Homeland Defense:

Steps Have Been Taken to Improve U.S. Northern Command's Coordination with States and the National Guard Bureau, but Gaps Remain

GAO-08-252: Published: Apr 16, 2008. Publicly Released: Apr 16, 2008.

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In 2002, the Department of Defense (DOD) established U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) to conduct homeland defense and civil support missions on U.S. soil. It is particularly important that NORTHCOM coordinate with the National Guard Bureau (NGB), because NGB has experience dealing with state and local authorities during incidents and functions as NORTHCOM's formal link to the states. GAO was asked to (1) determine the extent to which NORTHCOM has ongoing efforts to coordinate with the states and NGB in planning, exercises and other preparedness activities and (2) identify the extent to which there are any gaps in this coordination. To do this, GAO surveyed the state adjutants general, the highest ranking guardsman in each state, and received a 100 percent response rate, and reviewed interagency coordination plans and guidance.

NORTHCOM has several ongoing efforts to improve coordination with the states and NGB in planning for its missions and responding to requests for civil support. For example, during hurricane season NORTHCOM facilitates weekly conferences with the relevant local, state, and federal emergency management officials, through which it has begun to build more productive relationships. NORTHCOM also conducted two large-scale exercises and participated in over 25 smaller regional, state, and local exercises annually to help responders prepare for man-made and natural disasters. In addition, NORTHCOM has been informally including NGB in reviewing its plans. We identified gaps in coordination between NORTHCOM, the states, and NGB in three areas: (1) NORTHCOM officials minimally involved the states in the development of its homeland defense and civil support plans. Less than 25 percent of the state adjutants general reported that they were involved in developing and reviewing these plans. For civil support, NORTHCOM officials told us that they are reaching out directly to states to better understand states' plans and capabilities, but for homeland defense, they rely on NGB to provide states perspectives. (2) NORTHCOM was not familiar with state emergency response plans and has no process for obtaining this information. Fifty-four percent of the state adjutants general reported that they believed that NORTHCOM was not at all or only slightly familiar with their states' emergency response plans. This may be attributable, in part, to the fact that NORTHCOM does not have an established and thorough process for cooperating and interacting with the states. By not obtaining and using information on states' plans and capabilities, NORTHCOM increases the risk that it will not be prepared to respond to an incident with the needed resources to support civil authorities. (3) A 2005 agreement, which is intended to provide the procedures by which NORTHCOM and NGB interact, does not fully or clearly define each agency's roles and responsibilities for planning for homeland defense and civil support. The lack of clearly defined roles and responsibilities has resulted in confusion and duplicative or wasted efforts. For example, as required in NORTHCOM's homeland defense plan, NGB compiled the states' homeland defense plans and made them available to NORTHCOM; however, NORTHCOM planners told us that they neither requested nor needed access to this information. Without clearly defined roles and responsibilities, there is a risk that NORTHCOM's and NGB's responses to an event could be fragmented and uncoordinated. Addressing these gaps could help integrate intergovernmental planning for catastrophic incidents, enhance overall coordination, and help ensure that NORTHCOM's plans for its missions and responses to incidents are as effective as possible.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD partially agreed with the recommendation. DOD highlighted the importance of the Homeland Security Presidential Directive-mandated Integrated Planning System for governing the structure of planning between the states and federal government. However, this system was subsequently suspended pending restructuring of the Homeland Presidential Security Directive on planning/preparedness. DOD also stated that the process to coordinate state planning with combatant commands--such as US Northern Command--would be fully integrated through the Northern Command-controlled Defense Coordinating Officers and the military services' Emergency Preparedness Liaison Officers. Additionally, DOD participated in the Task Force for Emergency Readiness effort, which was organized by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and involved a pilot program of five states to help them prepare detailed emergency response plans, including civil-military integration. The pilot program ended in December 2009. The Federal Emergency Management Agency announced that it will not further fund the effort. DOD plans to review the recommendations from the participating states to capture and apply lessons learned. Together, these efforts represent progress toward addressing the intent of the recommendation.

    Recommendation: To improve NORTHCOM's coordination with the states, the Secretary of Defense should direct NORTHCOM to develop an established and thorough process to guide its coordination with the states, including provisions for involving the states in NORTHCOM's planning processes, obtaining information on state emergency response plans and capabilities, and using such information to improve the development and execution of its concept plans.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD agreed with the recommendation and stated that a revised memorandum of agreement between US Northern Command and the National Guard Bureau (NGB) was in coordination. DOD continued to report in the intervening three years that the memorandum of agreement remained "in coordination" or awaiting signatures. In July 2011, DOD reported that by agreement between the Chief, NGB and the Commander, US Northern Command, the original 2005 memorandum of agreement was mutually terminated. DOD further reported that both NGB and NORTHCOM believe that DOD directives and regulations updated since 2008 and other DOD documents have more clearly defined roles and responsibilities for USNORTHCOM, NGB and the NORTHCOM National Guard Office and strengthened unity of effort. Although not located within a single document or memorandum of agreement, when taken together, the contents of DOD directives and regulations that detail the relationship between US Northern Command and the National Guard Bureau address the intent of the recommendation.

    Recommendation: To improve NORTHCOM's coordination with NGB, the Secretary of Defense should direct NORTHCOM and NGB to revise the memorandum of agreement or develop an alternate document to include fully and clearly defined roles and responsibilities for NORTHCOM, NGB, and the NORTHCOM National Guard Office.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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