but in the current deliberations on the Hill. And as you know, that's a pretty fast track. I think the NDAA is marking up today and already has 50 amendments and are proceeding. Those four would raise the grade of the chief of the National Guard Bureau to four stars.   
 
            More technically, what it says is remove the limitation of three stars, which -- there's only one other grade above that, so it would support that. 
 
            The second is the RFPB, the Reserve Forces Policy Board. You might be very familiar with that. It's been in existence since 1953. It was formed prior to my office. It has 23 members in that board, and they offer independent advice to the secretary of Defense on matters involving the Guard and Reserve, and they report administratively through me. 
 
            The commission believed that that was not enough independence, because in those 23 members, many of those -- in fact, all of those are wearing the uniform or serving in a position like mine, so it's question, are you truly independent if you're in this position and also on the board? They recommended that an independent board call the Reserve Forces Board, consisting of 20 people, be formed outside the department and report directly to the secretary of Defense on matters involving the Guard and Reserve. The recommendation of the department was to concur with that but to make the membership at 10. I see a lot of boards, and I don't think bigger is necessarily better, and we thought perhaps a board of 10 members reporting independently would be better. But it would require legislation to implement that. 
 
            The third is to authorize the secretary of Defense to specify the joint charter for the National Guard Bureau. Presently, it says in the law the charter is designated by the Army and the Air Force. This would allow the secretary to specify it. 
 
            And the last one is a provision we've had on the Hill for the past two years, which is to expand slightly the dual command relationship. As you know, when a National Guard officer takes a federal commission in an event, we believe that it's necessary to retain the authority under the state commission so that you can exercise in both areas, and this provision would expand that beyond the commanders and would allow more people to have dual status, both Guard and federal forces. And that's been supported by the House in the past, by the Senate; we're going to resubmit that. 
 
            So those are the four pieces of legislation. Those are being drafted, are going over very shortly in order to implement. The rest of them we will implement by policy.  And as I told you, it's a very short timeline -- within two weeks to have the plan for implementation. 
 
            So I think I'll stop there. Those are the recommendations to the secretary on the report, and I'd be glad to entertain any questions on those. 
 
            Yes, ma'am? 
 
            Q     Recommendation 14 was that the chief of the National Guard Bureau should not be a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Given the role that the National Guard has come to play in the last five years in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and how much of a larger role they've played from when they were just a strategic reserve, why is there a feeling, in this report and with you and perhaps with the secretary, that the chief of the National Guard Bureau should not have a seat at that table? 
 
            MR. HALL: More importantly, I think General Blum -- and I will leave it to him to respond for himself -- would not agree that if we make the changes that we're going to, that it's necessary for the chief of the National Guard Bureau to be on the Joint Staff. Neither the chairman has supported that, the past secretary or the present secretary. And the reason is because it in a de facto way creates a fifth service, because if the chief of the National Guard Bureau was sitting on the Joint Chiefs of Staff with the chief of staff of the Air Force and the chief of staff of the Army, and there is a competition for resources and other types of things, we feel that it takes apart rather than put together what we have carefully crafted. 
 
            Now, under provisions of the new Joint Charter, in fact, the chief of the National Guard Bureau would report to the chairman, through the chairman to the secretary of Defense, and have a direct connection to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and have the ability to affect the outcome of decisions in a very positive way. We feel that's a better way than creating a so-called fifth service. And I think General Blum, again, would share that view. 
 
            Q     I know that I think the general actually does share that view. I think he has said so publicly. But there already is a competition for resources between the Guard and the other services. I mean, that's played out very publicly in the last few weeks. I don't know that that answer -- and I don't mean to be disrespectful -- that satisfies my question, really. I mean, there already is a competition for resources. The National Guard said that even with the influx of funds that they're likely to see in the current budget that's on the Hill, that's still not going to be enough, according to General Blum himself. 
 
            Can you help me understand again why it's not important that they have the same representation on the -- you know, with the chairman and with the secretary as the other chiefs of the services? 
 
            MR. BELL: I don't mind you disagreeing. Lots of people disagree with me. Part of my job is to look at those resources. And as you know, Secretary Gates testified and I have testified that we have $21 billion going to the National Guard alone. We have $40 billion going over the '08 to '13 to all of our reserve components, which I have responsibility for. Presently the EOH -- equipment on hand -- is a little bit over 50 percent for the Guard. If we execute -- and I say if we execute -- and part of all of our job is to make sure we execute those dollars -- we will raise that equipment on hand to about 78 percent of the kinds of equipment that the Guard and Reserve needs.   
 
            Now, is that enough? Can we get up to 100 percent? We've always traditionally had 70 percent as a benchmark. So I think that moves us along the way, and I believe we need to execute that. 
 
            There will be a competition for resources, believe you me, I know that. That's what the building and what we're all about every day. But there is a plan, there is a commitment on behalf of the Army and the Air Force, but to the real degree for the Army Guard to raise that equipment on hand up to that area. And again, I was in Louisiana, and we looked at Kansas and other areas and focused on the kinds of equipment that you need for natural disasters -- trucks and graders and front-loaders. We need tanks and things for dual use, but what we really need to look at are ambulances and helicopters and the things to respond to a disaster. And frankly, that's my focus right now, to make sure we have that kind of equipment ready for any natural disaster or other one in the United States. 
 
            Yes, sir? 
 
            Q     Sir, on that point, I mean, you put the recommendations I guess into your three categories. 
 
            MR. HALL: Yes. 
 
            Q     That third category is on this issue of natural disaster response and able to do that. Putting the budget aside, can you just sort of articulate in layman's terms how the new policy implementation the secretary's issued would address this issue? Because obviously with the Kansas tornado and some criticism on the Hill, that's been really in the spotlight now. How are the things that you're -- (inaudible) -- in the recommendations directly going to go to that issue of disaster response and the capability of the Guard to deal with that? 
 
            MR. HALL: That's a really fine question because you'll find when you look into those recommendations at least five areas that talk about the manner in which we do civil support -- how does DOD do its civil support to our civilian agencies, to our states. And how do we do the following: How do we identify what those civil support requirements are. We've not had a methodical way to take a look at those within our budget. And in my view, as a former budgeteer, you need to be able to pull out of the budget by program element, sub- program element, and programs, how much money do we have towards the kinds of things that are needed for natural disasters -- trucks, et cetera, et cetera. We have not had that.   
 
            Part of the requirements in this that you will see is a requirement to develop first those requirements. What are they are? To get agreement between agencies with the Department of Homeland Security, with General Blum, with NORTHCOM, with the Joint Staff, also with SOUTHCOM and PACOM because they have part of that -- what are those requirements? Second, then identify the necessary resources towards those requirements. And then step back and say are adequate resources there? And third, submit an annual report to Congress, which we have not had to do on these very items, to say we have looked at the requirements, here are the resources, they're either adequate or they're not, and if they're not, we have programmed these kinds of dollars, and we have broad agreement between all of those agencies on how we ought to do it, and here is the report. And then if Congress thinks that we're inadequate in that area. 
 
            But I think it's very critical to understand that we might not have had the kind of good process we had in the past to really look at those requirements because with requirements come resources, and then you got to be willing to put those. And it's all of the services, but it's really the Army and the Air Force probably have the bulk of those. 
 
            So that's how we're approaching it. You will find a number of recommendations in there establishing that type of process and requiring that we report it back to the secretary. 
 
            Did you have a follow-up? 
 
            Q     Yes, just a follow-up. I mean, does that imply that your numbers that you're looking at now -- I think you said 50 percent equipment on hand now growing up to 78 percent, I think -- 
 
            MR. HALL: Right. 
 
            Q     -- if you actually get down and start taking apart and doing the -- look at the resources, is it possible those numbers will change and you come up with new numbers of the resources needed for the Guard? 
 
            MR. HALL: Well, remember, those are dual-use kinds of items that are in those percentages, and they're also an "Essential 10." So the real answer to your question is you have to go down and tear that apart and look at things which are essential for natural disasters, you have to look at things which -- our equipment the Guard has, which might be tanks and Bradleys and Strykers, divide those, and my office is looking at that. And I think we need to have an entire new equipping strategy for the Guard and Reserve in light of today. 
 
            When I commanded the Naval Reserve, along the way, we had an equipping strategy for the '90s, but I don't think it works today. And I've tasked a group to go back and tear apart and look at what ought to be the new equipping strategy for all of our Guard and Reserve and say, do we really have it right for the strategy of the future? Because I think it might be tied a bit to the past. 
 
            Yes, sir. 
 
            Q     Given the shortfalls in equipment on hand, it would seem to me that -- well, why not make the National Guard Bureau a joint activity of DOD, keeping things under the Army and the Air Force? You're leaving roadblocks in the way and their parochial interest potentially in the way of the Guard getting everything that it thinks it needs. 
 
            MR. HALL: I think if the chief of the National Guard Bureau, written into the charter carefully -- writing the charter's going to be very important. And we need to specify within the charter -- because it becomes the document, as charters do, about how you're going to proceed, how you're going to do these things. And unless we have the ability for the input to be made by the chief of the National Guard Bureau, up through the chairman to the secretary, and unless we remove the kind of roadblocks that we've been criticized for, frankly, in the past and not getting the best advice from the adjutants general and from the chief of the National Guard Bureau -- and I think this goes a long to removing those roadblocks, in the eyes of the secretary, to allow the advice to go directly to him through the chairman for the chief of the National Guard Bureau to say, this is my input, these are my views. 
 
            Now, will that cause inevitably friction with the services? Well, this building is full of friction, and through friction, we arrive at the best possible conclusion. But I think you're right, part of it, it was felt by Congress and others that we had these roadblocks that we needed to get by if we're going to have the correct answer. 
 
            I think this goes a long way towards that. I don't know whether it will solve it, but I believe we will be in a better position than we were before this.   
 
            Q     To follow, then why -- what's wrong with making the National Guard and Reserve the de facto fifth military branch?   
 
            MR. HALL: I just think it's walking away from what we have had in my entire career. You know, I'm nearing 50 years now of service to our country, and I've seen, from Vietnam on, us trying to build a stronger three services, to try to implement Goldwater-Nichols, try -- I think fractionizing and making a fifth service -- you get a lot of things.   
 
            And when I commanded the Naval Reserve -- when a Naval Reserve begins to want equipment which just fits the Naval Reserve, is that compatible equipment with the mission of the Navy? And you have to be very careful that you're not buying things, programming things that is in your own strategic vision for your service, rather than for all of the services. And I think the strategic vision has to be for the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force, and those four have to have the vision, with their Reserve components integrated into them. If you don't, I think you get different equipment strategies, different other kinds of strategies. And I just believe -- again, talking on my own personal experience -- that will be walking away from integration, rather than facilitating it.  
 
            Q     Thank you. 
 
            MR. HALL: Yes, sir? 
 
            Q     Can I go back to the third recommendation? 
 
            MR. HALL: Yes. 
 
            Q     Are you saying that National Guardsmen or Reservists will be eligible to be combatant commanders? 
 
            MR. HALL: I believe they should, and I believe that the ultimate answer -- and you know -- and I have a vision, and I'll admit it's mine -- and that is that one day, when we really get total integration, we will have the joint education, the joint assignments, the joint qualifications for any of our National Guard, Reserve or active-duty officers, that they can be fully competitive to be either the combatant commander or the deputy commander or, at unified, sub- unified commands and others, be qualified for all of those. I think that would be the day -- hopefully some of you young people will see it; I'm not sure of me -- in which we will have achieved what we need in joint education and jointness, to make them qualified for that.   
 
            I think that would be the true test, rather than just narrowly saying let's pick out only one job, and if we sent a National Guard officer to that, then we will be satisfied; we've accomplished our goal because we have that one job and that one carved out. I think that's a very short-term -- is not the type of officer development you should have. So I have a much broader view of that. 
 
            Q     What would the mechanism be by which the services would submit the names or the recommendations? Would it be that the National Guard would submit their own names or that -- 
 
            MR. HALL: No. 
 
            In this memo you'll find that my boss, Dr. Chu, is required to submit the plan by which we will develop the joint education, the joint assignment, and that very process by which officers become qualified for that. And that's one of the tasks in here, to make sure that we identify it, that we don't just talk about it but we have an actual process about how do you nominate, how do you get those officers in. But first you've got to build the qualification and education and assignment. And that's part of the tasking to my boss, Dr. Chu. 
 
            Any others? Yes, ma'am. 
 
            Q     You said earlier that the equipping strategy needs to change and that's something that you're looking at. Can you give us a little bit more insight into what you think needs to change and how you would go about doing that? I understand that you're studying the issue right now, but what can you -- 
 
            MR. HALL: Well, I haven't had the first report back from my group. But I think when you go from a strategic to an operational reserve and you change from a point to where you're going to mobilize, train and deploy, and during this phase of mobilization, which lasts six to eight months, you do your training before you deploy, now if we're going to have a new strategy -- which we have, which is called train, mobilize and deploy -- and the mobilize and deploy is only one year in length -- which the secretary said on the 19th of January and has remained firm in that commitment -- then during this training phase -- and we have four brigade combat teams now that are in this new paradigm, the 37th, the 76th, the 45th and the 39th -- what they need to do in those eight months of pre-training, you have to have equipment available for them.   
 
            You can't afford to have the equipment over here. You need to have that equipment, either through trading equipment, have it available so during this training cycle. So you've got to look at where in the cycle is the equipment available.   
 
            And the model of it being available after you mobilize at a central training center, position it all there, merely means that your mobilizations are going to be 18 to 21 months, and we cannot sustain that and we don't want to sustain that. So it's got to move this equipment to perhaps training sets at different parts throughout the country. You've got look at how much equipment, how you're going to have it positioned, in what state and where. So it is that type of thing which we have to look at in order to execute the new model and keep the deployments to one year. 
 
            Q     Now, a point of clarification. You've said, I think, twice now that the budget would bring equipment levels up to 78 percent. I think the secretary's been saying 76.   
 
            MR. HALL: Seventy-six, I'm sorry. 
 
            Q     Seventy-six. 
 
            MR. HALL: Seventy-six. I agree with the secretary (Laughs.) I've been in the job a while, you know. (Laughter.) But it is 76. 
 
            Q     What about when units come back from a deployment? Are you reconsidering the equipment needs that they need to do their state missions after they come back from an overseas deployment?   
 
            MR. HALL: To me that's part of the whole new equipping strategy. You know, we used to say, well, you come back, and if we're going to need you there will be plenty of time, because we're going to fight a long protracted war; we can get the equipment to you. We cannot do that against this enemy today, so we're going to have to look at the post-mobilization time.   
 
            Where we are in the AR-FOR-GEN, which is the army's force generation model, and the rest of the services -- where is that equipment; when is it there; how much do you need it and when? So to me that's the whole new equipping strategy that you really have to look at, which didn't fit the way we did it before. And that's what I'm asking the group that I've chartered to take a look at.   
 
            Other areas?   
 
            MR. WHITMAN: We have time for one more, I guess.   
 
            MR. HALL: Yes, sir.   
 
            Q     Just in a nutshell, why agree to a fourth star and not the seat on the Joint Chiefs?   
 
            MR. HALL: Well, I think I talked a little about that, and I just --  
 
            Q     But, but more about why the benefits of the fourth star, because right now it's a three-star position. But why -- what are the benefits -- what does that extra star bring the bureau?   
 
            MR. HALL: I always noticed when I was a two-star that the three- stars got to do things that I didn't. And I always noticed the three- stars, the four-stars did. I think it's like anywhere else with a senior vice president, an executive vice president, a CEO. It is a matter of other kinds of things. It is a position. It allows you certain things.   
 
            And I would just only turn to you in your own business. Sometimes senior reporters and other reporters -- it's just a position that you have the opportunity to perhaps do other things that you don't. It's the same in the business world as it is in our world.   
 
            Q     Well, a three-star runs the war now, the war czar. (Laughter.)   
 
            Q     Sir, will you take one more on the budget.   
 
            MR. HALL: I'll take one more if I like it. (Laughs.)   
 
            Q     It will get equipment levels up to 76 percent.   
 
            MR. HALL: Yes, ma'am.   
 
            Q     Why not put a budget forward that will get equipment levels up to 100 percent?   
 
            MR. HALL: I don't think you ever really want 100 percent for everybody, because you get block obsolescence. And you know, if you buy into that -- now first of all, it's very expensive. And so I would ask you as a taxpayer, would you like to double your taxes or would you like to increase them by -- it is a real competition for resources in our country, with many pressing needs.   
 
            And I think if you equip everybody right away at 100 percent, you risk block obsolescence. You need to have a turnover of equipment. It becomes, what is the logical amount to do the job? And the real answer is not at 76, or 78 as I misquoted but 76, is that exactly what we need to do all of the missions? And it might in fact be 80 percent. It might in fact be 68.   
 
            But I think we have to have a goal. And we traditionally have had the goal of 70 percent, and we just feel that isn't adequate. So we're going to have to get back to you to see if we made the right answer. But I think we've got to move towards that and we've got to execute that budget and get that equipment there.   
 
            Q     Thank you, sir.   
 
            MR. HALL: Thank you all very much.
 
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