Report Validates Govs' Worries Over Guard
By Joshua Brockman, Staff Writer
A new report to Congress bolsters governors' complaints that they've wrongly been left out of decisions about sending state-based National Guard units to war despite effects on emergency preparedness at home.
The report March 1 by the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves , appointed to advise Congress, provides further ammunition for governors and federal lawmakers pushing for legislation to fix deficiencies brought out by the U.S. military's heavy reliance on the Guard to fight wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Pentagon's repeated call-ups of nearly 430,000 part-time soldiers in the National Guard to fight the war on terrorism since 2001 has raised manpower and equipment concerns by governors, who direct National Guard soldiers unless they're called to federal duty. States rely on guardsmen to help at home during natural disasters, such as hurricanes and earthquakes, and other public emergencies.
Arnold L. Punaro, chairman of the commission appointed in 2005, said that "governors are rightfully critical" of equipment shortages plaguing Guard units that must leave trucks, high-water vehicles, helicopters and other equipment in Iraq when they return home. Punaro reported that 88 percent of the Army National Guard units and 45 percent of the Air National Guard units in the United States are not ready to be deployed because of equipment deficiencies.
The 151-page report also said the "priorities of the states and their governors are not adequately considered" in the Department of Defense's decisions about use and funding of the Guard.
The commission, a 13-member panel, recommended creation of a formal mechanism for governors to consult with the Department of Defense on National Guard deployments. It called for a 1 0-governor panel appointed by the president and the National Governors Association (NGA) to meet at least twice a year with the secretaries of defense and homeland security and White House officials.
It also recommended an expanded role for governors in times of state emergencies, giving them and adjutants general, who command the Army and Air National Guard for each state, control over not just National Guard units but also federal troops that might be sent it.
The suggestions meet some of governors' concerns, but not all.
"I'm hearing that it is a step in the right direction, but they probably don't go far enough," said Nolan Jones, deputy director of federal relations for the NGA. For example, Jones said, the commission didn't follow governors' advice to give the National Guard control over its own budget and instead left funding decisions to the U.S. military.
The NGA has expressed its support for bipartisan legislation in Congress called the National Guard Empowerment Act of 2007, sponsored by U.S. Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Kit Bond (R-Mo.) and U.S. Reps. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.) and Tom Davis (R-Va.)
The bill would boost the profile and power of the National Guard by elevating its chief officer to the rank of full general and make him a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The chief of the National Guard currently serves as an informal liaison between governors and the Pentagon. The commission did not recommend having the National Guard chief serve on the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The legislation would give the chief of the National Guard control over a budget and would require the secretary of defense to consult every year with governors and the heads of the National Guard and the U.S. Northern Command, which oversees the defense of the United States, on creating an operational plan.
Sponsors of the bill in both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives were critical of the commission's recommendations. The suggestions are "transparently palliative or glacially incremental fixes when the real world situation demands fundamental changes," said Rep. Tom Davis in a prepared statement.
The National Guard Association of the United States and the Adjutants General Association of the United States support the legislation before Congress.
The commission will issue a final report in January.