Six powerful Congressmen and Senators of both major parties request a GAO study of NORTHCOM’s “coordination when exercising in collaboration with the very State, local, and tribal governments that the Command was created to support.” Then the study’s results are published on the eighth anniversary of the September 11 attacks.
Might we discern an agenda?
Following are three GAO findings. Each is a quote, but I have pulled the quote out of a longer narrative. I then add a personal comment in italics. (You can see the original report courtesy of the House Homeland Security website.)
Thus sayeth GAO, “One of DOD’s challenges is adapting its exercise system and practices to accommodate the coordination and involvement of other federal, state, local, and tribal agencies that do not have the same kinds of practices or level of planning effort.”
Most other jurisdictions or agencies don’t have money or trained staff to effectively hold their own with NORTHCOM’s exercise development capacity. The financial ratio is hundreds-to-one, the NORTHCOM staff advantage might be close to the same.
Thus sayeth GAO, “NORTHCOM also faces the challenge of balancing its training objectives with those of state agencies and organizations, particularly given the limited resources and funding states have available to exercise. While state and local governments seek to exercise their first responder capabilities before having their resources overwhelmed and needing to seek federal assistance, NORTHCOM’s goal is to exercise its capability to provide support to civil authorities when local, state, and other federal resources are overwhelmed. As a result of this challenge, officials from 5 states told us that all of their needs were not fully met during the exercises, for example, due to large-scale, unrealistic scenarios that overwhelmed the states’ resources before they had the opportunity to exercise their training objectives.”
This reality, which the language above makes clear enough, has a troublesome follow-on implication. Law, doctrine, and DOD training emphasize defense support for civil authority. But because DOD exercises simulate the essential collapse of state and local civil authority, it is more accurate to say exercises are aimed at restoring civil authority. The more difficult and helpful exercise would be to simulate disasters where federal military assets are deployed at the request of the Governor(s) and where local and state authority remains partially – even unpredictably – intact. This will exercise unity of effort in a manner that will challenge the military chain of command to more effectively adapt to the tactical, operational, political, and constitutional realities of domestic service.
Thus sayeth GAO, “Inconsistencies with how NORTHCOM involves states in planning, conducting, and assessing exercises are occurring in part because NORTHCOM officials lack experience in dealing with the differing emergency management structures, capabilities, and needs of the states. Inconsistencies are also occurring because NORTHCOM has not established a process for including states in exercises, such as consistent procedures for requesting state involvement in exercises through DHS/FEMA or the National Guard Bureau. Without an informed and consistent process, NORTHCOM increases the risk that its exercises will not provide benefits for all participants, impacting the seamless exercise of all levels of government and potentially affecting NORTHCOM’s ability to provide support to civil authorities.”
Well, yes… but GAO’s language is so careful, it is potentially misleading. It is reasonable to wonder if AFRICOM might show greater restraint and do more to involve and upgrade local capacity than does NORTHCOM. There is a passive aggressive aspect to NORTHCOM that reflects unresolved issues — urgently needing resolution — of having a fully functioning Combatant Command “responsible” for the United States. Better processes are certainly needed, but the issues go much deeper. NORTHCOM was created quickly, spontaneously emerging from the forehead of Rumsfeld, so to speak. There is a Combatant Command clubhouse in which careerists at Colorado Springs will naturally want to play. No disrespect need be implied by insisting NORTHCOM should not be part of that clubhouse.
Full disclosure: Until my semi-retirement in June 2008 I worked closely with a NORTHCOM function related to training and exercising. Every person with whom I worked recognized the problems outlined above — though they may be uncomfortable with the language I use. They actively invited more involvement of state, local, and tribal authorities. They welcomed the initiative of such authorities. They were ready to adjust exercise designs and training regimes to involve more locals and more non-military federal personnel.
But it was like an NFL team welcoming the local high school team to play with them. The prep team might initially be excited by the prospect. But the match-up would usually be so uneven as to be dangerous… for all involved.
Strategically and operationally — but most especially constitutionally — this is an issue that requires (among other measures) long-term, very significant upgrades to state, local, and tribal capacity in training, educating, and exercising.(The headline references the Rubicon River. Ancient Roman law forbade any Legion to cross the river, roughly 200 miles north of Rome, without specific permission of the Senate. The law was designed to minimize the Republic’s risk of internal military mischief. The Rubicon was famously crossed by Julius Caesar and his Gallic Legions in 49 BC, leading to the demise of the Republic.)