Assistant Secretary of Defense For Public Affairs Updates Latest COVID-19 Efforts

ASSISTANT TO THE SECRETARY OF DEFENSE JONATHAN RATH HOFFMAN: All right, good morning. Thank you for being here today. And thank you, everybody, for calling in, if you're on the phone.

I want to begin with providing you an update on our latest efforts in the fight against COVID-19.

Yesterday, after successfully supporting the hardest-hit area of the country, the USNS Comfort left New York and began the brief journey back to Norfolk Naval Base, where it will arrive later this evening. We're also beginning to transfer patients from the Javits Center to local hospitals in the New York City area.

While the Comfort was a visible and often-highlighted representation of the DOD efforts in New York City, even with its departure the DOD is still in New York City, with nearly 700 uniformed doctors and nurses deployed in hospitals and the surrounding areas.

I will also note that the USNS Mercy in Los Angeles is no longer taking new patients. These are both welcome signs that the American public is following CDC guidelines and the number of COVID-19 cases are decreasing. Local hospital capacity in these two areas have been sufficient to meet the demand.

Earlier this week, Undersecretary Ellen Lord released the details of the department's $75 million Defense Production Act contract. This funding will support Puritan Medical Products by hiring more employees, building a new manufacturing facility and increasing swab production from 20 million to 40 million -- 40 million a month.

We expect to continue with additional efforts under this authority to support COVID response suppliers.

Yesterday, the eight-nation International Maritime Security Construct held a change-of-command ceremony in Bahrain. U.K. Commodore James Parkin relinquished command to U.K. Commodore Rob Bellfield via an online ceremony in accordance with COVID-19 mitigation efforts.

As you know, the IMSC represents an international solution to the international problem of securing some of the world's most economically vital waterways in the face of continued malign activity. We welcome Commodore Bellfield to the team and thank Commodore Parkin for his leadership.

On April 30th, USTRANSCOM awarded a $7.2 billion global household goods contract to the American Roll-On Roll-Off Carrier Group of New Jersey. The contract provides relocation services, including door-to-door moving services for service member PCS moves. The company will integrate a network of household goods service providers, including many small businesses around the country, to support DOD families as they prepare for their moves.

The first task order for moving services under this contract is planned for issue on February 1, 2021. The PCS season this year will take place under existing contracts.

TRANSCOM will hopefully be briefing here next week to provide more information.

Next week, the Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on DOD's spectrum policy. The following DOD officials will testify: Chief Information Officer Dana Deasy; Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Michael Griffin; General John Raymond, the chief of space operations and the commander of U.S. Space Command; and additionally, Admiral Thad Allen, retired U.S. Coast Guard commandant, will be testifying.

They will be talking about the national security implications from the FCC's recent approval of Ligado's spectrum proposal. That hearing will take place on Wednesday, May 6th at 3 p.m. We thank Chairman Inhofe and Ranking Member Reed for calling this important hearing.

We also thank the members for scheduling their just-announced hearing for next Thursday to hold a confirmation hearing for Ambassador Braithwaite to be the secretary of the Navy, for Acting Undersecretary of Policy Jim Anderson to become the deputy undersecretary of policy, and for the current Air Force -- Pacific Air Force commander, C.Q. Brown, to be the next chief of staff of the Air Force.

This week, the United States conducted two successful freedom-of-navigation operations in the South China Sea. The USS Barry and the USS Bunker Hill both started and ended a full transit at a time and place of our choosing, as we always do.

The United States will continue to fly, sail, and operate to challenge excessive maritime claims in order to preserve the rights, freedoms, and uses of the sea and airspace guaranteed to all nations under international law.

Finally, as many of you've seen this week, we also launched our America Strong Initiative to thank our health care workers on the front lines across the country. The Blue Angels and Thunderbirds performed incredible flyovers over New York City, Newark and Trenton, New Jersey, and Philadelphia on Tuesday. They will be performing flyovers this Saturday in Washington, Baltimore, and Atlanta. I want to thank the Blue Angels and Thunderbird teams for their efforts in putting this together.

I hope each of you will take a little time this Saturday to step outside and join the tribute to our front-line medical workers in a responsible, socially distant manner.

I especially want to thank General Thomas, Ed Thomas, who helped push this initiative. As many of you know, General Thomas is leaving Air Force Public Affairs to go to Texas today, to take over the Air Force Recruiting Command. It's a great honor and a great promotion for -- for General Thomas.

I want to congratulate him and send him best wishes on his last day in Air Force Public Affairs, and welcome our good friend Colonel Pat Ryder -- now Brigadier General Pat Ryder -- as the head of Air Force Public Affairs.

So with that, I will take your questions.

So first, we'll -- we'll go to the phone, and Lita?

Q: Hi, Jonathan. Thanks so much.

A question on the Roosevelt inquiry. Can you explain what some of -- of the unanswered questions that the secretary and the chairman think need to be resolved? What are the things that they want to see more in this expanded investigation?

And were there concerns or have there been concerns expressed about the failure to put any other higher-ranking commanders -- to hold them to task for some of this?

Thank you.

MR. HOFFMAN: So I'm not -- I'm not going to get into the conversation between the secretary and the -- the chairman and the secretary of the Navy and the CNO.

I think what we've stated previously is that the secretary viewed this as an opportunity and a need to take a very thorough look at the whole gamut of issues surrounding the outbreak on USS Theodore Roosevelt.

So this looked at a number of different issues from the time the infections were first noted and how the response took place, and it was intended to look at -- from -- all up and down the chain of command. This is -- I think as I've talked to many of you about, is not intended to be an inquiry about one officer and his actions, it's intended to be an inquiry or now an investigation into how the Navy responded and how the Navy handled that.

And so we are confident that the -- the Navy and the acting secretary of the Navy have -- has taken that step and has moved that forward. We look forward to -- to hearing what the investigation details and -- and hearing the recommendations from the CNO and the acting secretary of the Navy.

We'll go to -- in the room. Jennifer?

Q: Okay.

Just to clarify one thing that Lita had asked about, if it's -- you said it's how the Navy handled that. Do you mean the removal of Captain Crozier or how they handled a Navy ship that had COVID onboard?

MR. HOFFMAN: The latter.

So what we're looking at is from the entire process of how once a infection was noted on -- on the -- the Theodore Roosevelt, how did and what processes did the Navy take in addressing that. How did we end up a situation where this -- this outbreak took -- took place?

And so I think many of you have seen with the USS Kidd, with having an outbreak take place on that ship, fortunately we were able to take many of the lessons learned from -- from the -- the Theodore Roosevelt and apply them to the Kidd so that we were able to address the -- the outbreak.

Obviously a -- a very different ship, a different size, but was able to address it rapidly in a way that we were able to get the ship to port, we were able to get a medical team onto the ship, we were able to do testing of individuals very quickly and able to get people off the ship, as necessary.

So it's looking at that. We need to -- we need to look at it up and down the chain. We need to look at all of the -- the decision making and communications that took place and have a full investigation.

I -- the secretary was very clear on this last week, that this is an important issue and it's one where we need to ensure that the -- the level of scrutiny and level of review is sufficient to meet the -- the demands and the scrutiny, the -- the appreciable and appropriate scrutiny of the American people and our Congress. And that's what he has -- that's what he's asked for from the start, and we'll -- we'll wait until we see what comes out of the investigation before we comment on it any further.

Q: And, Jonathan, would West Point be having a commencement if the president were not scheduled to speak there? And why isn't the Naval Academy having a commencement?

MR. HOFFMAN: So I'd -- I'd refer you to the -- the Army on the -- I think you had the secretary of the Army in here yesterday and I believe he spoke on this topic extensively, about their decision to host the graduation. I think he outlined some of the reasons why they were going to do so.

We saw the Air Force do this graduation ceremony a few weeks ago in a -- in a -- I think a well-received and responsible and appropriately safe manner and showed that we can do this. I know it's a little bit of a different situation because of the Air Force graduates were -- were already on base.

The Army has outlined that they have reasons for why some of their members would have to come back anyways. And -- and as a tribute to those -- those -- those soldiers who are graduating and then joining the military as a -- as new first lieutenants that -- sorry, second lieutenants -- that they have that opportunity to have a graduation ceremony.

So I'd refer you to the Army on the -- the decision-making process on that, but I think they addressed it very thoroughly yesterday.

With regard to the -- the Naval Academy, this is -- this is one of the -- the beauties of how the -- the military's been working with the -- the guidance that we're allowing commanders to make decisions based on their own determinations on the conditions on the ground and how they can handle the COVID outbreak and how they can handle the safety and security of their people.

I'll point to just two -- two, kind of, small things on the Navy, with regard to the Navy.

One, New York, for all intents and purposes, appears to be in a different place with regard to the curve of -- of infections compared to the D.C. area. And so I think you can look at that in the D.C., Annapolis, Baltimore area, maybe in a different place than New York is in terms of the -- the -- the rates of infection.

Secondly, if you look at the Annapolis versus West Point, different facilities. So West Point has different housing facilities. I think they have an alternative housing facility so they're able to put people in different places in a better way, whereas the Naval Academy relies on one dorm, one dining facility, and so it's a little bit more difficult for them to do any type of social -- meaningful social distancing at the Naval Academy.

But their leadership made that decision and they're going to do a -- a -- a virtual graduation ceremony, which I've heard some details about that today, which sounds like it's going to be pretty -– pretty awesome for them. So we -- we stand by to -- to support and hopefully have an opportunity to honor both graduating classes.

All right, we'll go right here.

Q: So, as far as testing, last week General Hyten said that you guys hoped to be at the end of the tier one group by the end of the month. So I wanted to know if you made that goal, how many troops that involves and what you're seeing in terms of an asymptomatic infection rate.

MR. HOFFMAN: So, I -- I think General Hyten's comments were about having the capability to do that. So, I -- I don't think he was specific to say that we were going to test everyone in those tiers. I think what our goal was to be able to have the ability to test the needed people from those groups as -- as necessary on a regular basis.

So, I think the number put out, there was about 50 tests -- 50,000 tests a week so that we could do that. Right now, we have the ability to meet the demands, I think, from the -- the tiering that we have -- and I'll just walk everybody through it if -- if people aren't familiar with it.

So, the -- the tier zero are people who are showing symptoms. So anybody who shows symptoms and we think is infected is getting tested. Tier one is going to be those strategic forces, the -- the -- the nuclear forces, the -- the -- the bomber crews, the boomer crews. Tier two is going to be individuals who are forward-deployed in -- engaged in combatant operations. Tier three's going to be individuals who are being deployed overseas and to other areas. And then tier four would be basically the rest of the force.

So our goal is to get those first three tiers. We believe we have the capacity right now to do the testing that's requested. We actually had a briefing yesterday -- the secretary received a briefing from the -- the COVID task force here at the department and got a pretty lengthy briefing from Lieutenant General -- the -- General Place, who's in charge of this. And -- and we have that ability to do the testing.

I don't have a report for you out on -- on what the results were for -- for each individual test as we're going forward. I -- I don't have the number for you right now. Okay?

All right, we're going to go back to -- back to the phones. So we're going to hit Jack Detsch.

Q: Thanks, Jonathan.

I'm curious if you can address the -- the FONOPs that you talked about a little bit in your opening statement. Do you see the -- the Chinese using this period of COVID for continued provocations or consolidating their terrorist -- territorial positions? Or has the U.S. seen any new threats to the freedom of navigation?

MR. HOFFMAN: I think what we would say is with -- with regard to the Chinese activity throughout this is they've continued with the -- fought with the interference with international navigation, with excessive territorial claims. We've seen this continue, so I -- I wouldn't exactly say that this was an uptick. We -- we definitely see that they have persisted in this despite very strong pushback from the United States, the -- the international community and many of their -- of their neighbors. So they've continued to move forward with it. We've continued to press back, as we -- as we will against any nation that attempts to adopt excessive territorial claims.

One of -- one of the tenets of -- of America is our reliance on the international legal community and the international legal constructs that have served us so well since the end of World War II. And -- and part of that is the adherence and the allowance of freedom of navigation of the seas and the airs -- and the air. And so we will continue to sail where -- where we're legally allowed to, and we'll continue to encourage our allies and partners around the world to do the same, and we'll continue to push back against China and other countries that attempt to overstate and overreach in terms of -- of their territorial claims.

All right, we'll go to phone. AFP, Sylvie?

Q: Hello, Jonathan. Thank you.

The -- the SIGAR published a new report today, and he explains that the Pentagon doesn't communicate anymore how often the Taliban attack the coalition troops. So I wanted to know why, and how the SIGAR is supposed to inform the Congress of the progress, and the public, if he doesn't have the information he needs to -- to do that.

MR. HOFFMAN: So I -- I know that -- that Lieutenant Colonel Campbell gave a statement on this yesterday and -- and reiterated the decision of the OIR commander on this information, so it's -- the -- the decision was that the information was not going to be released as it's part of the diplomatic discussions with the Taliban and with State Department and other parties in an effort to bring a diplomatic solution. And so the decision is -- was that we're working toward a -- a -- better solution and a better place for Afghanistan, and that the sharing of that information would not be -- would -- would not move that ball forward.

And so that decision was made. We're supportive of it. At the same time, that information will be released in the future. I'll -- I'll reiterate that it's not considered classified information; it's considered deliberative and FOUO, so it will be released in the future.

I -- I will state -- and -- and I think that we've been very transparent about this, is that we are not pleased with the level of violence in Afghanistan. The level of violence by the Taliban is unacceptably high. They have continued attacks on the ANDSF. We have continued to do retaliatory attacks to -- defensive attacks to help defend our partners in the area, and we will continue to do that. I will say that the -- there have been no attacks on -- on U.S. forces or our coalition country forces in the area, or major city attacks per the agreement. But at the same time, the level of attacks is not conducive to a diplomatic solution, and we hope to see that -- that -- that reduced. General Miller has been engaging with the State Department and the Taliban leadership in an effort to -- to bring that about, and we're going to continue to push forward to it. As we've said from the start, the only option in -- in Afghanistan is for a -- a -- a peaceful solution, is for an inter-Afghan dialogue that will get us there.

Q: Can -- can I follow up? So if you -- if you don't publish these -- these facts, aren't you concerned that it can be interpreted as a failure?

MR. HOFFMAN: I -- I don't -- I don't think that's a concern. I think our -- our goal and our -- our measure here is going to be whether we get to a peaceful solution in Afghanistan, and so I don't think a report here and there or numbers here and there are going to be what we're going to measure that by. What we're going to measure it by is whether we get to a position where the -- there is a -- a inter-Afghan dialogue that results in a -- a peace agreement. We've said from the start, we've said for many, many -- months and -- and years now, peace in Afghanistan will be the result of an agreement between Afghan and -- Afghanistan -- the Afghanistan people. So we're going to continue to push for that, and we will use that as our metric.

All right, we'll go to Phil Stewart? All right.

Q: Thanks.

One question I have is you were referring to the Kidd as sort of a success story, and -- and I -- I wanted to kind of tease that out a little bit. What -- you know, the Kidd has a -- has a lot of infections on board. Why is that a success story? And you know -- and -- and what do you know about how coronavirus got on board that ship at this point?

MR. HOFFMAN: I don’t have any answers for you on how coronavirus got on that ship. It had been at sea for -- for over a month now. And so whether it -- it got on board with some sort of a at-sea interaction, or whether it was a -- had been asymptomatic on individuals on the ship, I don't have an answer for you on that.

We -- we consider it a success because one, we were able to get medical professionals onto the ship very quickly. We were able to get testing done very quickly. We were able to get the ship back to port and get people off that ship very quickly. And so while, yes, there has been a -- an outbreak, we feel that we were able to hopefully prevent that from spreading further, and to get our -- our sailors back to a place where they were able to have more support.

So I believe we had a -- another amphibious ship pull up alongside of it to provide additional medical care while it sailed back to San Diego. So there were number of things that we did that were -- were -- we consider a success. Whether there was an outbreak or not, the -- the steps taken once that outbreak took place, we consider that a -- a good lesson and a -- a good effort by the Navy to learn from -- from events that have happened in less than a month, and to adopt those and apply those to the force.

So we're going to continue to look at that, and as I've mentioned with -- with the testing, the goal is to -- to get to a position where we're able to test individuals before they deploy, before they -- they take to sea. And so, as we get to that point, we will see a -- a more robust effort and a more robust structure in place that will prevent outbreaks like this in the future. But for now, though, the effort by the -- the captain and the crew of the Kidd, the -- the Mackin Island and then the rest of the medical team should be lauded for what they did, and how they were able to get that ship back to -- back to port and get the crew off. Right now there's a -- a large number of sick, but fortunately, none are hospitalized, and we're going to continue to hope that everybody recovers quickly.

Okay? We'll go to in the room.

Q: I have just two quick follow-ons.

MR. HOFFMAN: Sure.

Q: On -- on the testing, I want to be clear. You're saying that you do -- the DOD now does have the ability to test everyone, tier zero through tier three? Is that correct?

MR. HOFFMAN: So the -- the question will be how frequently? We have the ability at -- at this time to test, and I can get the numbers. I don't have that in front of me right now, but we have the ability to test. The -- the requirements and the people that we're being asked to test if, say, if a unit is deploying, we have the ability to do that.

Whether we can test all the people who fit into that -- that bandwidth, we don't have to test them every week. We just have to test a certain number of them every week.

And the goal is, eventually, to get to a place where, like, within the force at large, we're not testing the whole force once a month. We're test -- we're doing sampling, we're testing to see if there's an outbreak. If there is an outbreak, then we can test a whole unit and -- to get ahead of it. So while we -- we have the ability to test those that we need to test right now.

Q: Okay. So is it -- and also, is it possible, if you're getting numbers, to say how many people currently fit into the tiers zero through three? And whether -- does that include civilians as well, or is that all uniforms?

MR. HOFFMAN: So that's -- right now, that's uniform, or going to be people who are supporting, directly, some of those units.

I'm -- I don't want to give you an answer right now on the numbers, particularly with the strategic forces and our -- and our, you know, 0300 forces, I'm not going to be able to give you a number on that. So -- and by giving you all the numbers, you can -- there's math that can be done to come out with what those numbers would be.

So I can take a look at that and see if there's a way we can get you some sort of scale of that, but without giving you specifics. But I can't -- I don't have that off the top of my head right now.

Q: Okay, that'd be great.

And then one more, just to follow up on Sylvie's questions on the SIGAR. Immediately after the February signing, we were told that General Miller and others in the coalition -- R.S. and DOD -- would be monitoring to make sure that the Taliban was upholding their end of the bargain. And that included reporting on attacks.

So is it -- should we now take from the fact that R.S. won't provide these numbers to SIGAR and to the public, that that means that the numbers were never intended -- that they were never intending to track the number of attacks by the Taliban against the Afghans or against Afghan civilians, it seems? And is that -- do you --

MR. HOFFMAN: I don't think -- I don't think that's the case. I mean, I think there is -- we're looking at what is taking place, we're acknowledging that the number is higher than we would like it to be. But that is part of a conversation between the U.S. and the Taliban and the Afghan government in an effort to get to an acceptable level where we can continue, and they can produce the Afghan –- the inter-Afghan dialogue.

And so I would have to refer you to -- to Resolute Support for more detail on that conversation, and the State Department as well, as to what they consider necessary in the diplomatic realm for -- for the sharing on that.

Q: What do you think would be a condition in which you would release that information in the future?

MR. HOFFMAN: I -- I haven't given that a lot of thought today, so I don't have an answer for you, okay?

Ryan?

Q: Can I ask one quick follow-up on that?

MR. HOFFMAN: Yeah.

Q: You've described it several times as an unacceptable level of violence by the Taliban. But has there been any change in response to that level? I mean, it seems like the withdrawal's proceeding. I know you are releasing the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, but it seems like the withdrawal is continuing apace, nothing's really changed despite the Taliban's increased level of violence.

MR. HOFFMAN: So I would -- I would say we have continued with our -- our efforts to support the Afghan National Security Forces as they respond, and so helping to defend them. So that's continued at pace. I would also say that General Miller and the State Department have continued to work on the diplomatic side to find a solution and to push that down.

So, look, we've been -- we've been pushing the military option for some time on this, and we're helping right now to weigh in and push that diplomatic side a little bit more as well. So I get your -- I get the question, Ryan. I don't want to say that just because you're not seeing an increased military response to it, it doesn't mean that we're not pulling other levers in an effort to get that number down.

Q: Thank you.

And now on the Roosevelt and the Kidd, you talked about the lessons learned. The Navy's stopped releasing information about the number of cases on the Roosevelt and the Kidd. Is this -- was this a DOD-directed policy change or is -- do you think that's -- given that the ships are in port, is that really necessarily a good idea, to no longer be releasing that information?

MR. HOFFMAN: Well, I think that -- with both the Roosevelt and the Kidd, so our initial stance on producing unit-level or base-level information on outbreaks was for operational reasons not to share. We've made exceptions in a couple places that were -- had a lot of public scrutiny, understandable and reasonable public scrutiny with the T.R. and the Kidd.

But what we've -- we've now reached a point with both of those ships, particularly with the T.R., where we've gone through, the entire crew's been off, the entire crew's been tested, we have the results. The ship has been cleaned, the crew is now returning to the ship. So we believe that we have moved past a point where -- excuse me -- where the daily updates are providing useful information for a public conversation about it.

We have admitted and everyone is well aware that there was a large outbreak on the ship. But we now have acknowledged that we're in a position where we believe we are getting back on the ship and getting forward. If there is a -- if there was, unfortunately, an additional outbreak, we would provide information. But we wanted to get out of the pattern of providing a daily tracker of minor changes in this. And I think that's a reasonable place to be.

With the Kidd in a similar situation, we've tested the entire crew, the crew that has come off the ship. The ship is being cleaned, and those crew that are -- will be going into a quarantine, and then will be returning.

But -- but right now, we believe that we've provided the information on what the outbreak was, we've provided the steps that we've taken, and we've now reached a point where we're starting to move back into the normal operations. And so providing a tracker, we've just -- the determination was made that that's not necessary at this point.

All right, we're going to go back to the phones for a second. David Martin from CBS?

Q: Yes, two things.

One, in talking about that change of command in Bahrain, you mentioned continued malign behavior. Have there been any incidents since the -- the small boat swarm of however many days ago that was?

And the second question is, a couple days ago, there was an announcement from the White House that the president had authorized the call-up of select reserves for the counter-narcotics operation in SOUTHCOM. So what are we talking about there? What kind of reservists and how many?

MR. HOFFMAN: So with regard to the first question, I don't have additional detail on -- on additional particular Iranian behavior right on me at this point, David. I'm sure we can talk to the desk officers and see if we can get you some more information on that. Not something that I've been tracking today.

With the second question and the -- the southern border mission, the president had -- there had been a request from DHS for a certain type of support on the southern border, so an intel, surveillance, reconnaissance support mission on the border.

This was something that we took in. And a determination was made, as it went through the staffing process and through the operational process here at the Pentagon, that the -- the best force, the best unit for that mission was a National Guard or Reserve unit. And so they went through the process and made that determination.

It's a group, I think it's capped at about 200 people, it's less than 200 people who are going to be taking up that mission, but that kind of walks you through the process of how we got to where that -- that document was issued.

Q: So that's in addition to whatever that number of troops that were sent to the -- the border a couple weeks ago?

MR. HOFFMAN: It's a follow-on mission that's been -- that has been requested.

[Editor’s note and Department statement: Mr. Hoffman mistakenly stated that members of the Selected Reserve will support DHS operations along the U.S. southern border, vice in the SOUTHCOM area of operations.

To clarify: In a recent executive order, the President authorized Secretary Esper to activate units and individual members in the Selected Reserve to support the Enhanced Department of Defense Counternarcotic Operation in the SOUTHCOM area of operations. In response, DOD will activate an Air National Guard unit to provide intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance support to the operation. This authorization is capped at 200 personnel.]

Q: Okay. And just on your answer to the malign behavior, you're not -- you said you didn't have details, but you're not suggesting that there's been another incident, are you?

MR. HOFFMAN: No, I'm -- I'm not. I'm just saying -- I -- if there has been, I'm not aware of it but I just -- being completely honest with you, it's not something that I've looked into today.

Q: Right, thank you.

MR. HOFFMAN: We'll go to Bloomberg and Tony.

Q: Hi, Jon, thanks. Can you hear me? Jon?

MR. HOFFMAN: Go ahead, Tony.

Q: Yeah, Jon, can you hear me? Jon?

MR. HOFFMAN: Don’t make me regret calling on you again.

Q: Jon, can you hear me?

MR. HOFFMAN: All right, we're going to move on. All right, we'll go to Carla, Voice of America.

Q: Can you hear me?

Okay, so my first question, and then I have a follow, but could the Army's basic training model -- you know, where they begin shipping in recruits from low risk areas on a case-by-case basis -- could that model be used for starting PCS moves of service members going from one low risk area in the country perhaps to another?

MR. HOFFMAN: So that's something we're looking at and hopefully in the next week or -- or so, we're going to have a -- a pretty good model for how we will be able to make those determinations. But your -- your question is -- is one of the things we're looking at. I think it's a -- a question that everybody in the country is looking at with regard to opening up of government, opening up of the -- of cities and counties, is what are the levels, what are the standards? So has there been a reduction in cases? Has -- is there still a stay at home order in place? What are the things we need to look at?

So I think the Army was looking at the ability to do testing, the ability to handle medical care, if necessary. So those are all of the things that we're going to look at as we move forward and make a determination.

So we've -- we've acknowledged from the start we believe that opening up and beginning some of the travel and -- and PCS season may be on a -- a location by location basis, where the -- the -- the sending location and the gaining location have to both be in a good place but we're working through that and hopefully we'll have some guidance in the -- the next week or so.

Q: Okay, thank you.

And then Jonathan, I'm glad you're taking this, because as a lawyer, maybe you can help me understand this better. There was a memo on Monday from Secretary Esper that said he was restoring about $500 million in funding for military construction projects within the U.S. that had their funds diverted to build the border wall.

But as I am understanding, most of the money he's using to restore these funds appears to be coming from OCO, which is stipulated by Congress in the appropriations bill, you know, to go to projects overseas. So help me understand how this money shift is legal. Thanks.

MR. HOFFMAN: Well, I'll -- I'll have to get you a -- a -- a legal question or -- or a legal answer from our lawyers but the -- the memo from the Secretary was reviewed thoroughly by our -- our -- our CFO's Office, by -- and by the lawyers and OMB and -- in approval for that action.

So we -- we firmly believe that this is -- this is legal authority for the transfer of the funds and I -- I'll just point out that the -- the reason the funds were transferred, ‘cause a number of people have asked about this, is that those projects that were in overseas locations were projects where the timeline for completion of those had slipped into 2021, 2022 timeframe or -- or that they would begin where we could actually begin with the construction.

So what we did is we looked -- are there places domestically that were affected by the original transfer of funds for border wall construction, where they were prepared to begin construction more quickly and in this fiscal year.

And so we identified a number of those and then the funds were transferred. But I can try to get you a -- a -- a longer answer but the -- but the short answer is lawyers have looked at it, the accountants have looked at it, and we're confident in the -- we're confident in the legality of that transfer.

All right? We'll continue on the phone. We'll go to Lara.

Q: Hi, Jonathan. Thank you.

The thing I wanted to go back to -- to the Teddy Roosevelt investigation. And I was just wondering if you could tell us what Secretary Esper's involvement was exactly in directing this new investigation? Was it his decision to direct the new investigation and what does he hope to learn from it or was it -- was it the Acting Navy Secretary's decision?

MR. HOFFMAN: So I think I answered the part about what we hoped to learn from it, what the Department hopes to learn from that previously, but the -- the Navy's -- the Navy's statement on this made it very clear that this was a decision made by the Acting Secretary of the Navy.

Q: Can you say ‘cause it seems like the Acting Secretary of the Navy or at least Navy leadership has changed their minds then on what's going to happen to the results of the investigation. So can you address maybe why they -- they changed their minds and was that directed by the Secretary? I'm just struggling to understand here the change from the initial recommendations on Friday.

MR. HOFFMAN: So I -- I don't -- I don't think your statement reflects accurately where Navy leadership was. So I -- I think that there was a -- a process there. I think we've said this before, that the Secretary -- the -- the Acting Secretary of the Navy received recommendations from -- from the CNO and had not made a determination on those and instead has decided to ask for a -- an additional investigation because of unanswered questions.

Okay? We'll -- we'll go to -- sorry, we'll go --

Q: Thank you, Jonathan.

I have two questions. One is that South Korea, another one is North Korea.

And the first question is was there any posture agreement with South Korean government on the cost sharing?

And secondly, whether the North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un is dead or alive? Is there -- preparing for the contingency in North Korea? What are you preparing for this?

MR. HOFFMAN: On the first question, that's a State Department question. I'm not going to share what the negotiations are. We've -- we've always said that that's a -- a diplomatic issue and State Department has the lead on that.

We are being supportive. The Secretary's been clear on his conversations. We've had the -- the Defense Minister here -- that we believe that there is an opportunity here for South Korea to -- to spend a little bit more on the U.S. defensive efforts and that's been a -- a position the Department and the administration has had for -- for the last three and a half years.

So State Department can get you an answer on -- on where those negotiations are. I don't -- I don't have the update, and if I did, I'm not the right person to be providing it.

With regard to North Korea, we are always prepared to fight tonight, U.S. Forces Korea, and working with the -- the U.N. team there and as well as the Korean military -- the -- sorry, the Republic of Korea military is -- is always prepared.

So we've continued with training, we've continued with -- with exercising, we've continued with efforts up there to be prepared for whatever may happen in North Korea. So other than that, I don't have any additional information to share on -- on any -- any rumors or speculation about the -- the current dictator in North Korea.

Q: The situation of the North Korean coronavirus, do you have any information on that?

MR. HOFFMAN: I -- I don't have any information on that to share.

Q: Cause -- a -- yesterday, President Trump mentioned about the cost sharing with South Korea, he said that he got only the agreed -- some -- you know, talking. I don't know what is -- that meaning is.

MR. HOFFMAN: That's -- if the president talked about it, I would start at the White House, and if -- and -- or the Department of State on those questions. Those are diplomatic questions that I'm -- I'm not going to be -- be stepping into on that topic today.

All right? We'll take a couple more questions, so I will go to the phones one more time. So let's go with Washington Examiner, Abraham?

Q: Yes. Thank you for taking my call.

Quick clarification and a question. On the USS Kidd, you said it had been out at sea for a month, it might have been an interaction at sea. Were there any boardings in its counter-narcotics role at that time? I couldn't get that confirmed from SOUTHCOM.

Also, on test kits, Ms. Lord spoke yesterday about the -- the purchase of swabs, but said nothing about if there had been a demand signal to produce more test kits. Can you elaborate a bit more about that, please?

Thank you.

MR. HOFFMAN: So on the first one, that's a good question. I don't know the -- the interdiction history of -- of the Kidd. I was -- I was talking more about maybe resupply efforts, but I don't have information about that. So I can work with the Navy to try to get you a little bit more detail about what may have happened there.

And -- and as we've said before, we may not know exactly how it came onto the ship, but we're going to look into that and try to get some better information.

With regard to testing kits and testing swabs, Ellen Lord's team -- and I think she was in here yesterday, talking to you guys -- she's been working incredibly hard on meeting demand signals using DPA and funds provided by Congress to bolster the administration -- to bolster the country's ability to -- to provide these crucial items.

So we've been looking at the entire chain of items needed for testing. So it's swabs, it's the medium for carrying it, it's the testing machines, it's professionals, whatever that is and how can we help. So the Puritan deal was one place where we've identified an ability to use $75 million from our own funds to help them double their supply.

I'm not aware of -- of a demand on the -- on the test kit side of that as well at this point. I can have Ms. Lord's team get back to you on that.

I know we are looking at other places where our -- our efforts and our DPA funds may be helpful to companies looking to do that. But at this point, we're seeing an increase -- as the market has demanded it, we're seeing an increase from companies as they produce more testing kits and more testing supplies.

The swabs was an interesting case because there were only two companies in the world that were producing those for the U.S. market. And one of them was domestic, and we were able to help that company double its supply chain.

All right? We'll done one last question from Jeff Schogol.

Q: Newsy has a follow-up as well.

Q: Yeah, Bloomberg News is on the line too, if you can hear me.

Q: Hello, was I called on? I'm sorry.

MR. HOFFMAN: Yes, Jeff, you were. We'll go with -- Jeff, we'll take you and then we're going to go back to Tony.

Q: Okay, thank you.

Given the increased number of attacks in Afghanistan, does this mean that the U.S. is reconsidering its timeline to withdraw over 14 months?

Thank you.

MR. HOFFMAN: So, the -- the position of the administration, position of the secretary since at least last September, October was that -- and in consultation with General Miller and General McKenzie -- is that the mission that we have in Afghanistan can continue and be productive at an 8,600 number.

So at this time, we have not sought to adjust that. That's a number where we think we can be and we should be, and so we're going to continue to move toward it.

I'm not going to get into where we are on that timeline versus where we are. We're somewhere between 8,600 and more than that. So we'll -- we'll be continuing to work down to that number in the next -- I think we've got another 12 months or so left on that -- that drawdown plan.

All right, we'll go back. Tony, we'll give you one more shot here.

Q: Hi, can you hear me, Jon?

MR. HOFFMAN: Yes.

Q: Can you hear me?

(CROSSTALK)

MR. HOFFMAN: All right. All right, Tony.

All right, guys, thank you very much and we will talk to you guys later.

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