Governors to Congress: Leave National Guard to us

The nation’s governors said they strongly oppose language in the 2007 Defense authorization bill that would allow the president to federalize the National Guard to respond to natural disasters and may have picked up Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff in their fight.

Although the president can federalize the Guard in case of war, the National Governors Association said it opposes extension of that authority, contained in the Senate and House versions of the 2007 Defense Authorization bill as “unwarranted expansions of federal authority.”

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, speaking at the annual National Guard Association Conference in Albuquerque, N.M., said response to natural disasters must start at the state level and not in Washington, D.C. “Congress should not take the Guard away from the governors.... Congress needs to remove [the federalization] language from the authorization bill,” he said

Based on the federal and Guard response to Hurricane Katrina last year, federalizing the Guard could slow the response to natural disasters, Richardson said.

Guard units in all 50 states responded quickly to calls for help from the Gulf states after Katrina, Richardson said, with hundreds of New Mexico Guardsmen on the ground in Louisiana the day after the hurricane hit. Federalizing the Guard would slow such a quick response, he said.

Although Chertoff did not specifically address the federalization language in his speech to the conference, he did say that from his perspective, “state and local governments have the primary lead in a disaster,” a remark that received hearty applause from the conference attendees.

“Governors are ready to work with the administration and Congress to identify issues and work cooperatively on solutions to improve the nation's response to natural disasters, but at this time any language related to the Guard or reserves and natural disasters should be dropped from the final conference report,” the association said in a statement.

The Senate/House conference on the authorization bill is expected finish its work this week.

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