A bipartisan pair of governors is opposing a new Defense Department
proposal to handle natural and terrorism-related disasters, contending
that a murky chain of command could lead to more problems than
Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas (R), chairman of the National Governors
Association, and Vice Chairman Gov. Joe Manchin (D) of West Virginia
penned a letter opposing the Pentagon proposal, which they said would
hinder a state's effort to respond to a disaster.
Current law gives governors control over National Guard forces in
their own states as well as any Guard units and Defense Department
personnel imported from other states.
The letter comes as the Pentagon proposes a legislative fix that would
give the secretary of Defense the authority to assist in response to
domestic disasters and, consequently, control over units stationed in
an affected state.
"We are concerned that the legislative proposal you discuss in your
letter would invite confusion on critical command and control issues,
complicate interagency planning, establish stove-piped response
efforts, and interfere with governors' constitutional responsibilities
to ensure the safety and security of their citizens," Douglas and
Manchin wrote to Paul Stockton, assistant secretary of Defense for
Homeland Defense and America's Security Affairs.
"One of the key lessons learned from the response to the terrorist
attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005
was the need for clear chains of command to avoid duplication of
effort and to ensure the most effective use of response resources,"
the governors wrote.
Though the Pentagon has said the legislative fix would increase the
number of Defense Department personnel available to respond to
disasters, Douglas and Manchin expressed skepticism, arguing that
current law already allows the Pentagon to order personnel to key
areas inside the U.S.
A similar fix was removed from the Defense Department appropriation
measure in conference committee for fiscal 2009.
A Pentagon spokesman did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.