WASHINGTON - The National Guard has problems that affect its readiness, particularly at home, but fixing them requires a sweeping, intergovernmental effort, the chairman of the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves told Congress today.
Retired Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Arnold Punaro told the House Armed Services Committee many of the problems facing the Guard boil down to the fact that it changed from a strategic to an operational force, but without the benefit of other changes needed for it to succeed.
The Guard and Reserve operated as a strategic reserve during the Cold War, intentionally kept at low manning and equipment levels because they were considered a back-up force, he said. That's dramatically different from today, he noted, when the Guard and Reserve are operational reserves, actively deploying and supporting the war on terror.
"That is a fundamental change in the nature of how the Guard and Reserve is being used," Punaro told the committee. "However, (the Department of Defense) has not changed any of the fundamentals - underlying laws, policies, rules, regulations, procedures, processes, funding priorities, personnel management systems - to make it an operational reserve."
Without those changes, he said, the operational reserve can't sustain itself for the long haul, and its capabilities will continue to deteriorate.
Punaro cited other changes needed for the Guard and Reserve to operate effectively, particularly in their ability to respond to domestic crises.
One big problem, he said, is that the agencies that would operate together in a major domestic catastrophe don't work closely enough together to prepare for one.
"These are longstanding problems that require fundamental reforms to a number of our institutions of government," Punaro said. "This is not about one individual, the chief of the (National) Guard Bureau, not about one institution, the National Guard. This is about empowering the National Guard and giving them greater authority and clout as an integrated team."
State governors also need more authority, because they would serve as commanders in chief of most domestic incidents, particularly during the first 72 hours, he said.
Empowering the National Guard and state governors would enable them to be more effective members of a team that includes DoD, U.S. Northern Command and the Department of Homeland Security, Punaro said.
"All these agencies and institutions of government must take greater responsibility for building a coherent and competent interagency process of planning, coordinating and funding for the homeland mission," he said.
Punaro's commission originally was to report on the proposed "National Guard Empowerment Act" that aimed to increase the authority of National Guard leaders. Instead, the commission broadened its report -- Strengthening America's Defenses in the New Security Environment -- to include DoD, NORTHCOM, DHS and state governors.
The broadened report will help solve problems the reserves now face, Punaro said.
The commission's final report, due to Congress in January, will provide a more comprehensive look at reserve-component mobilization, pay, employer and family support issues.