Douglas fights Pentagon plan

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas says the Defense Department is trying to usurp the power of governors across the country in times of domestic emergencies.

Douglas says the Pentagon is working on a plan that would allow military officials to run their own disaster response operations, independent of those set up by governors.

Douglas says the proposal will lead to chaos in the field.

VPRs Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Douglas is actively involved in this issue as the new chairman of the National Governors Association.

Right now, if a natural disaster hit Vermont, like a hurricane, Douglas says he has the authority to call out the National Guard, seek Guard assistance from a neighboring state or ask the Pentagon to make active duty or reserve forces available.

But Douglas says the Defense Department wants to change this system. He says the Pentagon is seeking Congressional approval to allow the military to deploy their own units independent of a governor:

(Douglas) "In there’s a major domestic emergency any governor is likely to call upon the Department of Defense for additional assistance but there can be only one chain of command the Adjutant General of the state involved needs to have command and control of whatever forces be the National Guard, active duty military or Reserve in order to have a clear chain of command so that there is no confusion."

(Kinzel) Douglas is concerned that the Pentagon plan will lead to conflicts between state and federal response teams:

(Douglas) "The worst possible thing for the American people would be to have chaos and confusion during a terrorist attack or a natural disaster of some kind I think the system we have in place works quite well now and ought not to be changed by a power grab by the Pentagon."

(Kinzel) Douglas says last year Congress urged the Pentagon to discuss this issue with the National Governors Association. He says the governors are still waiting for those talks to take place:

(Douglas) "The Congress said the Defense Department ought to talk with the governors to work out an understanding of how domestic emergencies would be responded to before coming back to the Congress for any change in authorization we’re prepared to do that but the Defense Department hasn’t reached out to us."

(Kinzel) Douglas says the NGA is urging Congress to oppose the Pentagon plan until the governors and the Defense Department have a full discussion about the proposal.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.        

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