LYNN NEARY, host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Lynn Neary in Washington sitting in for Neal Conan.
Recruiters on high school campuses are nothing new. Colleges, vocational schools and the military all regularly try to woo students on their own turf. But a growing number of parents are questioning the presence of military recruiters in their children's schools and criticizing the techniques recruiters use to convince potential enlistees. For many who enlist, military service is an important avenue to education and other benefits, and recruiters are a useful resource for learning about the options. But some parents claim that the sagging enlistment numbers have pushed recruiters toward the hard sell, pursuing students at home and in class and providing misleading descriptions of what they're signing up for. The federal government plays a roll in this debate. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 requires public high schools that receive federal funds to provide students' contact information to recruiters unless their parents move to opt out. Now some parents are backing a Democratic measure in Congress which would reverse the law and allow schools to release information only if parents consent.
What is the proper role for military recruiters in our high schools? Do parents have a right to restrict recruiters' access to their children? And how does our country balance students' right to privacy with the need for an all-volunteer Army to find more volunteers?
Later in the hour, the political and diplomatic implications of a Chinese company's bid to take over the oil company Unocal. And the government releases new terrorism numbers.
But now, parents, students and military recruiting. We'd like to hear from you. Are you a parent of a high school student or are you a military recruiter? How's the process working from your perspective? Join the conversation. Our number here in Washington, (800) 989-8255. That's (800) 989-TALK. And our e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
We're joined first by David Slotwinski, the former Army Recruiting Command's chief of staff and the former commander of the US Military Entrance Processing Command. Currently, he's the president of the Dynamic Leadership Solutions Group in Olympia, Washington. And he joins us by phone from his home in Olympia.
Thanks for being with us.
Mr. DAVID SLOTWINSKI (President, Dynamic Leadership Solutions Group): Well, it's a pleasure to be here this afternoon.
NEARY: First of all, David, could you explain how the No Child Left Behind Act has changed the role of military recruiters in high schools?
Mr. SLOTWINSKI: OK. Well, I'm going to start by going back a little bit further. When you opened the discussion, you talked about the push for a hard-sell, misleading description, the discussion about the role of the recruiters in the high school. My first experience in recruiting was back in 1981, 1983 up in Syracuse, New York, as a recruiting company commander, which is pretty close to the high schools and the students. You could use the same words that you described in opening this show in describing the relationships and the challenges that we had as recruiters in working with our local area high schools. From that time until--you know, I left the recruiting command in 2002--the issue and the tension between, you know, what is the role and how much access is enough for recruiters to have with students, students' rights, recruiter contacting--it has been an issue that has been ongoing.
What No Child Left Behind did was made it easier for the recruiters to get the contact information. Prior to No Child Left Behind, many school districts had already adopted a policy to either release directory information to recruiters, or, if you had a district that didn't release directory information, the recruiters would gather that information from a number of sources. They would simply construct a list. They would look in yearbooks, sports programs, newspaper clippings, coaches, teachers, other students to simply build a list of potential applicants, prospects, so that they could, you know, contact the students to, you know, tell them the military story and to find potential recruits.
Why it's so important is because the students don't walk around with a sign on their forehead that says, `I want to be a volunteer.' When you ask young people about military service, they generally will say, `I'm interested,' which is a very small portion of the population, `I might be interested,' `I'm not interested,' `I don't care.' If you looked at the last two groups--not interested, don't want any part of it--from the beginning of the all-volunteer force, or particularly in the '80s when we shifted to a quality-in-a-recruiter force, the Army has been recruiting from those two groups that say not only `no' but `heck no' for the last 20-plus years.
NEARY: So are you saying that the situation is no different now than it's ever been?
Mr. SLOTWINSKI: I don't really think it's a whole lot different now. I think part of the issue from the parental standpoint is coming at the recruiters and the military presence in the high school--is a way of asking the question about, you know, support for, you know, like, policies or is what we're doing right--you get the misrepresentation, whether real or perceived, about why we went to war. And so I think you're seeing a manifestation of, you know, a breach of trust.
NEARY: What do you mean by a manifestation of a breach of trust?
Mr. SLOTWINSKI: What I would argue is that there's a disconnect between Mom and Dad--when you sell the service, it's done right there in the living room, so the recruiter has to have a tremendous amount of trust with that family. And I believe right now that one of the challenges that the recruiters face goes to perceptions of risk and reward. For Mom and Dad, it's, you know, their son or daughter joining the military right now is perceived as high risk, low reward. What advantages are my son or daughter going to be able to take out of the programs? Are they going to be able to go to college, you know? Are they going to be seriously injured? What's going to--you know, are they going to be deployed?--and all those risk/reward-type questions.
Prior to, you know, the current, you know, political international situation, you know, we were pretty much an Army at peace for most of the last 20, 25 years.
NEARY: How would you deal with a parent who is concerned about a child dealing with military recruiters at a time of war, where that child potentially could be at the risk of being killed?
Mr. SLOTWINSKI: I think that becomes very difficult. And the only way I think that you can build the relationship to where, you know, you get Mom and Dad to understand or be willing to release, you know, their son or daughter in military service, is you have to do it based upon total honesty and create confidence that they know that their son or daughter's best interest will be looked out for--knowing that there is some, you know, inherent risk and danger. But they have to know that, you know, the leadership, the organization is dedicated to looking out for their son or daughter's well-being. I think if you can cross that hurdle, then you can get Mom and Dad to day, `Yes, it's OK, you know, I'll support my son or daughter's decision.' If you can't overcome that hurdle, I don't think, you know, you're going to be successful in convincing Mom or Dad to let Johnny or Sally go.
NEARY: We are talking about military recruiting in high schools. If you would like to join our discussion, the number is 1 (800) 989-8255.
We're going to take a call now from Debbie. And she's in Appleton, Wisconsin. Debbie, go ahead.
DEBBIE (Caller): Hi. Good afternoon.
NEARY: Hi. Go ahead, Debbie.
DEBBIE: I think that recruiters should absolutely have access to kids in high school. I mean, they have every right to let them know about the military and careers in the military, and it's, you know, no different than colleges coming to pitch their university. My daughter graduated from high school last year and she had joined the Wisconsin National Guard. And I'm very proud of her for that. She's my only child--yeah, it kind of scares me a little bit. But you know what? She has to live her life the way she wants to live it. And I tell you, she just got back from basic training and AIP, and I see a whole different kid, a sense of purpose. She is--it's just incredible. And the camaraderie that these kids--I mean, she's calling and text-messaging her military friends all the time. They really watch out for each other. And it's just--I mean, it's not a bad thing.
NEARY: All right.
DEBBIE: If it's your niche, do it.
NEARY: OK. Thanks for your call, Debbie.
We're going to be joined now by Amy Hagopian. She's the president of the Garfield High School Parent-Teacher-Student Association in Seattle, Washington. Garfield's PTA recently passed a resolution to ban military recruiters from the school. And she joins us from member station KUOW in Seattle.
Welcome to the show, Amy.
Ms. AMY HAGOPIAN (President, Garfield High School PTSA): Thank you.
NEARY: Amy, tell us a little bit about what went on in your school and what your concerns were.
Ms. HAGOPIAN: Well, to be fair, we didn't vote to ban because we don't have the legal standing to ban the military from our school. What we voted was a resolution that encourages--that states the military is not welcome in our school and that we don't think that schools are a proper place for recruitment for the military.
I was interested in Debbie's comment that recruiters should have access no different than colleges. And I think there would be lots of members of our PTA who would agree with that because colleges come to our campus typically once a year, maybe twice. The military seeks to be on high school campuses on a weekly basis--very different from college recruitment.
NEARY: And was part of your concern the requirements that are included in the No Child Left Behind Act regarding recruitment in high schools?
Ms. HAGOPIAN: PTA's very concerned about the Privacy Act and the privacy violations of the No Child Left Behind bill. There are two pieces to the bill that it's important for parents to understand, I think. One is that school districts are directed to release the names, addresses and telephone numbers of our high school students to the military for purposes of recruitment. And second, high schools are required to provide equal access for military recruiters to our campuses. So those are two very direct ways that this bill, which ostensibly was passed to improve education in our nation and perhaps instead was a Trojan horse for getting military access to our kids.
NEARY: OK. We are discussing the issue of military recruitment in high schools. If you'd like to join our discussion, the number is 1 (800) 989-8255. We're going to continue this discussion when we return. David Slotwinski is a former Army Recruiting Command's chief of staff and the former commander of the US Military Entrance Processing Command, and he joins us from his home in Olympia, Washington. We're also talking with Amy Hagopian. She's the co-president of the Garfield High School PTSA in Seattle, Washington.
It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
(Soundbite of music)
NEARY: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Lynn Neary in Washington. Neal Conan is away.
The ongoing conflict in Iraq has put pressure on military recruiters to bring in fresh troops and brought them into conflict with parents concerned about high risks and long deployments. It's a drama playing out in our nation's high school and it's talk of the nation today. If you've dealt with this issue as a parent, as a recruiter, or as a teen caught in the middle, give us a call. The number is (800) 989-TALK. That's (800) 989-8255. Our e-mail address is email@example.com.
David Slotwinski is the former Army Recruiting Command's chief of staff and the former commander of the US Military Entrance Processing Command. And we're also joined by Amy Hagopian, co-president of the Garfield High School PTSA in Seattle, Washington.
David Slotwinski, I wonder if you can respond to some of the concerns you heard Amy Hagopian lay out just before we went on the break?
Mr. SLOTWINSKI: Well, thank you, Lynn, for the opportunity to do a little clarification, at least from my perspective. The privacy piece on the name, address, telephone numbers--many of the same districts that would never in the past give the--provide that information to the recruiting services would willingly--given it to many marketing firms, particularly those that dealt with yearbooks and school rings and whatnot. So, you know, I think one of the arguments about, you know, the school districts and the protecting of the names, addresses, I think you can lessen.
But one point I would agree with, with Amy, and this deals with how much access is enough. The recruiters would love to be able to get into schools, I mean, every week. And I think in some schools, the access varies between being able to come in once a week--some districts allow recruiters in once a year. And in looking at the problem from the school perspective, being a counselor or a principal, in terms of the recruiter access, if you allow one access, then you basically have to allow all access. And you could have anywhere between, you know, 10, 12, 15 recruiters that work your school. And if they do come in every week, you do end up with, you know, this massive military presence in the high school. And even for my time in the recruiting business, I have never felt comfortable with that. If there was a way to consolidate the visits, cut down the visits, do more of the presentations in a joint fashion, I think that would make the recruiter access to the schools far more palatable to educators and to parents because I think you could still effectively get the message out about the opportunities military service provides, but you can do it in a less intrusive manner.
NEARY: Would you say that parents are becoming a barrier to recruiting?
Mr. SLOTWINSKI: I don't think they're any more a barrier today than, you know, at some of the times in the past. I just think the questions that the recruiters have to answer with Mom and Dad are tougher. You think--I mean, you have to overcome, like I said earlier, the risk-reward issue. And that one can be a very difficult one to answer.
NEARY: All right. Thanks for joining us.
David Slotwinski is the former Army Recruiting Command's chief of staff and the former commander of the US military entrance processing command. He joined us from his home in Olympia, Washington.
Amy Hagopian, co-president of the Garfield High School PTSA in Seattle, Washington, is still with us.
I wonder, Amy, before the current war in Iraq, do you know what the high school's previous experience was with military recruiters?
Ms. HAGOPIAN: I don't think parents kept very close track of what the recruitment presence was in the schools, the frequency, the aggressiveness, that sort of thing. And it's one of the things that we as a PTA are encouraging other PTAs around the country to do, is to take a very careful look at the recruitment in your building--how frequent is it? How aggressive is it? How accurate is the recruitment in terms of presenting a balanced picture? Is the recruitment presence being announced to parents and students in advance? Are alternatives to recruitment being presented in your school? These aren't questions that I think people worried much about before the Iraq War. I think this concern now is very much about the war in Iraq.
And I think that David's answer about parents as a barrier to recruiting isn't entirely accurate. I think there is a very calculated misjudgment on the part of the administration to go to war with the children of the Vietnam-era parents. We are very clear about what war is about--about losing brothers and fathers and cousins and friends in Vietnam. And this war is looking a lot like that one. And our interest in sending our kids off to fight and die and, worse, kill other people is--our interest in that is pretty low.
NEARY: So have--your own views on the war in Iraq then have influenced your opposition to recruiting?
Ms. HAGOPIAN: It has for me personally, and it has for our school.
NEARY: Well, was this decision, this resolution, was it--did it have a lot of backing from the parents in the school?
Ms. HAGOPIAN: We went about this in a very careful and considered way. We spent the year looking at this issue. We formed a committee. We had a forum for our general PTA where we brought in speakers from around the community. We were particularly concerned about the don't ask, don't tell policy because our high school and our city has worked very hard on being inclusive to gay and lesbian students. So we looked at this issue very carefully. The board passed a resolution that it recommended to the general membership, and then the general membership voted on this in May. So we've been at this a while.
And I should back up a little and tell you that back before the war in Iraq started, our PTA passed a resolution opposing the war. We are a big, diverse, inner-city high school. More than 60 percent of our students are minority. And we knew that this war was not going to be a good thing for low-income minority kids--those would be the ones targeted to be recruited to go--and furthermore that the huge cost of a war like this was not going to be good for education in America.
NEARY: All right, let's take a call now from Philip in Georgia. Hi, Philip.
PHILIP (Caller): Hi. Yes. I was recruited in high school--I grew up an Army brat. I was recruited in high school by an Army recruiter, knowing what I was getting into. The parent that's on the phone talking against it, I think it should be the high school senior's choice and decision to make with information going to the parents, because ultimately it is the high school senior's life to live and not the parents' life to live.
NEARY: Philip, how involved were your own parents in your decision? How much did you discuss it with them?
PHILIP: I discussed from the time I met to the time I went, October, to--they were involved in every process of it. So my father knew what I was getting myself into, per se.
NEARY: Did the recruiter contact you first without your parents' knowledge, though? Was it the contact was first between you and the recruiter, and then you involved your parents--is that how it went?
PHILIP: It was first with me and the recruiter at the high school. And then the recruiter came out to the house to discuss it with my parents after I said I was really interested in joining.
NEARY: And when was this? How long ago was this?
PHILIP: That was back in '94.
NEARY: Oh, so this is awhile back.
PHILIP: It was awhile back, but I still think that parents' involvement should be involved in the recruitment process, but ultimately it is the high school senior's or, as you want to put it, an adult decision to make.
NEARY: Do you think that war changes that at all, the fact that you're involved in a war, that a parent might be more concerned at that point then?
PHILIP: Well, currently my fiance's oldest son, who's 21, is right now in Iraq. She wasn't for him joining the military, but she supported his decision because it was his decision to make. So I'm seeing both sides of the coin right now. And I believe that it is ultimately that person's decision to make, and it should be the parent's decision to support them in whatever decision they choose to make.
NEARY: All right. Thanks very much for your call, Philip.
PHILIP: Thank you.
Ms. HAGOPIAN: Well, Lynn, I wouldn't disagree with that. I think it is a high school senior's choice to make. And given that our high school is located in a low-income neighborhood, there is, of course, a recruiting station within three blocks of our school. Students are welcome to walk down the street and find the recruiting station and enlist. The thing is that the recruiters are in a school that has children as young as 14. And they are there to portray the glamorous of aspects of the military. They don't bring pictures of soldiers injured, they don't bring pictures of prosthetics. They don't bring those pictures that were in The New England Journal of Medicine last fall about the unbelievable injuries that occur to soldiers from these roadside bombs. And 14-year-olds are very impressionable. They hand out these very violent military games on CDs, and they hand out a lot of toys and gadgets and, you know, they wear these very sexy uniforms. And young people are impressionable. Seniors have an absolute right to decide to join the military should they choose to, and they know where to find recruiting stations.
NEARY: I'd like to bring Barbara Blackburn into this discussion now. She's the incoming president of the American School Counselor Association. She's also a school counselor at Greenbrier East High School in Lewisburg, West Virginia. And she joins us by phone from her home in Lewisburg.
Thanks for being with us.
Ms. BARBARA BLACKBURN (Incoming President, American School Counselor Association): You're welcome.
NEARY: First of all, what would the role of guidance counselors be in terms of military recruiting in high schools? Would you be advising students on how they should be reacting to the recruiters, what their next step might be?
Ms. BLACKBURN: Well, certainly, our role is assisting students with all of their post-secondary options. And of course one of those options is the military. So we basically--the American School Counselor Association actually has a position statement that all school counselors across the nation have access to that tells us clearly what our role is as a school counselor.
NEARY: What are you hearing from parents in your school? How much concern are you hearing about military recruiting in high schools, the fact that they're--and the fact that they are required to be there if a school receives federal money under the No Child Left Behind Act?
Ms. BLACKBURN: Actually, we're hearing very little complaints from our school, because we limit access to recruiters just as we limit access to other options that students have. In other words, they have to call and make an appointment with us, and they set up a table. Again, they are there, available for students to receive information. It's up to the students to walk up to the table and get the information. They can't, like, pursue students, walk down the hallway, follow them and that kind of thing.
NEARY: But the school does--under the No Child Left Behind Act, as I understand it, is required to give recruiters information like home telephone numbers, things like that, to recruiters. That's what I understand the law requires if your school receives federal funds.
Ms. BLACKBURN: That's correct. Of course, we also are required to inform parents of their right to opt out. If they do not wish their student's name to be on the list, then they can request that we not include their name on the list.
NEARY: And how do you do that? How do you inform parents of that? How do they get that information?
Ms. BLACKBURN: Well, it's, you know, in most students' handbooks across the nation. Some schools send letters home. Our students actually take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, which is also called the ASVAB. It's a very good tool for students in that it's free and it matches up a student's aptitudes and interests with the civilian job market. And als...
NEARY: Right, but I'm--but what I was asking you about was how--like, how does your school inform a parent if they want to opt out of giving a military recruiter their child's name? How would you do that?
Ms. BLACKBURN: Well, we send a letter home, you know, to the parent saying--you know, advising them of their rights, and also of their rights for the student not to take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery.
NEARY: OK. We're discussing military recruiting in high schools. If you'd like to join our discussion, the number is 1 (800) 989-8255. And we're going to go to Jeff. He is in Texas. Hi, Jeff.
JEFF (Caller): Yes, ma'am.
NEARY: Go ahead.
JEFF: Yeah. The biggest option I see here is, you know, our country--our military is a representation of our country, and the youth is a driving factor for that. The young people that are in the military--and my son's getting ready to join the Army here in about a year--is very important to us. As a recruiter--the high school was a place that we did go to recruit. And I was listening to the woman earlier about the 14-year-old kids and I think--and that was the first time I've ever heard our uniforms addressed as--being described `sexy.' They're not. They're a representation of the soldier, the sailor, the Marine that wears them and the awards that he or she has earned in the act of doing their job. If, you know--that is why we wear that uniform. It tells a story. And I've never seen a recruiter talk to a 14-year-old young man or woman about joining the military, because they're not qualified. We use the high school as a place to go meet young adults that are making decisions for themselves for the future and how--to help them. It has nothing to do...
NEARY: So you would tend to talk--are you saying you would tend to talk to older students, then? That would be your tendency, to talk to juniors and seniors?
JEFF: Well, no, ma'am. I mean, our recruiting age group is from 18 to 24 years old. That's high schools and colleges. And we love to go to both high schools and colleges and talk to them, because they can use more of what we offer with our educational programs, getting their schooling for free while they're in the military and all the benefits. You know, she talks about--we don't bring pictures of soldiers that are shot and tor--well, of course not. You don't go buy a car at the dealership and they go, `Well, here, let's whip out all the accidents that have happened in this make and model of a car. Do you still want to buy it?'
NEARY: All right, Jeff. I want to thank you for your call. And I want to get our guest--give her a chance to respond to the concerns that you raised.
And first I want to remind our audience that you are listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
Amy Hagopian, I'd like to hear your reaction to some of the points that Jeff raised.
Ms. HAGOPIAN: Yes. Jeff conveniently forgot about the delayed entry program. The delayed entry program allows much younger students to commit to entering the military when they turn 18, and the delayed entry program is a serious marketing tool that the recruiters use when they come to the schools. We have students at our high school who signed up when they were 16 for the DEP. They are spending the summer between their junior and senior years at boot camp. When they return, they graduate from high school and then they are shipped out. These students are young, and I think they're too young to make these life-and-death decisions. I'm sorry; I--you know, I do think 18-year-old kids should be allowed to make these decisions for themselves, but only when they are provided a full and complete set of information. And yes, I think car dealers should talk about the accident rates of the makes and models that they're selling.
I have one question, though, for Barbara Blackburn. If you...
NEARY: All right. If you ask that question, we'll get her answer after we take a short break.
Ms. HAGOPIAN: OK.
NEARY: Why don't you quickly ask the question?
Ms. HAGOPIAN: It sounded to me as if the ASVAB test is given as a default in her school and that parents or students can opt out, but that as a routine, everyone takes it.
NEARY: All right. We're going to have to wait until we take a short break, and then we will try and get the answer to that question. I'm Lynn Neary. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
NEARY: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Lynn Neary in Washington. Neal Conan is away.
Here are some of the headlines of the stories NPR News is following today. Debt relief for Africa tops the agenda at this week's G8 summit in Scotland. The leaders of the world's eight wealthiest nations are also expected to debate climate change policy. And the International Olympic Committee is meeting in Singapore to decide which city will host the 2012 Olympics. Paris, London and New York are the leading contenders. The winner will be announced tomorrow. You can hear details of these stories and more, much more, later on "All Things Considered" from NPR News.
Tomorrow, if your kid dreads the summer book list and keeps losing the sign-up sheet for the library reading contest, join us for a discussion of what it takes to get reluctant young readers diving into literature. That's tomorrow on the show.
Right now we're talking about military recruitment in high schools. If you would like to join us, the number is 1 (800) 989-8255. My guests are: Amy Hagopian--she's the co-president of the Garfield High School PTSA in Seattle, Washington; and Barbara Blackburn, school counselor at Greenbrier East High School in Lewisburg, West Virginia. And before the break, Amy was asking Barbara about a test, the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test.
And, Barbara, perhaps you could give us some more information about that. And Amy was asking whether that's a required test or not. Barbara?
Ms. BLACKBURN: It's an optional test. We make it available to all of our students at Greenbrier East High School. We try to give our students as many career decisionmaking tools as possible to help them match their interests and their aptitudes with the current job market. We give the Explorer in the eighth grade. We give the Plan in the 10th grade. And the ASVAB cannot be used to contact 10th-graders, because they're below the age limit. But as students grow, as they mature and have more experiences, you know, their goals, their interests change. So this is a tool that we can use a little bit later on. There are no tests available in the state of West Virginia as far as--that we can provide to our students because of funding--not having funding to give it to our students. And this is a test that's provided free by the military. And, again, it matches their career--their interests and their aptitudes with civilian careers, as opposed to military careers, and so it just gives them another tool that can help them find their niche and see what career might be more suitable for them.
NEARY: I'd like you, Barbara, if you could--I'd like to read an e-mail to you and maybe you could give me a sense of how you might deal with this kind of situation. It says, `I had this same problem with my 14-year-old freshman daughter this last school year. A recruiter came to her school and they told her the bright spots. He bragged he had a brand-new Durango and so much money. She started thinking it was something to look into. They shouldn't be able to talk to anyone that's not a senior. How do you tell a young student that she has to keep her studies up for college when she starts thinking, `Why get good grades if I'm going to go into the Army?' As a counselor, Barbara, how would you handle that situation with a student and handle a parent's concerns about a situation like that?
Ms. BLACKBURN: Well, we talk with our students about careers. We have them do research from the time they enter and have them explore all career options and, basically, persuade them to work so that they don't eliminate any options. In other words, we would not ever say that `You don't have to do well to go into the military,' because it's a highly technical area, as well. Even if you're going to vocational-technical school, it's very important that kids have a lot--you know, good math, English skills and that they do well on the tests. And they do have to score a certain score on the ASVAB in order to go into the military.
NEARY: All right. Thanks very much for joining us, Barbara.
Ms. BLACKBURN: You're welcome.
NEARY: Barbara Blackburn is a school counselor at Greenbrier East High School in Lewisburg, West Virginia, and she's the incoming president of the American School Counselor Association.
And thanks to you, also, Amy Hagopian, for joining us.
Ms. HAGOPIAN: Thank you very much.
NEARY: Amy Hagopian is co-president of the Garfield High School PTSA in Seattle, Washington.
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