Homeland Defense:

National Guard Bureau Needs to Clarify Civil Support Teams' Mission and Address Management Challenges

GAO-06-498: Published: May 31, 2006. Publicly Released: Jun 30, 2006.

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To prepare for potential attacks in the United States involving weapons of mass destruction (WMD), Congress approved the development of National Guard Civil Support Teams (CST) tasked to identify chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, or high-yield explosive weapons; assess consequences; advise civil authorities on response measures; and assist with requests for additional support. Thus far, 36 of the 55 approved teams have been fully certified to conduct their mission. The National Guard Bureau (NGB) is in the process of establishing, certifying, and planning for the long-term sustainment of the CSTs. GAO was asked to address the extent to which (1) the CSTs are ready to conduct their mission and (2) effective administrative mechanisms are in place for the CSTs.

The established CSTs have thus far been trained, equipped, and staffed and have command and control mechanisms in place to conduct their domestic mission. However, confusion resulting from a lack of guidance on the types of non-WMD missions the CSTs can conduct to prepare for their WMD terrorism mission could impede coordination between state authorities and local emergency management officials on the appropriate use of the CSTs. CSTs were created to focus on assisting civil authorities in domestic WMD events. Based on its review of the CSTs' training, equipment, and staffing criteria; analysis of CST readiness data; site visits to 14 CSTs; and discussions with state, local, and federal responders, GAO found the certified teams visited to be ready to conduct their mission. NGB and the states have a clear structure for operational command and control of the CSTs. Though current NGB guidance and the CSTs' message to state and local officials emphasize the CST mission as being focused on WMD events, some CSTs have responded to non-WMD events, such as providing emergency assistance to the Gulf Coast states after the 2005 hurricanes. While NGB views such missions as useful preparations for WMD events, guidance has not been clarified to reflect the type of non-WMD missions that would be appropriate. This lack of clarity has caused confusion among state, local, and NGB officials, potentially slowing coordination efforts. Also, DOD is proposing a limited role for the CSTs to coordinate and operate with Mexican and Canadian officials in the event of a cross-border WMD incident. DOD and NGB are informally considering limited overseas missions for the teams, though they have no plans to request a further expansion of the CSTs' mission to encompass overseas operations. According to NGB and the CST commanders, some overseas missions could provide valuable experience and have a positive effect on CST readiness, while other, more demanding missions, such as supporting the warfighter, could be detrimental to the readiness and availability of the CSTs. Although NGB continues to develop a long-term sustainment plan for the CST program, going forward, it faces challenges to the administration and management of the CSTs that could impede both the progress of newer teams and the long-term sustainment of the program. NGB has made progress in establishing an administrative management structure for the CSTs, including issuing a broad CST management regulation and initiating a standardization and evaluation program. However, the CSTs face challenges in personnel, coordination plans, equipment acquisition and planning, training objectives, readiness reporting and facilities. Further, insufficient NGB guidance on state National Guard roles and responsibilities for overseeing and supporting their CSTs has resulted in varied support at the state National Guard level. NGB is aware of the challenges and has efforts under way to address them. While these challenges have not yet undermined CST readiness, if NGB efforts are unsuccessful, the progress of newer teams could be impeded and the long-term sustainment of the CST program put at greater risk.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to this recommendation, the Department of Defense (DOD) indicated that they requested that Congress clarify the authorization language for employment of the CSTs and that they should be permitted to respond to catastrophic events from unintentional or natural events. In October 2006, as part of the John Warner National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2007, Congress clarified the description of the CST's mission to include the intentional or unintentional release of WMD agents and natural or manmade disasters.

    Recommendation: To help address management challenges and further efforts to sustain the CST program, the Secretary of Defense, in concert with the Chief of the National Guard Bureau and the Secretaries of the Army and of the Air Force, should clarify the types of non-WMD responses that are appropriate for CSTs as part of their mission to prepare for domestic WMD and catastrophic terrorist attacks.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to this recommendation, the Department of Defense (DOD) indicated that the Army and the NGB had developed a plan to institutionalize the CST program and intended to use the standardization program we mentioned in our report--once that program was implemented--to highlight additional improvements needed for the program. In Fiscal Year 2006, the standardization program (referred to by NGB as SEAT) became fully operational and as of April 2007, has assessed 27 of the 55 CSTs. The SEAT program is allowing NGB a mechanism for continuously reviewing the need for additional management controls. In late 2006, the Army's training and doctrine command also conducted an experiment that will help identify improvements and changes necessary to personnel, force structure, training, and equipment for the CSTs.

    Recommendation: To help address management challenges and further efforts to sustain the CST program, the Secretary of Defense, in concert with the Chief of the National Guard Bureau and the Secretaries of the Army and of the Air Force, should fully incorporate into ongoing management efforts to sustain the CST program a plan with goals, objectives, and evaluation mechanisms to address challenges such as team staffing issues, coordination guidance, equipment maintenance and acquisition, training and exercise oversight, readiness reporting, and facilities requirements.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to this recommendation, the Department of Defense (DOD) indicated that, in addition to ongoing management efforts, NGB intended to (1) use the newly-established standardization team (SEAT) program to provide to the state adjutants general an independent review and validation of their respective state's support for the CST; and (2) use their own formal training course for state leadership that focuses on the unique nature and requirements of the CSTs. In Fiscal Year 2006, the SEAT program became fully operational and as of April 2007, has assessed 27 of the 55 CSTs. NGB intends the SEAT teams to visit each CST on a 24-month rotational cycle to provide the state adjutants general an outside review and validation of state support of the CST. NGB is also using their "Employ the CST" course to educate state leadership on the CSTs.

    Recommendation: To help address management challenges and further efforts to sustain the CST program, the Secretary of Defense, in concert with the Chief of the National Guard Bureau and the Secretaries of the Army and of the Air Force, should develop clear guidance for the states on how CSTs should be integrated into state National Guard commands in order to facilitate an effective administrative oversight and support structure for the CSTs in each state that reflects familiarization with the role, mission, and requirements of these specialized units, and work with state adjutants general and federal financial officers at the state level to find appropriate ways to exchange ideas and best practices for ensuring effective NGB-state National Guard partnership in overseeing the CST program. One such method could be to create or modify an existing working group or team to allow state National Guard membership.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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