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Media Availability with Secretary Carter following his Visit to Amazon Headquarters in Seattle, Washington

March 3, 2016



SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ASHTON CARTER:  Let me -- you look at these spectacular people behind me and look at these spectacular -- we have Amazon engineers, we have our -- so I thank them and I thank Amazon for hosting me here, which is where we are right now.

I thank Jeff Bezos for a really interesting conversation about technology and where technology’s going and business lessons, and in general, his partnership, as we’ve learned so many places out here on the West Coast, the essential partnership between the Department of Defense and the technology industry.

So these people personify that both ways, Amazon folks and also our folks.  And these are our unbelievably talented defense fellows who are out here, had the opportunity to spend some time in a high-tech and a managerially-innovative environment, thereby learning those kinds of practices.  Not everything can be brought to the military because it is a different kind of profession but there are things that we can learn and these folks are that -- part of that conduit back. 

I’ve talked about bridges since I’ve been out here on the West Coast.  I’ve talked about people going both ways.  I talked to the Amazon leadership about sending people our way, even as we send people their way.  They think that’s a good idea too.  We’re doing that with some other companies as well.

So here at Amazon, like at Microsoft earlier in the day and like Boeing shortly, we will be with some of our industry partners that are high-tech, are innovative.  And if we’re going to have the best military in the world, as we must have, 10, 20 years, 30 years from now, we need to strengthen our partnership with companies like Microsoft, Amazon, Boeing and many others that I’ve met out here.  I’m determined to do that.  It’s part of the responsibility of the department, not only to fight today’s fight but to make sure that we’re superior for tomorrow’s.  And the most important ingredient there is our wonderful people, but secondly, it’s technology.

So thanks for being with us. 

And how are you going to do this, Peter?

STAFF:  That’s right.  I just was going to give Teresa just a quick chance here.

SEC. CARTER:  I’m sorry.  Teresa --


TERESA CARLSON:  Well, no.  We just -- we -- well, we wanted to thank the secretary for coming out to our campus today.  Obviously, we were delighted and we had a great conversation with Jeff on innovation and really what -- what new technologies can bring to bear for the Department of Defense, and of course, we are excited to have that partnership.   

But the most important thing is the fellows that we have here and we’re so excited to have them.  And in particular, I’m going to have to call out Lieutenant Colonel Maria Schneider, who is the secretary -- out of his office fellow and she works within my (inaudible), yeah.  So we’re really proud of that. 

But I think this is just a really great example of how defense and the secretary is trying to understand how technologies can really reach into the Department of Defense in a broad way around the world to really strengthen the posture, both from a security perspective and an innovation perspective.

So we’re really glad that you were able to come today.

SEC. CARTER:  Thank you.  Thank you for the hospitality, appreciate it.

STAFF:  A couple quick questions. 

Aaron, sure. 

Q:  Sir, earlier today at the breakfast speech, you brought up an issue, or a concern of yours, that the BBA could somehow be broken.  Do you have specific information about, you know, maybe the Hill is considering something that would break the BBA?

SEC. CARTER:  No, I don’t.  But I -- both General Dunford and I in our testimony presenting the budget for the first time on Capitol Hill to the House Appropriations Committee, Defense Subcommittee last week were expressing our gratitude for the BBA because it gave us stability. 

And we said our greatest strategic risk, in budget terms, is in stability.  And that would be if the bipartisan budget agreement, which was reached by -- in the way that we’re so appreciative of, which is everybody coming together in Washington, breaking gridlock, House, Senate, Democrats, Republicans, administration, Congress, and they reached that agreement, that has given us tremendous stability, budget stability, and we need that going forward.  That’s our biggest source of strategic risk, would be further instability, the kind of we’ve seen in -- and now in so many years of threats of sequester, continuing resolutions, that sort of thing.  And so I was reiterating what we said before that committee.  But it’s a very important point, I’d just repeat it.  

Q:  Sir, you also spoke about this being a two-way street.  You’ve mentioned that a couple of times now during this visit here on the West Coast.  What lessons -- what are people saying to you as you’re meeting with them, individually and in groups?  What specific actions do you see to take back to the building to make this -- to make the way that the military functions more efficient, more nimble, more agile?

SEC. CARTER:  Well, there are -- yes?

QUESTION:  I mean, you announced a couple of initiatives already but, like, what -- are there new things that you are planning to add to the mix, contracting --

SEC. CARTER:  Well, we’re learning -- we’re learning, first of all, and this has been every single place I have gone, how willing and, in fact, eager are our companies to contribute to our mission and our enterprise, and that’s really very gratifying.  And that’s people of all ages and companies of all types and that is really very gratifying to me.  They want to connect with us.  And so I -- obviously, I think it’s important that we connect in that way.

You asked about the two-way street.  So what I’ve learned is important things about technology and cloud technology here, aircraft and manufacturing technology at the next stop and so forth.  But also business practices because talking to others about how they run things and also about how we look to them holds up mirror to us and that’s a very healthy thing for any organization.  So we do learn things about how to make ourselves more efficient, how to make ourselves an easier partner for industry to work with.  So that’s good.  So I’m going to take back some things. 

I think they take back some understanding of what we’re trying to accomplish, of the importance to me of the rest of society, including industry, being familiar with us in an era when many people have not themselves served.  How do they get to know our institutions so that they can -- we can have that technology that they have?  That’s why these folks are so important because they’re kind of ambassadors in both directions.  People here, I dare say, at Amazon, are learning more about us because they’re getting to know these people and say, well, wow, that’s pretty exciting people and also pretty exciting mission, and even as they’re learning about business. 

So it really is a two-way street and I’m committed to that, that’s why I’m spending all the time out here and going to these incredibly important and progressive -- or innovative, I guess, companies.

Q:  Do you have to shake up contracting?

STAFF:  (Inaudible), let me get a -- make sure others get a turn.

Q:  That’s OK.  Go ahead.

Q:  Do you have to shake up contracting?

SEC. CARTER:  Well, I -- reforming our enterprise is another imperative of ours and certainly of mine.  That’s true of the acquisition enterprise where we have a number of things going on now for several years since I was acquisition executive, but it doesn’t stop there.  I was asked earlier this morning about excess infrastructure and BRAC, a much maligned but very important process of getting rid of tail that doesn’t contribute to tooth. 

We are looking at a number of possible, and actually some quite likely, changes we’ll make in our overall structure, some of which was laid down in the Goldwater-Nichols Act decades ago.  We’ll have more to say to that -- about that kind of shortly. 

So I really do believe, and being here reinforces the need for us constantly to look at ourselves and improve the way we perform.  After all, we’re defending the country, which is the most important thing you can do.  We’re also spending the taxpayers’ money.  And they expect when we come in and ask for money, like we need to do, that we -- we’re also putting every dollar we get to the best possible use.  So that – I’m committed to that.  And yes, I learned things here from how other enterprises in our society conduct themselves, about how we can do better.

STAFF:  Val, real quick?

Q:  Sure.  Sir, you mentioned --

SEC. CARTER:  You outsourced your question, by the way. 

STAFF:  It’s good business practice.

Q:  You mentioned your testimony last week on the Hill.  During that testimony, you said that the Navy only needs 40 littoral combat ships.  But over this past week, Secretary Mabus and Admiral Richardson have said that the requirement remains 55.  Could you address that discrepancy and how you got that 40 ship number?

SEC. CARTER:  Well, the -- I mean, first of all, we are making a deliberate choice to favor lethality and capability. 

And second, as far as ship numbers is concerned, we are, in the budget we submitted, going to increase the number of ships in the U.S. Navy, but not by increasing the number of littoral combat ships as much as we had once planned.  Forty is enough and the Navy’s own war fighting analysis indicates that, but also, that is our priority.  And so we are adjusting the buy of the littoral combat ship, or fast frigate, to 40.  And that’s the right decision to make because it allows us to have the right kinds of ships, lethality, and to make investments in technology, in undersea technology, in missiles of the kind that I talked about in my posture statement before the Congress a week ago.  That’s our priority.      

STAFF:  Thanks everybody, appreciate it.  Thank you all as well.

SEC. CARTER:  Thank you.