Governors oppose DoD emergency powers

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.

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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.