Q: The GAO has issued a report which says the Pentagon has not done all that should be done or that it can do to protect U.S. troops overseas. What's the Pentagon's reaction to this?
A: First of all, the GAO report does state that the Pentagon has done a lot. And it says, "Many deployed U.S. forces are better protected today from terrorist attacks similar to the one that occurred at Khobar Towers." It recognizes, I think, that we've made considerable progress on force protection in the last 13 months since the Khobar Towers attack.
Let me say, first of all, that there is no absolute, complete level of force protection. We recognize that. More can always be done. We have done an enormous amount in the last 13 months. We will do an enormous amount in the next 13 months to perfect force protection and make it as strong as possible.
We will take the advice of anybody who gives us good advice -- whether it's the GAO or anybody else -- on ways we can improve force protection. The Secretary has made this a top priority; General Shalikashvili has made it a top priority; you've been briefed on force protection initiatives that we've taken since Khobar Towers.
We realize, as the GAO pointed out, that there is no absolute level of force protection. You can never say we've done enough. We've done everything we can do. You can always do more.
Specifically, the GAO makes a number of recommendations and we concur with four out of five of those recommendations. The one recommendation we don't concur with involves the recommendation that we adopt very detailed, prescriptive security standards such as the State Department has. The reason we do not believe that's appropriate for the Pentagon is, first of all, our force protection mission is much more complex than the State Department's -- in that they're basically protecting embassies and some houses. We have to protect airfields. We have to protect staging areas. We have to protect hospitals. We have to protect headquarters. A much wider variety of installations than the State Department has to protect.
Secondly, we believe that because of that variety, that prescriptive standards may be more harmful than helpful. We have already issued a whole series of standards for commanders that involve setbacks, building standards, installation protection standards, guarding standards, sentry standards, etc. But basically, it's the commander that has to look at all these standards, look at the intelligence, look at the installation he or she is responsible for, and decide what best to do to protect those installations in the face of whatever intelligence threats the commander sees.
We have, as you know, taken the Downing Commission report of last year, which had I think 26 basic recommendations, and we divided those into almost 80 separate force protection recommendations -- 79 in all. The Joint Staff has completed 78 of those. We expect to complete the 79th by the end of this month. The 79th recommendation is that we provide special protective vests that are appropriate to very hot weather conditions. We're in the process of doing that now.