Cutting The Cobwebs For The National Guard
The momentum that the National Guard empowerment issue has been gaining in the Senate and the House has several explanations, but one is the deeply personal experience of lawmakers who have personally encountered the bureaucratic cobwebs that the Guard has to contend with in order to perform its many and varied missions.
Monday morning’s CongressDaily gives a glimpse of that. Writer George Wilson recaps an interview with Congressman Gene Taylor of Mississippi, who lost his own house to Katrina. Congressman Taylor recounts calling General Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, asking for help for his desperate constituents. If it was up to General Blum, the Guard’s help would immediately have been on its way. But under the Guard’s stepchild relationship with the Pentagon, General Blum had to work it through Army channels to get the Army’s permission to help. Congressman Taylor contrasts that call with his appeal to the Navy, which was answered instantly.
If there was any silver lining in the overall dismal record of federal agencies to the Katrina nightmare, it was the superb way the National Guard rose to those challenges. Especially since 9/11, we’re relying on the Guard and Reserves today as never before. The Vermont Air National Guard handled all of our air defense cover for New York City and Washington for weeks after the attacks, and Guard units from coast to coast stepped into the breach at our borders, at our airports, and at our public buildings.
The Guard’s performance is state of the art. The Guard is a 21st Century military organization, carrying its weight, and more, in Afghanistan and Iraq, and here at home whenever disaster strikes. But today’s Guard is trapped – frozen in time – in a 20th Century organization chart. The implications of that show up in everything from the Guard’s depleted equipment stockpiles, to training and staffing and mission decisions.
The Guard empowerment legislation that Senator Bond and I are offering as an amendment to the Defense Authorization Act has steadily gained ground and is likely to become part of the Senate’s version of the defense bill. House leaders were so concerned that the counterpart to our legislation would pass that they kept the House from even getting to vote on it.
I brought this issue up for discussion during a recent flight with Secretary Rumsfeld. As I’ve noted before, only partly in jest, all of the turbulence on that flight was inside the plane. No matter how our amendment does in this week’s Senate debate, I have no illusions that the Pentagon will drop its institutional objection to these reforms.
Sooner or later, we’ll succeed in clearing away some of those institutional cobwebs, to let the National Guard be the best that it can be. For the sake of the country that so deeply depends on the Guard, let’s hope it’s sooner, and not later.