Introduction Of The National Guard Empowerment And State-National Defense Integration Act Of 2008

Mr. LEAHY. Mr. President, today I am pleased again to join my friend and colleague Senator Kit Bond of Missouri in bringing to the Senate another matter of importance to the missions of the National Guard and to the dedicated men and women of the Guard who perform these missions.

Today we are introducing the National Guard Empowerment and State-National Defense Integration Act of 2008.  We introduce this legislation on behalf of the 91-member U.S. Senate National Guard Caucus, which we co-chair.  The military is still not structured properly to respond to the domestic emergencies that we know will come again.  This legislation would take us tangible steps forward in correcting that.  Our bill would sharpen the Defense Department’s focus on helping the National Guard respond to domestic emergencies.

This legislation is a new phase in our bipartisan and bicameral drive to empower the Guard for successfully meeting the challenges that our States and the Nation are asking the Guard to meet.  It would clear away bureaucratic cobwebs in the Defense Department’s organizational structure to improve decision making on homeland defense issues that involve the Guard.  This bill builds on some of the strong provisions enacted from the previous version of the Guard Empowerment Bill in the recently enacted Fiscal Year 2008 Defense Authorization Bill.  By empowering the National Guard through more responsibilities, authorities, and new lines of control, this bill focuses the Defense Department’s attention on this critical realm of domestic defense.  The bill structures potential military operations within the United States in a way outlined by the Constitution, ensuring local and State control – not Federal control -- in these emergencies.

We know that the military — the Active duty force, the National Guard, and the Reserves -- has an important role in responding to emergencies at home, events like natural disasters.  The events of Hurricane Katrina and so many other situations have amply underscored that reality.  Our civilian authorities will continue to want to tap into the resources, personnel, and expertise, and there is no question that we need a system that permits that.  The debate taking place, mostly behind the scenes and within the walls of the Pentagon, has been about how we structure that response.  The goal must be an effective response in line with the Constitution.  Our national charter protects our basic liberties and places sovereignty in the hands of the people through government with adequate checks and balances, splitting administration among Federal, State, and Local levels. 

This Empowerment Bill would be effective because it drives to enhance the National Guard, our first military responders.  This force has stepped up during dire situations time and time again.  The National Guard takes its responsibility to carry out relief missions at home as seriously as it takes its missions abroad as the nation’s primary military reserve.  The National Guard is a locally based forced, spread out in armories and readiness centers across the country.  The Guard can flow forces among States through the Emergency Management Assistance Compacts process, which helped make the force one of the few shining lights in the darkness of the response to Hurricane Katrina.  The National Guard has units that specialize in civil support, including highly trained, full-time teams located in every one of our States.  The bottom line is that the Guard has shown that it can do this mission and do it superbly.


The approach of the Empowerment Bill is constitutional because it properly involves every layer of government.  It is our mayors, our public safety chiefs, and our Governors who are responsible for the security of their communities.  Under our governmental system, they are the ones that should be in control of emergency situations and any federal assets that come in should be strictly in support of them – certainly not the other way around.  The Guard is a State force that works closely with these civilian authorities all the time.  The Guard, which serves under the command of the Governors, is part and parcel of the community.  The Guard knows that it is civilians, including their elected leaders and the populace, who are the ultimate decision-makers in these situations.


Our bill includes several key provisions.  To improve the quality of advice at the highest levels, the Chief of the National Guard Bureau would gain a full seat on the Joint Chief of Staff, a key advisory body where insufficient attention is paid to homeland defense matters.  The bill would ensure that United States Northern Command remains a federal military headquarters that truly supports the Governors and the initial Guard response in an emergency, providing for the Governors to have tactical control over any active duty and Reserve assets that might be operating in their home state during an emergency.  The National Guard Bureau is enhanced in another section which specifically gives the National Guard a separate budge to purchase domestic defense-oriented items.  The Bureau would carry out its responsibilities in close cooperation with a newly established planning committee and council that integrally involves the States the Adjutants General.  And the bill assigns several key command and deputy command positions to National Guard officers who have experience in homeland defense and domestic emergency response matters.


The Fiscal Year 2008 Defense Authorization Bill ushered in several improvements to the National Guard, including an elevation of the Bureau Chief to the rank of four-star general.  The National Guard Bureau is now more a joint agency than a sub-branch of the Army and the Air Force, though the Guard remains a key part of the Army and Air Force’s Total Force.  The Deputy Commander or Commander of United States Northern Command now must come from the ranks of the National Guard.  These are far-reaching steps, though I remain concerned that the Department has yet to implement these provisions, not even filling the four-star position yet.


Together, last year’s enacted organizational changes and those put forth in this bill will fundamentally improve our preparations for an emergency, and ensure an effective, swift, and constitutional response when another emergency occurs. 


I ask unanimous consent that letters of support from the National Guard Association of the United States, the Adjutants General Association of the United States, and the Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States be included in the Record.  I also ask unanimous consent that a summary of the legislation be included in the record. 


Our National Guard has never let our country down, and — once again -- we cannot let our Guard down.   I urge prompt attention and action on this vital legislation.


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