Douglas opposes changes to control of National Guard

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas says he strongly opposes a plan to give the president control over state National Guard units during a natural disaster or a terrorist attack. Douglas says the proposal is little more than “a power grab” by federal officials.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Tucked away in the Defense Appropriations Act that was recently passed by the U.S. House is a provision that gives the president the authority to take control of individual state National Guard units under certain circumstances. The legislation is now being considered by a House-Senate conference committee.

A bi-partisan group of governors, including Douglas, is urging Congressional leaders to remove the provision from the bill. Douglas says the proposal was included in the Defense Budget bill without any input from the nation’s governors:

(Douglas) “The National Guard is the state militia. It’s the military force that is available to the governors of the states for maintenance of order and dealing with natural or other disasters within the borders of their states. They are not federal officers until and unless they’re called for service in the active duty armed forces. We have to maintain that historical relationship, that historical responsibility. It’s wrong for the federal government to seize control of the National Guard for service within the bounds of this country.”

(Kinzel) Douglas says he supports the president’s authority to mobilize National Guard troops to serve in Iraq but he argues domestic service is different:

(Douglas) “We understand what the needs of each state are. We’re sensitive to the needs of our colleagues around the country. We need to maintain the historical control of the National Guard that has served our nation well for centuries. There’s no need for a power grab by the federal government to take control of the National Guard unless they’re needed for service overseas.”

(Kinzel) Douglas says he’s not convinced that federal officials can do a better job than the states of coordinating relief efforts when there’s been a natural disaster:

(Douglas) “I think it shows why it’s a bad idea given the performance of FEMA in the days and months following the hurricane Katrina disaster in the Gulf Coast. I think given the poor performance of the federal government in that case is a perfect example of why this should not happen.”

(Kinzel) Congress is expected to address this issue when it returns to Washington next month.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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