Over Half of Senate Sponsors Bill to Further Empower the National Guard

Sep 13, 2011, 13:36 ET from National Guard Association of the U.S.

NGAUS hails bill to add Guard officer to Joint Chiefs of Staff

WASHINGTON, Sept. 13, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Fifty-two senators now sponsor legislation that would give the National Guard a voice in final resource decisions at the Pentagon. 

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., introduced the National Guard Empowerment and State-National Defense Integration Act of 2011 (S. 1025) in late May. Fifty Senators have since signed on as co-sponsors.

The bill includes a provision to give the Guard's senior officer, the chief of the National Guard Bureau, a seat on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. 

The House approved a similar proviso in May, meaning it now only needs Senate approval to be sent to the president, who committed to a Guard "seat at the table" in his 2008 campaign booklet, The Blueprint for America: Barack Obama's Plan for America.

"Fifty-two and counting," said retired Maj. Gen. Gus L. Hargett Jr., the president of the National Guard Association of the United States (NGAUS). "We expect to pick up more co-sponsors in the days ahead. And we also know that a few senators plan to vote for the legislation, but, for one reason or another, they prefer not to sign on as co-sponsors.

"They and so many other lawmakers realize the Guard needs real representation at the highest levels of the Pentagon, especially now as senior leaders must find ways to reduce defense spending without reducing defense capabilities."

The NGB chief is currently invited to participate in some discussions with the Joint Chiefs. However, he is often excluded from meetings and does not have a vote in final decisions. Nor does he have the ability to nominate Guard officers for positions that require Senate confirmation.

S. 1025 would enable the NGB chief to sit with the heads of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines ― none of whom have ever served in the Guard ― and give the Guard, for the first time, representation in final deliberations on resourcing. 

NGAUS believes the measure benefits more than just nearly 470,000 citizen-soldiers and airmen.

"This is really so much more than just about giving the Guard a seat at the table," Maj. Gen. Frank Vavala, the NGAUS chairman of the board, said today. "It's about giving homeland security and the Guard's unique domestic-response mission a seat at the table."

He explained that while the Joint Chiefs advise the nation's civilian leadership on homeland security, its members are all products of military organizations that focus on overseas combat. They have limited experience to offer on homeland security or disaster response.

"As a member of the Joint Chiefs, the NGB chief would fill this void," Vavala said. "He would bring expertise on the employment of the Guard for a thousand-and-one domestic purposes and the importance of comprehensive interagency collaboration."

A seat at the table would also enable the nation to better leverage the cost-efficiencies the Guard offers, the NGAUS chairman said.

"Relying more on the Guard will allow us to retain our defense capability at a lower cost," Vavala added.  "We've proven over the last 10 years that we can do it. But this will only happen if Guard capabilities have a voice in the final analysis."

Hargett said Pentagon officials are chilly to the notion of adding another seat to the Joint Chiefs, but they need not be.

"This legislation doesn't add a second general to oversee the Army or the Air Force and it doesn't alter existing lines of authority or communication," he said. "It simply ensures the Guard has a voice in final decisions, while also ensuring the nation's civilian leaders have easy access to the Guard's homeland security expertise in a crisis."   

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.

SOURCE National Guard Association of the U.S.