Monday, February 26, 2007

The ranking Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has called for a hearing to examine the Defense Department’s “chronic deficiencies” in supporting homeland security and civil support missions by the National Guard.

The request by Rep. Thomas M. Davis III of Virginia comes in the wake of two reports by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) saying that Defense has not adequately addressed Guard equipment and training requirements and that Army units charged with chemical and biological attack response are understaffed and underequipped.

“As we continue to ask more of the National Guard, it’s our job to make sure they’re adequately staffed, equipped and trained to perform their missions at home,” Mr. Davis said in a letter to committee Chairman Rep. Henry A. Waxman, California Democrat.

“I’m asking for these hearings because it’s abundantly clear they are not,” he said. “First, we don’t give them the training and equipment they need. Then we subject them to uncaring and uncoordinated care when they’re wounded. Hearings on these issues should be a top priority for Congress.”

Mr. Davis said one of the GAO reports noted that even though 12 of 15 “national planning scenarios” issued by the White House Homeland Security Council involve chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or high-yield explosive response, the ability of Army chemical and biological units, especially National Guard and Reserve units, to concurrently perform both their original war-fighting chemical and biological defense mission and their homeland-defense mission is doubtful.

On Jan. 30, the GAO said that five years after the September 11 attacks, the Defense Department has not moved effectively to identify National Guard homeland-defense equipment and training requirements.

Mr. Davis said that the types and quantities of equipment the National Guard requires to perform domestic missions have not been identified in any systematic way and that the Defense Department has not acted on comments from state officials about growing strain on equipment and personnel.

On Feb. 20, a second GAO report said management actions were needed to “close the gap” between Army chemical unit preparedness and national priorities. The report, which focused on the readiness of Army units assigned to chemical and biological preparedness and response, said most are National Guard and Reserve units that are “woefully unprepared, understaffed and underequipped.”

Mr. Davis sponsored the National Guard Empowerment Act of 2007 to allow the chief of the National Guard Bureau to establish common requirements and a budget that would allow the Guard to be equipped and trained for crucial homeland missions.

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