WASHINGTON, Dec. 2, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The National Guard community ― nearly 500,000 men and women in uniform, plus hundreds of thousands of family members and retirees ― is urging members of the Senate to prevent one of their colleagues from going behind closed doors to muzzle a congressionally approved Guard voice at the Pentagon.
Their plea came in the form of a National Guard Coalition letter yesterday to all 100 senators asking that they leave intact legislation that would give the Guard's senior officer, the chief of the National Guard Bureau, a seat on the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
On Monday, the Senate passed an amendment (SA 1072) by voice vote to the fiscal 2012 defense authorization bill (S. 1867) that would give Guardsmen their long-coveted seat at the table. The clear implication of the action was that opponents of SA 1072 had set aside any attempt to formally amend the legislation, recognizing the will of the Senate on the matter.
The House approved a similar amendment in May; however, the legislative wording is not completely identical, which means the matter is subject to a "conference committee" to reconcile differences in the two versions.
Such negotiations occur behind closed doors and involve only a small number of lawmakers from both chambers who have the latitude, in some cases, to change the intent of legislation.
What concerns the Guard community is a statement by Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., on the Senate floor Tuesday. Reed, an opponent of the proposal, said he wants to alter the amendment "in conference" to statutorily limit the NGB chief's ability to advise the nation's civilian leadership and take to the nation's governors ― the commander in chiefs of the Guard in the states ― out of the nomination process.
"Senator Reed's desired result would be to codify in law the Guard's current second-class status as a by-invitation-only member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff," said retired Maj. Gen. Gus L. Hargett Jr., the president of the National Guard Association of the United States. "It's giving the Guard a voice and then muzzling it, except in certain limited situations.
"This is not what the American public watched the Senate overwhelmingly approve Monday night. And it's not what they know the House approved earlier in the year," he said. "But a very small minority can go behind closed doors and block the clear and expressed will of the majority when legislation is subject to conference."
Hargett said Reed's intent appears closely aligned with the current members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Both Reed and the Joint Chiefs had the opportunity to express their opposition to the proposal during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the matter Nov. 10.
In the days after the hearing, the number of senators sponsoring legislation to give the Guard a seat at the table grew from 68 to 71.
"It's up to Congress to determine the composition of the Joint Chiefs," Hargett said. "The sitting members of the JCS unanimously opposed the addition of the commandant of the Marine Corps in 1978 and the additional position of vice chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Goldwater-Nichols reforms 1986. With the benefit of history, the current JCS members now praise both of those additions.
"No doubt future members of the Joint Chiefs will value the addition of the chief of the National Guard, but only if he isn't muzzled."
About NGAUS: The association includes nearly 45,000 current or former Guard officers. It was created in 1878 to provide unified National Guard representation in Washington. In their first productive meeting after Reconstruction, militia officers from the North and South formed the association with the goal of obtaining better equipment and training by petitioning Congress for more resources. Today, 133 years later, NGAUS has the same mission.
Internet Availability: This document and National Guard Coalition letter are available at www.ngaus.org.
SOURCE National Guard Association of the U.S.