HomeNewsTranscriptsTranscript View

News Transcript

Department of Defense Press Briefing by Pentagon Chief Spokesperson Dana W. White and David L. Norquist, Undersecretary Of Defense, Comptroller

Press Operations

Pentagon Chief Spokesperson Dana W. White and David L. Norquist, Undersecretary Of Defense, Comptroller
Dec. 7, 2017
PRINT | E-MAIL
DANA WHITE:  Good afternoon, everyone. Today is Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day. And I had the great honor and privilege of meeting three of the USS Arizona survivors a few months ago: Mr. Bruner, from Washington State; Mr. Stratton from Nebraska; and Mr. Potts, as well as a few of their family members who came.

And I just wanted to say that, when we met with them, they were meeting with the chairman and the secretary. And what was really striking about them was that how they remembered the service members that they'd served with, 76 years ago. And so I just invite all of us to remember the 2,400 sailors who we lost that day. 

Now, I'd like to also introduce the honorable David Norquist. He's the under secretary, comptroller. We are going to be focused on the budget today. As you know, tomorrow the C.R. (continuing resolution) expires. The department has been under a C.R. for the past 9 years, for 1,081 days. And so we are optimistic that the Congress will pass a robust and predictable fully-funded F.Y. '18 budget. 

C.R.s have had more of an impact. Nothing's had a greater impact on combat readiness than C.R.s. So -- and at a time where security threats are high, we really do need the predictability in the budget, certainty that we don't have with C.R.s. 

With respect to the Budget Control Act, if sequestration happens, it's a cut of $52 million [sic billion] to the F.Y. '18 budget. It negatively impacts readiness and our lethality, and affects the way we operate with our partners. 

And with respect to the DOD (Department of Defense) audit, this week marks the start of DOD's audit. It demonstrates our commitment to fiscal responsibility and maximizing the value of every taxpayer dollar that is entrusted to us. It -- we are entrusted with about $600 billion per year, and so we welcome the accountability. 

So, with that, I'm going to let David talk to the audit. 

UNDERSECRETARY OF DEFENSE DAVID L. NORQUIST:  Good afternoon. So fulfilling the president and the secretary's commitment, I am proud to announce the Department of Defense audit begins this month. I've received the DOD Office of Inspector General's notification, that it will begin the agency-wide financial statement audit. 

It is important that the Congress and the American people have confidence in DOD's management of every taxpayer dollar. These annual audits are fundamental to achieving one of the secretary's three main priorities: business reform is the third. 

Audits examine the accuracy of our financial information and test our ability to account for our property. With consistent feedback from auditors, we can focus on improving our day- to-day work and processes. Annual audits also ensure visibility over the quantity and quality of the equipment and support -- supplies our troops use. 

With more than $2.4 trillion in assets, this financial statement audit is one of the largest ever undertaken in history. The DOD OIG (Office of Inspector General) has hired independent public accounting firms to conduct audits of individual components. They will, then, combine that into a department-wide consolidated audit that summarizes all the results and conclusions. Beginning in '18, our annual audits will occur every single year with the reports issued on November 15th. 

MS. WHITE: So with that, we'll take your questions. 

Bob?

Q: Yes, thank you. Back to your opening comments about the budget situation and negotiations going on now. Could you -- either or both of you explain what contingency plan there is in place, in the event there is a shutdown or a partial shutdown, to continue operations and (inaudible) furloughs, that sort of thing? 

MS. WHITE: Well, what I will tell you is that the threats never end. And so this department will never shut down. 

But David can go into some of the plans that we have. 

UNDERSECRETARY NORQUIST: Sure. So, the department will continue to protect the country but any time we get close to the end of the C.R., we automatically go through and update our contingency plans. And so we've had to do that several times this year. 

The basic effect of a shutdown: First item is military personnel report to work. But we are not able to pay them until the shutdown ends. Civilians, it depends on what we call "excepted activities." If they're performing an excepted activity -- safety of property, protection of life -- they report to work. If not, they will -- they will either given time to come in and shut down their work, or they will -- they'll stay at home, we'll send them instructions on that. 

I cannot emphasize too much how destructive a shutdown is. If we have -- we've talked before about the importance of maintenance on weapons systems and others, but if it's not an excepted activity, there'll be work stoppage on many of those maintenance functions. 

Simple things like death benefits to families and military members killed in the line of duty, we're not allowed to make those payments until the shutdown ends. Contractors. Even if the contract is funded, if the government oversight is not considered an excepted service, those contractors will not be able to report and work. 

So the disruption of this ripples through the organization and is very destructive. 

Q: Has the contingency plan already been communicated to the relevant people at...

UNDERSECRETARY NORQUIST: Correct. And we keep it posted and updated on a regular basis. 

MS. WHITE: Hans?

Q: If you guys could explain what a 2-week C.R. extension would do to readiness? 

UNDERSECRETARY NORQUIST: So a C.R., by its very nature, is disruptive. And so every time you add to it, it creates more challenges. And so the question of whether it's one-week, two-week, to really determine the length of disruption -- but let me give you a couple of examples, and how it matters. 

In the administration's budget, we requested additional money for munitions. And so we would like to increase the production of some of those munitions. The military commanders asked for it. Secretary signed off on it. OMB and the White House submitted it. And if you've seen the congressional marks, they've been very supportive of the administration's budget. 

What the C.R. says is, "Stop, wait. Don't award that contract yet," which delays when you begin to increase the quantity and the production. Two very destructive effects of that. One is, we're delayed in meeting the requirements of the combatant commanders. The other one is, there are companies out there, willing to hire people to begin to meet our requirements and, therefore, you're not getting the benefit on the economic side, of that employment. 

So two weeks does that for two weeks. A month does that for a month. The answer is really, none of this is fixed until you get a proper appropriation bill. 

Tara?

Q: Thank you. A couple questions. On the C.R., can you put it in terms of the warfighters we have overseas? Like, for the men and women we have serving in Africa right now, they get contracted air support.

What really would happen to them if the government shuts down on Friday? Would they still get that contracted air support, who protects them, how does their day to day change?

MS. WHITE: David?

UNDERSECRETARY NORQUIST: Our support in the theaters of operation continues. Even under a shutdown, we continue to support and protect the security of the country.

Q: So how does that actually happen though, if the money stops? If -- just ... 

UNDERSECRETARY NORQUIST: We're not able to make payments, but those are considered accepted activities because they relate to protection of life and protection of property. And we list in our plans all the operations so that people understand that they are accepted.

Q: And unrelated, the Trump administration has filed to seek relief from accepting transgender recruits on January 1, and I was wondering if -- Ms. White, if you could please comment on that.

MS. WHITE: I've heard -- I've seen the report, I know of the report, but I would have to refer you to the Justice Department because it is pending litigation.

Q: So at the current time the DOD is still planning to accept transgender recruits as of January 1?

MS. WHITE: At the current time, DOD has a panel in which they will give recommendations to the secretary, and make recommendations to the president. We will follow whatever legal guidance we are given, and so anything else, I'd have to refer you to Justice.

Q: The current court ruling on it is that DOD must accept transgender recruits as of January 1st.

MS. WHITE: I'm aware, and again, I'd just have -- it's pending litigation, so I'd have to refer you to Justice. 

Right here in the middle.

Q: Yes, thank you. On the secretary's travel to Pakistan, I saw your readout, the secretary asking Pakistan to re- double its effort in the fight against terrorism. But can you tell us what kind of assurances he's received from Pakistan, if the secretary sees Pakistan taking steps against Haqqani Network, and if not, how much time Pakistan has before U.S. can start again with action on its own?

MS. WHITE: The secretary had very fruitful conversations about where they -- we can find common ground. As he said, you know, no one has lost more troops and lives to terrorism than the Pakistanis. So again, this is about broadening our relationship and looking for opportunities.

And I think there are opportunities. I think his trip showed that. We will give you more, but again it's a conversation that's about common ground.

Q: What's that common ground, can you explain a little bit?

MS. WHITE: Again, terrorism. I mean, the threat of terrorism -- I mean everyone has -- Pakistan has an interest in ensuring that terrorism is defeated. They've lost thousands of troops, and they've lost thousands of innocents as well.

So it's in the interests of Pakistan, the U.S., the region to ensure that we can encourage that Afghanistan has a political reconciliation. So we'll look for ways to work with Pakistanis to find that common ground and move forward. 

Right here?

Q: Tony Bertuca, Inside Defense. 

Mr. Norquist, last year the Department, when there was an extended C.R., made some anomaly requests. Different programs, things that were allowed for production ramp-ups. 

Is the department preparing one of those requests now for Congress? And if so, what are the programs you need C.R. relief from to give them anomaly status to get around the C.R. restrictions?

UNDERSECRETARY NORQUIST: So we have -- we prepared those back in the summertime, and we update them as we get closer and along. I would tell you, many of them relate to munitions, and that -- that's one of the areas that we look for relief.

But frankly, all of these are sort of band-aid steps, because one of the challenges under a C.R. is, we're still well below the required number in the president's budget. So even with the exceptions, there's no additional funding.

And so anomalies can help but they don't -- they don't solve the problem. What you need is an appropriation bill.

Q: Would you have to ask any of those anomalies during this two-week period or -- or you could get into January. Or would those anomalies only be requested in the event of a C.R. that goes into March or February?

UNDERSECRETARY NORQUIST: We will generally always want to ask for the anomalies. That depends on the length of the C.R. as to whether or not they're considered appropriate by the Hill to include.

Q: Would you do it for the two week one? Would you request it?

UNDERSECRETARY NORQUIST: I believe that the C.R. for the Hill is already on the floor at -- at the moment, right? My understanding is they are not in that bill right now.

MS. WHITE: Right here.

Q: Hi, good afternoon Ms. White. I'm Rafael Salcedo from EFE News. 

I wanted to ask you as you all know, President Trump yesterday announced or recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Obviously that's going to provoke and increase the American interest threats around the world.

How is the DOD preparing for that, especially in a moment where you are facing a shutdown and with all the Special Forces exhausted after years of fight?

MS. WHITE: Well, we are working very close with the State Department. We have everything in place to ensure force protection. There's an exception, I believe, David, for protecting our embassies and consulates with respect to that. So we're well positioned to ensure that we can safeguard all of our embassies and consulates.

Q: But how do you value -- I mean, how do you see this move? I mean, it's going to increase the risk exponentially.

MS. WHITE: The department is ready to address any risks to any of our embassies and consulates.

Q: A follow-up -- what was the secretary's recommendation to the President on the decision to move the embassy?

MS. WHITE: The secretary's recommendations to the president are private, and we'll keep them that way.

Q: Just going back to the potential looming shutdown. Outside of munitions, what is like the list of, like, the worst things that can happen should the government shutdown for the U.S. military?

UNDERSECRETARY NORQUIST: OK, so just a distinction -- the anomalies that you were talking about was for the continuing resolution. Under a shutdown, you have that and then you have more, right? So I mean, in order to -- the immediate ones is your military personnel are showing up to work, but they're not getting paid. That is not a way for us to be treating the members and women of the Armed Forces. 

In addition to which you have the effect on maintenance and readiness from activities that are not considered accepted, and therefore those stop.

Part of it is, if you think about the maintenance challenges, it's not recoverable time, right? If you're supposed to do a certain amount of helicopter maintenance or whatever the issue was, you lose a day, a week, you're just behind schedule, which then disrupts everything else.

Q: Is the maintenance stopping or ... 

UNDERSECRETARY NORQUIST: ... depends on whether it -- what it's for and whether it's considered an accepted activity. And so part of the challenge is as this cascades down, each organization has to figure out where it fits. So if it's directly supporting, generally the warfighter or a combat operation, those are under accepted. But some of the other activities are not. It's also tremendously wasteful, and I'll just walk you through what sounds almost like a trivial example. But you take somebody and you send them off to training. If the government shuts down, the instructions are that if it's going to extend, they need to come home. So we buy them an airplane ticket to come home, they then miss the week of whatever the school of training was supposed to do. 

When the shutdown ends, we pay to send them back. Now we join their activity mid-cycle.

So those types of things cascade throughout the organization in ways that are just wasteful of taxpayer's money.

Q: What about units deploying. Will a shutdown prevent any kind of units in deploying?

UNDERSECRETARY NORQUIST: No, no. The units that have to deploy for a military mission will go forward.

Q: If there's a shutdown Friday, will there still be a flyover for the Army Navy game? Does it affect that in any way?

UNDERSECRETARY NORQUIST: I can't speak to the -- to all of the pieces. I know the game goes forward. The cadets and midshipman are military personnel. The rest of it I would have to defer to the Army and the Navy.

Q: You can't say, though, definitively if there will be a flyover for the game?

UNDERSECRETARY NORQUIST: I actually don't know the answer to that question.

MS. WHITE: You'll be watching, won't you, Lucas? You'll be watching. (Laughter.)

MS. WHITE: Louie?

Q: One question about Vice President Pence's visit. Can you explain to us why he's here, who he's meeting with?

MS. WHITE: He's here to have lunch. He was here to have lunch.

Q: With you?

MS. WHITE: With leadership. He was here to have a lunch.

Q: With you?

MS. WHITE: With leadership -- he was here to have lunch. Just a routine meeting.

Q: So, this is not the first time obviously that you've had to plan for a shutdown. What lessons-learned have you had from previous planning? Things that you've learned that should've been done better, that need to be improved on -- needed to be covered, needed to be covered as essential?

UNDERSECRETARY NORQUIST: So, the challenge is there's no way to make a shutdown easier. It's not designed to be easy; it's designed to be destructive. We've got the policies and procedures in place so, we actually have a relatively unfortunately routine habit of updating them and coordinating with everyone on what are the exceptions and who is on the list to come in. So, those things tend to go more smoothly but the consequences of the shutdown don't.

Q: Are there any glaring examples that you realize in the past we should have done better to cover this?

UNDERSECRETARY NORQUIST: There isn't a way to have done better on a shutdown. You can do better planning. You can do more in terms of notification. But the consequences haven't changed. People come home, people don't get paid -- those types of things don't happen and there's not an exception to those.

Q: Mr. Norquist, Richard Sisk, military.com. 

Could you go over again who gets paid; who doesn't in the event of a shutdown? Specifically, do the troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, do they still get paid?

UNDERSECRETARY NORQUIST: No one gets paid. The civilians who report to duty do not get paid. The military who are in theater do not get paid. They earn the rights to the payment, but the payment cannot be made until the shutdown is over.

MS. WHITE: Joe, in the back. 

Q: Thank you. I would like to ask you about Syria. Today Russia's Defense Ministry announced that the mission to defeat ISIS is accomplished. Do you believe that? Do you have any comment on that? And do you believe that the war against ISIS -- or ISIS has been defeated? What would you say on that?

MS. WHITE: The war against ISIS is not over; and it's not over in Syria. And although we are shifting our forces and the mission is changing, it's also really important that we ensure that ISIS doesn't rise again. So, we're going to stay there and we're going to help give our diplomats the sure footing that they need to ensure the diplomatic process can go forward.

Q: A quick follow-up -- does the Pentagon take it into consideration that there are other terrorists movements such as Al Qaeda or Nusra that also have to be defeated?

MS. WHITE: Absolutely. We'll fight violent extremism wherever they are. The issue is a lot of times there's rebranding and there's networks of terrorist groups. So, we will work by, within, through our partners to ensure that we defeat ISIS, Al Qaeda and violent extremists wherever they are. Marcus.

Q: A budget question. You mentioned that nothing has a greater impact on conflict readiness than a continuing resolution. That mind of shutdown in mind -- why is it that the Pentagon and the leadership through two administrations have been unable now to convince Congress to rid it of these budget tasks?

MS. WHITE: That's a really good question, Marcus. But one, I think we have to remember we have many different members of Congress and we have committees of authorization. And I think there are a lot of competing interests in the country -- and obviously we have to advocate for the war fighter. 

The secretary's focus is the war fighter, ensuring that he or she gets what he or she needs. We need to make -- we will always strive to make a better case to Congress. The deputy has done numerous -- and the Vice Chairman has done numerous briefings to the Hill regarding the threats that are looming; and we will continue to do that and make our case.

I can only speak for this administration, but I can tell you that we are -- and the secretary is solely focused on ensuring that the war fighter gets what he needs when he needs it and that's why we need a fully-funded budget and we need a predictable budget horizon.

Q: I have civilian question. Last time we had a shutdown I recall the vast majority of civilians -- 700,000 I guess or so were furloughed or didn't show up for work immediately. Then within days a good number of them -- like, I think, probably around three quarters were recalled. Do you have any projection on how that would look this time around?

UNDERSECRETARY NORQUIST: It depends on how long the shutdown lasted and what activities they were working on. So, if they worked on accepted activities then they would be brought back in. There are probably some things where one doesn't need them for a few days but if the shutdown goes on longer then they would be considered necessary to be accepted. So, we'll just have to see how that goes. I'm quite confident that everyone understands on the Hill the consequences of a shutdown and that they will move forward promptly to enact a CR to avoid that.

Q: On North Korea, do you know what the reason the North Korean military shooting at the JSA (Joint Security Area) (inaudible) what countermeasures does combining the forces command have (inaudible)?

MS. WHITE: Well, as you know, we are always monitoring the situation across the peninsula and we're working very closely with Japan and with South Korea to ensure we stay very vigilant with respect to all the activities of North Korea. But I'd have to refer you to USFK about particular measures. But, again, know that as an alliance it's a very strong alliance and will continue to stay vigilant.

Q: (off mic)

MS. WHITE: I'm sorry.

Q: Who's in charge in the JSA?  

MS. WHITE: Well, General Brooks is both the UN commander. He's also the commander of the US forces Korea so, right here.

Q: (inaudible) It is related to North Korea, but does budget issues affect training for operations of North Korea? And another question is, there are several fatal accidents in Asia Pacific within this year -- like Navy collisions, or Osprey crash in Australia.  Is this related to budget issues also?

MS. WHITE: So, I'll take your first second question first. We need a predictable budget horizon. We need a fully-funded budget -- a robust budget. But I'm not willing to correlate any of that to any of the recent accidents that have happened. 

And with respect to alliances and how it can affect them, remember we're also asking our partners to invest in defense. And if we don't know what our budgets are going to be from year to year then it makes it very hard for us to tell our partners and allies how we can exercise with them if we are delaying things and if we don't have the predictability.

So, that's again why we need a fully funded budget. David, if you have some more specifics.

Jim?

Q: When does the process start? So, do you have to wait until the shutdown at midnight on Friday before you send out letters, notifications to employees or to military people? When do you start that?

UNDERSECRETARY NORQUIST: So, what we do is we have the plans in place. And so, individuals inside the organization, their leadership with of already conveyed to them which of the different groups they would fall under. So military people would understand they need to -- Usually, the day, the final day, there'll be a letter sent to everyone, just a reminder of it, and then once we cross the line, there would be additional information provided to everybody. So as we get closer, we do more communications.

MS. WHITE: In the back.

Q: Yesterday, the Pentagon officially announced that the number of troops in Syria was about 2,000, which is four times more than what the prior number was. Is there any timeline in place for when you'll be really seeing a more approximate number for the number of troops in Iraq?

MS. WHITE: So for Iraq, we also released the 5,200.

Q: I thought that was the number that was …..

MS. WHITE: That -- that is the number that we are reporting. Remember, when General (Kenneth) McKenzie and I were here, this is an initiative of the secretary's, to be most -- to be transparent. But we also need to respect host nation's sensitivities, and operational security. So the number for Iraq is 5,200 and the number for Syria is 2,000. 

Q: With the 400 Marines that just left Syria, is that included in the 2,000 number, or should we be taking that out of the 2,000 number?

MS. WHITE: So again, the number is approximately 2,000 -- could be more, could be less. And this is also very important: I know we like to talk about numbers, but the issue is capabilities, and we have to be dynamic, and that's why we won't be talking about numbers, because it's all about, what are the -- what do we need on the ground? These are condition-based strategies, and the numbers will change. But again, we will give you approximate numbers. We want to be as transparent as possible, but again, with the caveat that we can't telegraph to the enemy our capabilities, as well as we have to take -- we have to respect host nation sensitivities.

COL. MANNING: Ma'am, we have time for a few more questions.

MS. WHITE: Ryan?

Q: Just a question -- It was widely reported that the U.S. military received the authority to arm its drones in Niger. Can you confirm if that was -- that authority was received? And if so, do U.S. forces in Niger have any legal authority to conduct airstrikes like they do in Somalia, Libya and elsewhere?

MS. WHITE: So I would have to come back to you on the exact legalese of that, because every agreement is different. We do have that authority, and again, this is about building internal forces. This is about helping them defeat terrorist groups. This is about them -- their internal security, and safeguarding what is often pockets of -- vacuums of power. 

So we will continue to help the Nigerians. We have to also remember, the French are there, as well, as a partner, and we will continue to help partners to defeat terrorists in whatever form they take. 

Q: Thank you. 

MS. WHITE: I'll take one more. Colonel? 

Tara?

Q: Thank you. Before we lose you, Mr. Norquist, could you talk about FY '18 and beyond? There's been a lot of emphasis this year on rebuilding the military. What does that look like? What kind of guidance have you gotten from OMB (Office of Management and Budget) on how to accomplish that? Are you -- is it percentage increases for the next -- over the FYDP (Future Year Defense Program)? Are you looking at some sort of new top line that you think is necessary to really rebuild the force?

UNDERSECRETARY NORQUIST: So what we do is we start with the National Defense Strategy, which is the document that they are building. I believe it's scheduled to release in the future. But we use it to guide our process. What is the purpose of the forces? What are the change, and the strategy in the areas of emphasis? That guides both our requirements, and it guides our prioritization of work. We then present that, and internally work within the administration on the top line that is relevant to support that. 

My understanding is that come February, when we'll roll out the budget, I will be back in front of you, and be able to give it to you in more glorious detail.

MS. WHITE: Thank you all very much.