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DoD News Briefing - Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA
January 04, 2001 3:00 PM EDT

Thursday, January 4, 2001 - 3:00 p.m. EST

Bacon: Good afternoon. What are you looking at your watch for? Huh? (Laughter.)

Q: Good evening.

Bacon: Good evening?! (Laughter.)

I'm going to make my briefings maybe just progressively later until my last briefing will begin at 21:30 or something like that. You say you work for a worldwide wire service, you know; any time you file, people will be reading it, right?

Okay, let me start with a couple of -- I do apologize, actually, for being late. Let me start with two brief announcements.

First, Secretary Cohen and the Joint Chiefs of Staff will host an honors ceremony for President and Mrs. Clinton, who is now Senator Clinton, tomorrow at 4:00 p.m. at Conmy Hall, Fort Myer. And if you plan to cover that, you should go to the Media Center located in Building 405 at Fort Myer between 1:30 and 3:00. There will be a shuttle bus to take media from the Media Center to the ceremony location. And we can give you more information on that, if you need it. [ See http://www.mdw.army.mil/news/01-001.html ]

Q: What exactly is it?

Bacon: This is a -- the secretary and the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are going to give an award tomorrow to President Clinton and to Senator Clinton for their support of the military over the last eight years. And that ceremony will be open to the press, if you want to go. It's at 4:00 tomorrow afternoon.

Second, the National Collegiate Athletic Association will present Secretary Cohen its highest award, which is called the Theodore Roosevelt Award, on Sunday, January 7th, at their annual convention in Orlando, Florida. And this award, the Theodore Roosevelt Award, is presented each year to a public official of outstanding accomplishment who has earned a varsity letter in college and has supported the ideals of collegiate athletic programs. [ See http://www.defenselink.mil/advisories/2001/p01042001_p002-01.html ]

As you know, Secretary Cohen was a basketball player of some repute in New England as a college student at Bowdoin. Other public recipients -- public officials who have received this award are Presidents Eisenhower, Ford, Reagan and Bush; Senator Robert Dole, Justice Byron White, General Omar Bradley, and Jack Kemp received the award, as well as Bill Cosby.

With that, I'll take your questions.


Q: Ken, depleted uranium is raising its ugly head again. The Spaniards and Italians are claiming that some of their troops may have died peacekeeping in the Balkans. Have any American troops suffered difficulties from that, and what's the U.S. got to say about this?

Bacon: Well, first, we have studied depleted uranium at considerable length over the years because of assertions that it might contribute to Gulf War Illness. And, as you know, we have found -- we have not been able to find any connection between exposure to depleted uranium on the one hand and the constellation of illnesses or symptoms included in Gulf War Illness on the other hand. Just before Christmas, as a matter of fact, we released a review of medical literature that reached that conclusion and it sustained a similar conclusion reached by us alone in 1998 -- by us the Defense Department alone in 1998. So we have not found any link between illnesses and exposure to depleted uranium. [ See http://www.defenselink.mil/releases/2000/b12192000_bt753-00.html ]

We are aware of the European concerns and we are working closely with our allies. This has been brought up in the NATO context and it's also been brought up in the UN. The UN, last year, sent a team to Kosovo to take soil samples, water samples, milk samples and other tests, and they are currently in the process of evaluating those samples, I believe, at five laboratories. And that work will be done, I believe, some time in the Spring.

NATO, I understand, is going to discuss this issue next week at a meeting in Brussels. It will be brought up by the Europeans, we expect. We have been working with them; we have made a lot of information available to our European allies on this. Over quite a period of time we have worked with KFOR to put out information packets on depleted uranium which was used in Kosovo during Operation Allied Force.

On it's potential health impacts, now --

Q: Does that include how to -- what not -- what to avoid and how to handle, you know, items that have been struck by ammunitions -- that kind of thing? Or is it --

Bacon: It does. It does include what to do if you find a part of a depleted uranium round. We use depleted uranium in two ways. We use it in projectiles for anti-armor -- for use against tanks and other armored vehicles. We use it in projectiles used by the A-10 and the GAU-8 gun and we use it in projectiles used in our tank -- our main battle tank, the Abrams tank.

We also use depleted uranium in armor for the tank, and depleted uranium -- it's worth noting -- is exactly what its name implies. It is uranium that is depleted of radiation. Therefore it is uranium that is less radioactive by some 40 percent than naturally occurring uranium. Uranium is in the ground, it's in the water, it's in the air, but depleted uranium is uranium from which isotopes have been taken away in order to enrich other pieces of uranium to make it into enriched uranium, which is used in nuclear power plants, for instance.

So, the depleted uranium has less radioactivity than normal uranium. It is a heavy metal; extremely dense, and that's why it's useful in armor as well as in projectiles.

Q: Okay, thank you.

Q: Has there been any --

Bacon: Just let me finish.

Q: Oh, sorry.

Bacon: And heavy metals such as lead do have some natural chemical toxicity to it. But, having said that, we do not believe that our troops, who have been using depleted uranium rounds and been sitting in tanks armored by depleted uranium or including armor -- armored by armor that includes depleted uranium -- we do not believe that it has led to adverse health consequences.

We do not believe that it has led to adverse health consequences.

Q: So there's no indication that any U.S. peacekeeping troops in the region might have been affected by depleted uranium around the --

Bacon: No. No.


Q: Would you just back up on the --

Q: Can I ask a follow-up to that, please?

Bacon: I'll get to you, Ivan.

Q: -- depleted uranium that was used? You said that it was used by A-10s and by tanks --

Bacon: We didn't use tanks -- we did not use tanks in Bosnia. We used tanks in the Gulf War.

Q: So from a logistic -- (inaudible) -- then, the A-10s were the only platforms firing depleted uranium?

Bacon: That's my understanding, yes.

Q: And these were just the cannon on the A-10?

Bacon: NATO reported to the UN in a letter last year that DU rounds were used when the A-10s engaged armor during Operation Allied Force. It was used throughout Kosovo in approximately 100 missions. A total of approximately 31,000 rounds of depleted uranium ammunition were used during Operation Allied Force.

Q: So that's a 20-caliber -- or actually, whatever it --

(Cross talk.)

Bacon: It's the -- (inaudible). Whatever the caliber is, that's what the gun is called, as I understand it. Depleted uranium is used also in the ballast of ships and as a stabilizing material in airplanes. It's used commercially in transportation products, as well as in weaponry.


Q: I thought the allegations were about Bosnia more than Kosovo, or am I mistaken about that? And why would there have been much depleted uranium, if any, used in Bosnia?

Bacon: Yes. There was some used in Bosnia, but a much smaller amount.

Q: Same type of armament, though, that --

Bacon: Well, SHAPE estimates that 10,800 rounds of armor- piercing rounds were used in -- around Sarajevo in '94 and '95.

Q: That would be tank rounds, or what would that be?

Bacon: Yeah, it would have been -- well, these were not -- we did not have tanks on the ground in Bosnia in '94, and we actually didn't have any tanks around Sarajevo ever because our tanks had gone to Tuzla. These would have been used by aircraft.

Q: Also A-10s or --

Bacon: I believe so. Yes, I believe so.


Q: (Off mike) -- also uses DU, I believe. But has the U.S. taken any particular safeguards against troops and others handling DU ammunition? Do they wear radiation badges? Do they wear protective clothing at all? Even with a 40 percent reduction, as you know, radiation is cumulative, and it would seem that there may be some kind of danger there.

Bacon: Troops are instructed to wear masks, if they're around what they consider to be atomized or particle-ized depleted uranium; that is if rounds have struck tanks, there could be depleted uranium dust around. So if they were working around an Iraqi tank that had been disabled by a depleted uranium round, they would be instructed to wear some sort of mask to prevent breathing in particles.

Q: I'm referring more to the loading of the ammunition or aircraft or whatever.

Bacon: No. No. In fact, the ammunition, I believe, is -- the depleted uranium is shielded by a very thin layer of steel, so there's no direct exposure to it. And the depleted uranium in the armor is part of a sandwich of blocking materials, so it's included in layers and it's not the outside layer.


Q: Two questions. One is, the information package of material that you said was distributed, can we get a copy of those, or are they available on the DefenseLINK?

Bacon: We can certainly get a copy of the U.S. ones. I don't know whether we have the KFOR ones around, but we can certainly get you the type of information that the Army puts out, for instance.

Q: And my second question is, how confident can you be, and how conclusive is the evidence that there is no health effects associated with any exposure to depleted uranium?

Bacon: Well, I think that based on our experience, we're pretty confident of what we've said, which is we have found no direct link.

Q: I mean, is the science very solid? Is the medical -- or is this another case, as we've seen with many of the things relating to Gulf War illnesses, for instance, where we look at the research and we're told that it can't be ruled out, no evidence, but more study is needed. Is this an area where more study is needed?

Bacon: We've done several studies, and -- in the Gulf War context, including reviews of medical literature. There are 33 soldiers who were involved in friendly fire accidents where they were hit by depleted uranium rounds during the Gulf War. They were in vehicles that were hit. Some of them -- about 15 of them have particles of depleted uranium in their bodies -- shrapnel. They are being monitored very carefully. We have not seen any unusual health impact from the radiation from the depleted uranium in their bodies. I mean, obviously, if they were hit with shrapnel, they could have some health consequences from that. But we haven't seen any from the fact that the shrapnel is depleted uranium.

Now this is what's been laid out in -- by the Gulf War people over the years in their studies, and you can get them; they're all on the web site [ http://www.gulflink.osd.mil/du_index.htm ]. The --

Q: Well, could I just repeat my question? I guess what I meant to ask was, is more study needed on this question, or is the scientific verdict in on depleted --

Bacon: No, I think the lesson of the Gulf War illness studies, starting in 1996, when we changed direction on dealing with Gulf War illness, is that you never exhaust the need for studies. And we are constantly studying these. We have studied depleted uranium for the last 10 years, and we'll continue to study it.

The -- some of the news stories that I have read out of Europe recently link leukemia with depleted uranium. Now the largest external cause of leukemia is cigarette smoke.

So there's a 20 percent contribution from cigarette smoke to leukemia. Radiation has a very, very low contribution to causes of leukemia. Leukemia frequently does not develop quickly. So I think that the first thing that's necessary, if we're dealing with allegations that there is a connection between leukemia and depleted uranium, is an epidemiological study that would determine first if there's an unusually high incidence of leukemia among soldiers who have served in either Bosnia or Kosovo. It could take a long time to produce that study.

But that would be a logical starting point to find out if there is any reason for proceeding further. First of all, a basic epidemiological study. That's something that could be done by European allies, it could be done by us. But it hasn't been done yet. And until people do that basic type of epidemiological work, which involves comparison groups, et cetera, I think it's premature to talk about any link between depleted uranium and leukemia. We have found nothing to link the two in our research.

Q: Ken, if there is no health effect, why would American soldiers handling some of this material be urged to wear masks?

Bacon: Well, what we're talking about is a material that, if you -- like most things in our lives -- if you were to hold a piece of depleted uranium in your hand for 250 straight hours, you might begin to get an overdose of radiation. Nobody is doing that. So we have given people standards and training for the people who deal with depleted uranium for protecting themselves from anything that might occur, but we have not found any connection between depleted uranium -- I mean, if you drank too much water, you could theoretically get into trouble, but we don't go around worrying about water.

Q: But you aren't asking your soldiers to wear masks when they're handling water.

Bacon: No. All we're --

Q: You're asking them to wear masks when they're handling depleted uranium.

Bacon: In a small number of cases where a depleted uranium round has hit an armored vehicle and where there may be dust -- now, all our studies show that in cases where there is dust, it is washed away and nullified by the first heavy rain. But there aren't a lot of heavy rains in the desert, so obviously, when we were advising our soldiers how to deal with depleted uranium damage, or damaged vehicles in the desert, we were careful to point out that they should wear masks.

Q: And it is the radioactivity, not necessarily the other toxicities contained in this --

Bacon: Well, I'm not enough of a scientist to be able to differentiate between the two. The radioactivity -- as I pointed out, the radioactivity is 40 percent less than in natural occurring uranium; hence the name "depleted uranium." There is a certain amount of toxicity in heavy metals. Mercury is a heavy metal; it's highly toxic. But we're not talking about mercury, we're talking about something entirely different.

Q: Right, that's what I'm trying to figure out is, is it the substance itself or the radioactive of the substance itself that could be a potential health factor?

Bacon: I can't answer that question. I mean, if you'd like, we can get a depleted uranium expert down here to run you through not only what we've learned during our Gulf War studies -- we could have Bernie Rostker come down and talk about those. And we'd be glad to bring down a scientist to talk about other aspects of depleted uranium. If there is a vote for this, we will definitely do it. In fact, I may do it anyway. (Laughter.)

Q: In monitoring the health of troops in the Balkans, which was instituted as a result of the Persian Gulf stuff, wouldn't a spike or a higher incidence of leukemia than normal, isn't that something that would be readily apparent?

Bacon: We have not found that in American troops. And there was depleted uranium used in several areas, at several sites in the American sector; one is Urosevac -- during Operation Allied Force. We have not found any unusual health effects at all from our soldiers in the Balkans, and we do give them very extensive health audits on the way in and on the way out. And we have certainly found nothing linked to depleted uranium. So we have found nothing that would make us suspicious, and certainly nothing that would make us -- that would make us think that there was any link -- nothing to link depleted uranium to leukemia.

Q: Has any attempt been made to track the health, specifically, of troops who work with depleted uranium, whether in the states or in deployments -- that kind of thing?

Bacon: Well, I don't know the answer to that, but probably as a group in the United States, people in the uniform of the military have more ready access to health care and better chances of being tracked, year to year, than almost any other group in the United States because they all participate in a health care plan and they are vaccinated and examined fairly regularly, not only when they deploy and when they return from deployments, but they have to take physicals and that type of thing.

Q: But if you don't do that, I mean, how can you know whether there's a problem -- whether any problems are arising associated with exposure to depleted uranium on the part of troops?

Bacon: If we saw unusual health patterns within the military we would work very hard to correlate those patterns to particular duty. We have not seen such unusual patterns and therefore we have not seen any -- we have not seen anything that would correlate it or lead us to try to correlate it to duty in armored corps, for instance.

Q: One more question. The Italians have called for a moratorium on the use of depleted uranium munitions. Is that something that the United States would consider doing?

Bacon: We don't see any health reasons to consider a moratorium at this stage. We will work with our allies, as I said, in health studies, but we see no reason to consider a moratorium now.

From our standpoint, depleted uranium saves lives of soldiers in two ways. One, it increases the kinetic potential and destructive potential of both tank rounds and A-10 rounds in use against armor. And two, it provides better armor protection to our tanks.

Not one tank, not one American tank protected by armor containing depleted uranium was killed, so to speak, by an Iraqi tank during Desert Storm.


Q: Related to that question, has the Pentagon made any assessment as to why it seems there's suddenly this huge outcry in Europe about the issue? And do you think it could be aimed at forcing the U.S. and NATO to give up depleted uranium projectiles and armor?

Bacon: Well, you know, there has been a very concerted campaign against depleted uranium by our enemies, first Saddam Hussein, and second, Slobodan Milosevic. And if you log on to Serb web sites, particularly the Serb web sites that were put up by the Milosevic (inaudible) during the war, Operation Allied Force, you will see a lot of ranting about depleted uranium. We don't think that it reflects the science at all, but it's there. And I don't know whether this type of emotionalism has infected other countries or not.

I also think that whenever a soldier is sick, there is an understandable effort to find out why and to try to figure out if some terms of his service or her service contributed to the illness. And there may be some of that going on there.

We have been cooperating with our allies on this. We have given them a substantial amount of information. All our studies are available on the Web [ http://www.gulflink.osd.mil/du_index.htm ]. You can look at them; anybody else can look at them. They aren't in Italian, but Italians can read them in English. And we are prepared to work, through NATO, on this issue and to make all our research available. What we're asking people to do is to look at the science.


Q: This one might have to wait for your uranium expert, but you've explained the difference in levels of radiation between uranium and depleted uranium, but what's the difference between depleted uranium and ambient radiation in a normal tank?

Bacon: Well, I mean, there is ambient radiation, and I don't know the -- I mean, I've seen figures on that.

I don't have them at my fingertips, but we could give you something that answers that.

Q: Would that tell us how many more -- how much -- many more times radiant -- you know what I'm saying -- depleted uranium is than --

Bacon: We're not talking -- depleted uranium, as I said, is used in commercial airliners, it's used in cargo ships. For all I know, it may be used in private yachts in their keels, because that's the type of place that it's used. So it is around us in our life and, as I say, uranium, which is naturally more radioactive than depleted uranium, is around us in our lives as well. I'll get you some analysis of that.

Yes --

Q: Can I ask -- is the subject exhausted?

Bacon: I don't know. (Laughter.)

Q: It's depleted!

Bacon: It has a long half-life, I can see.

Q: I have a related question.

Bacon: Sure.

Q: Is this Defense Department at all concerned about the Russians moving their tactical nuclear weapons --

Q: Radiation! Radiation! (Laughter.)

Q: -- and if so, have they determined the reason why they're being moved?

Bacon: Well, I can't answer that question directly because I can't comment on intelligence reports, and I won't. I will refer you back to what my colleague at the State Department, Richard Boucher, said yesterday on this. We do not think there has been a dramatic change in the military balance in Europe recently, certainly, and we are aware that the Russians have made statements saying that as their conventional forces get weaker that they will look more and more to their nuclear forces. But beyond that, I can't comment on any specific reports.

Yes, Tony?

Q: The Russian foreign minister yesterday accused the U.S. of repeatedly violating the START I Treaty in terms of not properly destroying MX ballistic missiles. Do you have any reaction to that?

Bacon: Well, I would say it's a classic case of old wine in old bottles. They've made this charge repeatedly. We and the Russians have a disagreement about this. We contend that if we -- I think their latest charges dealt with Peacekeepers missiles, as I understand it. First of all, if we did nothing to our Peacekeepers missiles, we still wouldn't be in violation of START II, but we are destroying Peacekeeper missiles. We regard a Peacekeeper missile destroyed if we destroy the top stage; the upper stage. They regard it destroyed if the whole missile is destroyed.

We argue that if we destroy the upper stage, the missile is destroyed, and we can use the rest as a launch vehicle for satellites or other things. That's basically the argument.

But this is something they've said repeatedly, and therefore I call it old wine in old bottles.

Q: I don't think you've destroyed Peacekeepers missiles -- (off mike) --

Bacon: We have destroyed two of them.

Q: Two of them?

Bacon: Yeah.

Q: Can I ask you a Cole follow-up? We've had a lot of stories in the last --

Q: Before we -- before you go on to that new thing --

Bacon: Oh, yeah --

Q: Oh, excuse me.

Q: -- I've got a Kaliningrad thing. Back in -- I think it was the Bush administration, the U.S. Navy took tactical nukes off its ships, and I don't think there was ever a treaty or agreement with the Russians on this. But I think they did something similar, perhaps, or perhaps it just applied to the Baltic fleet. I'm not sure. But at that time, might they have taken Navy tactical nuclear weapons off of their ships and put them into headquarters of the Baltic fleet, which is Kaliningrad? Or does this -- might this be something that's been around for a few years?

Bacon: It's highly possible that they took tactical nuclear weapons off their ships and stored them in Kaliningrad.

Q: How about Army weapons?

Bacon: It's highly possible they stored Army and Air Force weapons at storage sites in Kaliningrad.

Q: And they might have done this several years ago?

Bacon: Yes, they might have.


Q: On another issue --

Q: No, I have a question with that --

Bacon: Yeah?

Q: Can you comment on the security of Kaliningrad? And is there any risk of those weapons falling into the wrong hands?

Bacon: Our experience has been that generally the Russians have been quite diligent in securing their weapons.


Q: Ken, some, I guess, office business: There are a number of reports and studies hanging fire that the SecDef has ordered. Is he going to try to clean up everything before he leaves office?

For instance, is the V-22 study going to be completed and released before --

Bacon: No.

Q: -- you know, this in-depth study out of the program at -- sorry. And the F-22 -- is there going to be a decision on whether or not to go ahead on an initial full-rate production of the F-22, or --

Bacon: In terms of the V-22, Secretary Cohen ordered a broad review of the program. That will not be complete before he leaves. It'll probably take at least several months to complete that.

Q: So he's going to leave that for the next --

Bacon: The terms of reference, I think, were just published yesterday. And it will take some time for the team of three to complete that.

The F-22 Defense Acquisition Board was supposed to have -- was originally scheduled to have taken place on January 3rd. It had to be delayed for a number of reasons, and it has not been rescheduled. So it's unclear when that will in fact happen. The Air Force is working to meet all the criteria necessary in order to allow the board to take place, but we don't have a date on that yet.

Q: Isn't Ganzler -- sorry. Is it this weekend he's leaving?

Bacon: Yes, he is leaving on -- tomorrow is his last day. We will miss him. He's, as you know, the under secretary for acquisitions, technology and logistics. And he is leaving for academia tomorrow.

Q: Well, wouldn't you have to --

Bacon: Well, he has a deputy and he has a whole organization of people who would review this. But one of the issues, of course, is whether this decision will be ready to be made before the 20th, and if it is, whether we should make it or leave it for the next administration.

Q: I guess what I'm asking is, is it likely that you will? Is it likely that it will be ready, number one. And if you -- is the secretary inclined to leave this until the next --

Bacon: I cannot answer that question because, so far, it's just not -- the decision is not ready to be made. The Air Force hasn't met all the criteria. One of the reasons is that weather -- the crippling weather in the Southeast over the last couple of weeks has delayed their flight program. They are working diligently to try to get everything done; I don't know whether they will.

Q: But again -- again, I'm sorry to --

Bacon: Charlie, I can't answer the question. There are two elements. One, I can't answer the question because I don't know whether the Air Force will in fact complete all its work that's necessary for the review to take place, and even if they do, then we have to make a decision whether we're going to decide it now or leave it to the next administration. I thought I was clear about that. But in other words, we haven't made a decision.

Q: Speaking of the next administration, what's the latest on the transition effort here?

Bacon: The transition effort has been greatly accelerated by the fact that they chose as secretary of Defense one who has already been secretary of defense and knows a lot and has been following this issue very closely. His team has been meeting with people. Secretary-designate Rumsfeld will meet with Secretary Cohen tomorrow for breakfast. And they have had at least one phone conversation, maybe more.

And we have provided a lot of information to their transition team and made all officials they've requested available to them.

Q: They're meeting here -- here at the Pentagon?

Bacon: Here, right.

Q: And there is a photo-op at breakfast. Is that right?

Bacon: We are in the process of trying to arrange that now and we'll let you know.

Q: And what time will that be?

Bacon: It's in the morning. I don't know exactly when.


Q: On the Cole report, can you give us a state of play, in terms of when it may be released and publicly briefed?

Bacon: It may be released early next week.

Q: Can you comment on any of the press reports in terms of their accuracy and the thrust of the report that there were security violations, and --

Bacon: No, I think we'll just wait for the report to come out.

Q: Can I ask you an F-22 follow-up?

Bacon: Sure.

Q: Does the Pentagon have any reaction to Philip Coyle's December 20th, five-page report suggesting that they not make the production decision because testing has not progressed as much as it should have?

Bacon: Well, I said earlier that one of the reasons the Defense Acquisition Board was delayed from January 3rd was because the Air Force had not completed all of the tests. It's striving to do that as quickly as possible. Whether it does so or not in time for a new Defense Acquisition Board to be held quickly remains to be seen.

And they may -- the Air Force may have more up-to-date information on it, but as of this morning they had not completed all of those tests.

Q: Coyle's report suggests that just even if they don't do all the ten criteria this program is so far behind schedule it's going to take another year to complete full-scale development, therefore you don't really need to buy these next 10 airplanes. Has this --

Bacon: That's exactly the type of decision that would be looked at when they sit down to review the program. And since we haven't had that review, we haven't considered all the points raised by Phil Coyle.

Q: But they will be taken into consideration, is that --

Bacon: This is exactly the type of thing we take into consideration, right.


Q: Well, getting back to that, do you know, or can you comment on if flying aircraft 4006 will have -- they'll have some sort of clemency with that that they actually won't have to get that aircraft off the ground to consider all criteria met?

Bacon: No, I can't answer that question.

Q: And back to the V-22, will the V-22's continue to remain grounded until that report is in -- the several-month-long study?

Bacon: I don't know the answer to that question. I don't know if any decision has been made on it. The V-22 could depend more on the Marine crash investigation than the overall review of the program.

Q: Do you have any update on that crash investigation?

Bacon: I do not. I do not, no. I mean, the Marines have been very forthcoming about reporting information when they have it. And I'm sure that when they learn more and they have some confidence in it, they'll report that as well.

Yes, Dale.

Q: Ken, the Senators Warner and Stevens were in the building earlier and I understand they met with Secretary Cohen. Can you give us any kind of readout on that, and specifically whether there was discussion of the Crouch-Gehman report and the other reports pending on the Cole, and any steps that the Congress might be asked to take regards enhancing force protection?

Bacon: Secretary Cohen gave a lunch this afternoon for the so-called "Big Eight." These are the chairman and the ranking minority members of the Senate and House Armed Services committees and the Senate and House Appropriations Committees and the Defense Appropriations subcommittees to those committees.

And that's why Senators Stevens and Warner and Levin and Inouye were here, as well as all of their congressional counterparts except Congressman Murtha, who wasn't able to come. So the discussion, it was really an event talking about the overall relations, good relations between the Pentagon and the committees that supervise us, and not about specifics.

Q: So it was in the nature of a farewell kind of luncheon, is that --

Bacon: Yes, that would be a good way to describe it.

Yes, Ivan?

Q: A new topic, if I may?

Bacon: Sure.

Q: Vieques. Has this department made a decision on what it's going to do if the new governor of Puerto Rico abridges the existing agreement/treaty?

Bacon: Well, Governor Calderon, who was sworn in early this week, has made some very clear statements about Vieques. We are waiting to sit down and talk with her about the way ahead on Vieques. The Navy's view and the department's view on this is very clear, that we have an agreement that calls for a referendum to decide the future of the Navy range on -- the Navy use of Vieques. We have set a date for that referendum. I believe it's in November of this year, November 6th or 7th, as I recall, of this year. And we are prepared to move ahead with that. And there are some land transfers and other actions to take place before that. We did not make any land transfers at the end of December as originally planned because we wanted to be able to sort out with the governor-elect, now Governor Calderon, exactly what her plans are for Vieques. And I hope we'll be able to do that relatively soon.

Q: I have a business regulation question. About three weeks ago, the Office of Management and Budget put out a regulation that would allow contracting officers to essentially blackball or debar companies accused of federal crimes. The Pentagon, according to business leaders, was opposed to that regulation. The Pentagon, however, declined to release its comments publicly while the process was pending. Can you check with Diedre Lee's office -- she's the director of procurement -- to see if that document can now be released? It is still a hot issue in the business community.

Bacon: Yeah. See Captain Taylor about that. This one has escaped me.

Q: I know.

Bacon: But it -- we'll -- yeah?

Q: Any information yet on where Secretary Cohen is going to go next?

Bacon: Well, I think when he is prepared to announce his future plans, he will. And he is not prepared to make an announcement yet.

Initially when he leaves he'll move over into some offices in Crystal City, as Secretary Perry did after he left as secretary, to organize his papers and complete various loose ends, and he'll be over there for a while. And then he'll make his announcement at the appropriate time.


Q: Yes, back to Vieques. Now the governor has been sworn in, has said as recently as yesterday that she's going to withdraw the SWAT team at the entrance of the gate which provides protection to the range. She still vows that she's going to have her own independent referendum. She still has called once again on President Clinton to use his powers as commander-in-chief to order the withdrawal of the Navy now. When does the department finally decide that the agreement is null and void, or is there any hope that she can get what she wants?

Bacon: I can't answer those questions. As I said, there has to be a meeting between the governor or her team and either the Navy or the administration. As you know, the current agreement was hammered out over a number of months during a number of meetings at the White House and here and elsewhere, in San Juan, and we'll continue the process.

We believe this agreement gives us, gives the Navy, the right to use Vieques as a training range until the referendum is held, under the terms that were set in the agreement -- no live fire but inert ordnance -- and our plans are to continue to do that. But we will attempt to sit down and talk with the governor about this.

Thank you.