Homeland Defense and Weapons of Mass Destruction:

Additional Steps Could Enhance the Effectiveness of the National Guard's Life-Saving Response Forces

GAO-12-114: Published: Dec 7, 2011. Publicly Released: Dec 7, 2011.

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The 2010 National Security Strategy emphasizes the importance of strengthening our security and resilience at home and building capability to respond to and recover from major chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and high-yield explosive (CBRNE) incidents. The National Guard has established 17 CBRNE Enhanced Response Force Packages (CERFP), which are staffed with National Guard part-time personnel, to provide life-saving capabilities in response to a CBRNE event. The teams are intended to coordinate operations with multiple response partners at the local, state, and federal levels--including Department of Defense (DOD) forces. The National Guard Bureau (NGB) is responsible for managing the CERFP program. GAO assessed (1) how well CERFPs are prepared to perform their mission and how such readiness is measured and reported; (2) how effectively CERFPs coordinate with incident response partners and how well this is evaluated; and (3) the effectiveness of the CERFPs' command and control framework. GAO reviewed program documentation, surveyed National Guard and emergency management officials from 27 states, observed training exercises, and interviewed DOD, NGB, and CERFP officials

The National Guard's CERFPs face personnel, training, and equipment challenges that have adversely affected their preparedness to effectively execute the CBRNE mission. For example, state National Guard and CERFP officials cited ongoing difficulty in maintaining adequate numbers of personnel with the proficiency needed to execute many specialized tasks they are to perform, and stated that additional equipment may be needed to perform the mission. These challenges highlight that NGB has not established a process to comprehensively review and validate personnel, training, and equipment requirements. In addition, CERFPs' readiness information is not comprehensively available to potential DOD response partners because such information is not yet included in DOD's centralized readiness-reporting system, and final plans to do so have not yet been developed. In the absence of accurate requirements and comprehensive readiness information, NGB is unable to effectively prioritize funding and mitigate resource deficiencies that could jeopardize the CERFPs' preparedness levels. CERFPs coordinate with some of their potential response partners--such as local and state organizations--through activities such as briefings but have achieved varying levels of success in educating such partners about CERFP capabilities because of insufficient guidance on how to conduct interagency coordination. Existing coordination guidance is imprecise on the frequency and targeting of coordination activities, thereby providing little direction for prioritizing responsibilities. Additionally, opportunities exist to enhance regional coordination through interstate agreements and planning. Such agreements would allow more effective pooling and sharing of resources across state boundaries; however, few interstate agreements exist between states with and without CERFPs. NGB is taking steps to assess the CERFPs' performance of coordination activities, but NGB's evaluation tool, based on existing guidance, does not have coordination standards against which CERFP performance can be measured. In the absence of sufficient interagency coordination guidance and evaluation standards, NGB is unable to foster a consistent approach to coordination that improves the CERFPs' ability to respond to regional events. NGB has a framework in place for the operational command and control of CERFPs that outlines how teams will integrate with civilian and military command structures. However, the command and control of operations involving CERFPs may be limited because of (1) inadequate communications equipment; (2) the absence of required agreements between some CERFPs and their out-of-state elements; and (3) infrequent opportunities to practice potential command and control arrangements in a realistic response environment. For example, the CERFPs' authorized communications equipment is not interoperable with the equipment used by some other response organizations, such as first responders, and has a limited range. In addition, NGB has initiated plans to introduce 10 new forces--called Homeland Response Forces--to assist civil authorities in responding to disasters of all kinds. This plan will affect the existing command and control framework, but NGB has not issued updated command and control guidance to the CERFPs. As a result of these factors, NGB lacks assurance that CERFP operations can be commanded and controlled effectively. GAO recommends that DOD take a number of actions to increase CERFP preparedness, strengthen pre-incident coordination with potential response partners, and ensure the effective command and control of operations involving CERFPs. DOD agreed with the recommendations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD concurred with the recommendation. The National Guard Bureau and DOD continue to consider how the CERFPs and Homeland Response Forces (HRFs) are to interact and what further guidance is necessary for such things as coordination with federal, state, and local partners.

    Recommendation: To enhance regional CBRNE preparedness and facilitate the CERFPs' ability to respond to regional events, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Chief of the National Guard Bureau in concert with the Secretaries of the Army and Air Force and the state Adjutants General, where appropriate, to strengthen existing guidance related to interagency coordination by specifying, for example, the key types of response organizations with which CERFPs should coordinate in their geographical areas of responsibility.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD concurred with the recommendation. The National Guard Bureau and DOD continue to consider how the CERFPs and Homeland Response Forces (HRFs) are to interact and what further guidance is necessary for such things as coordination with federal, state, and local partners.

    Recommendation: To enhance regional CBRNE preparedness and facilitate the CERFPs' ability to respond to regional events, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Chief of the National Guard Bureau in concert with the Secretaries of the Army and Air Force and the state Adjutants General, where appropriate, to increase awareness and understanding of coordination guidance within the CERFPs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD concurred with the recommendation. The National Guard Bureau and DOD continue to consider how the CERFPs and Homeland Response Forces (HRFs) are to interact and what further guidance is necessary for such things as coordination with federal, state, and local partners.

    Recommendation: To enhance regional CBRNE preparedness and facilitate the CERFPs' ability to respond to regional events, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Chief of the National Guard Bureau in concert with the Secretaries of the Army and Air Force and the state Adjutants General, where appropriate, to establish agreed-upon coordination evaluation standards by incorporating updated coordination guidance in the Standardization, Evaluation, and Assistance Team checklist(s) or another coordination evaluation tool.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  4. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD concurred with the recommendation. DOD stated that US Northern Command and NGB are provided resources for approximately eight full-scale exercise opportunities per year that allow National Guard units (CERFPs or other units) to train with military and interagency partners and that additional funding and dedicated National Guard "man-days" would be required to exercise all 17 CERFPs and 10 HRFs each year or each time a new force assumes the mission. Further, DOD stated that given the large amount of training (for individuals, units, and with interagency partners) for the complex mission, stabilization of the assigned CBRNE consequence management forces for 3 years or more is needed. DOD continues to evaluate the exercise and training plans for the CERFPs and other homeland response units.

    Recommendation: To increase assurance that CERFPs can effectively conduct CBRNE consequence management in support of civil authorities, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Chief of the National Guard Bureau, in coordination with the Secretaries of the Army and Air Force, the state Adjutants General, and the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, as appropriate, to develop a training strategy linked to specified goals to guide CERFPs' participation in the range of field collective training exercises and systematically track progress that CERFPs are making in achieving the specified training goals.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  5. Status: Open

    Comments: DOS concurred with the recommendation. The National Guard Bureau and DOD continue to work towards standardizing CERFP readiness data according to the Defense Readiness Reporting System (DRRS).

    Recommendation: To increase assurance that CERFPs can effectively conduct CBRNE consequence management in support of civil authorities, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Chief of the National Guard Bureau, in coordination with the Secretaries of the Army and Air Force, the state Adjutants General, and the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, as appropriate, to develop and implement a plan--with timelines--to complete the implementation of the standardized mechanism for capturing and reporting readiness data within DOD's centralized readiness reporting system.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  6. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD concurred with the recommendation. The National Guard Bureau and DOD continue to consider how the CERFPs and Homeland Response Forces (HRFs) are to interact and what further guidance is necessary for such things as coordination with federal, state, and local partners.

    Recommendation: To enhance regional CBRNE preparedness and facilitate the CERFPs' ability to respond to regional events, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Chief of the National Guard Bureau in concert with the Secretaries of the Army and Air Force and the state Adjutants General, where appropriate, to take steps to encourage states to develop state-to-state compacts regarding CERFP interstate deployment and coordination to supplement EMAC.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  7. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD concurred with the recommendation. The National Guard Bureau (NGB) and DOD continue to evaluate the appropriate individual role and capability set of the CERFPs in comparison to the Homeland Response Forces (HRF) and the entire DOD CBRN Enterprise.

    Recommendation: To increase assurance that CERFPs can effectively conduct CBRNE consequence management in support of civil authorities, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Chief of the National Guard Bureau, in coordination with the Secretaries of the Army and Air Force, the state Adjutants General, and the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, as appropriate, implement a well-defined process to systematically examine and validate total resources and capabilities necessary to successfully conduct the CERFP mission including personnel, training, and equipment requirements.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  8. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD concurred with the recommendation but indicated no further steps to implement it.

    Recommendation: To ensure the effective command and control of consequence management operations involving CERFPs and to make certain that CERFPs are able to integrate effectively with military and civilian response partners, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Chief of the National Guard Bureau, in concert with the Secretaries of the Army and Air Force and the state Adjutants General, where appropriate, to formalize an interim solution--as NGB conducts it long-term review--to ensure that CERFPs responding to an event will have access to equipment providing key communications capabilities--including interoperability with military and first responder equipment, long-range connectivity, and technical reach-back.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  9. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD concurred with the recommendation. The National Guard Bureau (NGB) continues to work with the state Adjutants Generals to engage the states on pursuing the necessary agreements.

    Recommendation: To ensure the effective command and control of consequence management operations involving CERFPs and to make certain that CERFPs are able to integrate effectively with military and civilian response partners, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Chief of the National Guard Bureau, in concert with the Secretaries of the Army and Air Force and the state Adjutants General, where appropriate, to foster the development of memorandums of agreement between states that host CERFPs and states that provide out-of-state elements such as Fatality, Search, and Recovery teams.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  10. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD concurred with the recommendation. DOD stated that US Northern Command and NGB are provided resources for approximately eight full-scale exercise opportunities per year that allow National Guard units (CERFPs or other units) to train with military and interagency partners and that additional funding and dedicated National Guard "man-days" would be required to exercise all 17 CERFPs and 10 HRFs each year or each time a new force assumes the mission. Further, DOD stated that given the large amount of training (for individuals, units, and with interagency partners) for the complex mission, stabilization of the assigned CBRNE consequence management forces for 3 years or more is needed. DOD continues to evaluate the exercise and training plans for the CERFPs and other homeland response units.

    Recommendation: To ensure the effective command and control of consequence management operations involving CERFPs and to make certain that CERFPs are able to integrate effectively with military and civilian response partners, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Chief of the National Guard Bureau, in concert with the Secretaries of the Army and Air Force and the state Adjutants General, where appropriate, to develop a strategy to ensure that all CERFPs are able to practice and be evaluated on command and control relationships within realistic environments that include the range of interagency partners that CERFPs are likely to encounter.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  11. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD concurred with the recommendation. The National Guard Bureau (NGB) and DOD continue to evaluate the appropriate individual role and of the CERFPs in coordination with the Homeland Response Forces (HRF) and the entire DOD CBRN Enterprise.

    Recommendation: To ensure the effective command and control of consequence management operations involving CERFPs and to make certain that CERFPs are able to integrate effectively with military and civilian response partners, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Chief of the National Guard Bureau, in concert with the Secretaries of the Army and Air Force and the state Adjutants General, where appropriate, to issue interim guidance to clarify the new command and control relationships resulting from the changes to DOD's consequence management strategy.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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