By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Feb. 01, 2008) -- The Department of Defense must improve its capabilities and readiness so the military can take a primary role in response to major catastrophes inside the United States, according to a report released to Congress Thursday.
The Commission on the National Guard and Reserves provided Congress with recommendations on how DOD can be better prepared to protect the people and territory of the United States.
"The Department of Defense must be fully prepared to protect American lives and property in the homeland," the report says. "This is a responsibility that is equal in priority to its combat responsibilities."
As part of DOD, the report says, the National Guard and Reserves must play the lead role in supporting the Department of Homeland Security, other federal agencies and states in addressing threats against the United States.
According to the commission, DOD's role in providing for homeland defense is part of the department's policy, but there is no recognition of that role in law. In fact, the commission's report suggests lawmakers seem "reluctant" to acknowledge that the DOD is, because of its size and resources, the organization best suited to respond to catastrophes inside the United States.
In support of that assessment, the commission recommends Congress codify the DOD's responsibility to provide support for civil authorities -- suggesting statutory language acknowledge that responding to natural and man-made disasters in the homeland is a core competency of the department. The commission also says the DOD should be responsible for providing the "bulk of the response to major catastrophes."
The commission also said the National Guard and the Reserves should play the lead role in DOD operations in the United States.
"Congress should mandate that the National Guard and Reserves have the lead role in and form the backbone of DOD operations in the homeland," the report says. "Furthermore, DOD should assign the National Guard and Reserves homeland defense and civil support as a core competency consistent with their required warfighting taskings and capabilities."
The commission also argues for better integration of the reserve component with the Department of Homeland Security, noting that DHS does not yet include adequate Guard leadership to ensure the best kinds of cooperation and integration between the two agencies.
"DHS and DOD need to act and act quickly to ensure that DOD is ready to respond, particularly to catastrophic events, in the homeland," the report says.
The Guard should also have broader leadership roles at U.S. Northern Command, the commission found, saying that a majority of command billets at the command should be filled by leaders possessing "reserve qualifications and credentials."
The report also suggests Congress amend laws to allow service secretaries, during man-made or natural disasters, to involuntarily mobilize federal reserve components for up to 60 days in a four-month period and 120 days in a two-year period.