Governors oppose DoD emergency powers

By Reid Wilson
August 10, 2009
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 solutions.

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.