The idea is to have military personnel specifically assigned for domestic response for CBRNE events. From the Washington Post (12/01/08):
Last month, McHale said, authorities agreed to begin a $1.8 million pilot project funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency through which civilian authorities in five states could tap military planners to develop disaster response plans. Hawaii, Massachusetts, South Carolina, Washington and West Virginia will each focus on a particular threat -- pandemic flu, a terrorist attack, hurricane, earthquake and catastrophic chemical release, respectively -- speeding up federal and state emergency planning begun in 2003.
This idea has concerned a number of civil liberties and small government organizations, who are concerned both about the increasing militarization of domestic police forces and a potential weakening of the Posse Comitatus Act. The Act was enacted in 1878 and made it illegal to use "any part of the Army or the Air Force as a posse comitatus or otherwise to execute the laws". Following Hurricane Katrina, President Bush called on Congress to revise Federal law to allow the military to act to restore order in the aftermath of natural disasters. This change was written into the John Warner National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2007 (H.R. 5122 2006). Specifically, the Act:
- Expanded the President's authority to declare martial law;
- Allowed the President to directly take charge of U.S. National Guard troops without the approval of state governors.
Those aspects of the Act were repealed in their entirety by the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 (H.R. 4986 2007).
The military clearly has valuable training and expertise in dealing with many of the scenarios presented by CBRNE, as well as having great logistical capabilities, and many of the tools needed for response. Indeed, there is already a close association through the Defense Coordinating Officer/Element (DCO/DCE) - a military liaison that works within FEMA regional offices. From FEMA:
The Department of Defense (DoD) has appointed ten DCOs and assigned one to each FEMA region. If requested and approved, the DCO serves as DoD's single point of contact at the Joint Field Office (JFO). With few exceptions, requests for Defense Support of Civil Authorities (DSCA) originating at the JFO are coordinated with and processed through the DCO. The DCO has a Defense Coordinating Element (DCE) consisting of a staff and military liaison officers to facilitate coordination and support to activated Emergency Support Functions (ESFs). Specific responsibilities of the DCO (subject to modification based on the situation) include processing requirements for military support, forwarding mission assignments (MAs) to the appropriate military organizations through DoD-designated channels, and assigning military liaisons, as appropriate, to activated ESFs.
All of which makes me wonder if there is need for this new program. The Pentagon, through the DCOs, already has a presence in the FEMA Regional offices. Through the DCO/DCE personnel, FEMA has access to the military expertise referenced in the Washington Post piece (above) as the basis of the pilot program, without setting aside specific combat-trained troops. FEMA regions work closely with the states they represent to provide all the assistance they can for planning, meaning that the resources of the DCE are available to the states for the asking. Indeed, if the program functions in the way it seems it will (providing military planners directly to the states without FEMA involvement) there is a risk that state planning and Federal (FEMA) planning will not agree, leading to difficulties should coordinated response be needed.
While I am not as concerned as some about the civil liberties threats posed by this new program I do question its necessity. We have a system in place for Federal assets to be made available to states and any time we move away from that system we risk creating, rather than avoiding, problems.
- Project Disaster - Calling in DoD assets for disasters sparks mixed reactions...
- Time - Should the Military Be Called in for Natural Disasters?
- Cato Dispatch - Pentagon to Deploy Troops to Bolster Domestic Security
- Washington Post - Pentagon to Detail Troops to Bolster Domestic Security
- Salon.com - "Glenn Greenwald Radio" Gene Healy discusses the Pentagon's new plan to deploy 20,000 U.S. Army troops inside the U.S. (podcast)