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: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On August 13, 2015, the National Guard Bureau briefed GAO on their actions to implement the recommendations from GAO-12-114. In 2016, the National Guard Bureau provided supporting documentation to show its efforts to strengthen existing guidance on interagency coordination to enhance regional CBRNE preparedness and facilitate the CERFP's ability to respond to regional events. In particular, DOD has restructured its CBRN Consequence Management Response Force into a CBRN Response Enterprise to include the establishment of 10 Homeland Response Forces (HRF) that are aligned by Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) region and can provide command and control over multiple Civil Support Teams and CERFP units as part of a regional response effort. As part of this effort, in October 2015, the National Guard Bureau issued a HRF/CERFP Concept of Operation, which includes, among other things, responsibilities for the HRF and CERFP to coordinate regional plans and exercises within their FEMA region and to develop and coordinate on regional response plans with federal, state, tribal, and local entities. During the course of GAO's review of HRF readiness (100189), the GAO team had the opportunity to conduct site visits in 2015 and 2016 to meet with some of the HRFs. During one site visits, a HRF provided examples of the types of outreach efforts that a HRF conducts, such as the development of a community outreach brief to assist in educating the community on the capabilities of the HRF as well the development of an outreach packet that the HRF provides to its regional state and local entities on the capabilities that are available to support a request for assistance. We believe these efforts show substantial progress on the part of the National Guard Bureau and addresses the intent of the recommendation and, with these actions, the recommendation is considered closed implemented.

    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: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On August 13, 2015, the National Guard Bureau briefed GAO on their actions to implement the recommendations from GAO-12-114. In 2016, the National Guard Bureau identified its concept of operation and yearly planning guidance as documentation supporting its efforts to increase awareness and understanding of coordination guidance within the CERFPs. In particular, the 2015 Concept of Operation contains information about coordination with other National Guard responders. For example, the guidance includes information on the National Guard Coordination Center, which provides a central base for conducting operations; describes routine and extensive coordination for the CERFPs, the Homeland Response Force, the Joint Force Headquarter-State, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the National Guard Bureau, and U.S. Northern Command during the preparation for a chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear (CBRN) incident response. The Concept of Operation encourages regular coordination between the CERFP and other responders. We believe that the updated Concept of Operation shows substantial progress on the part of the National Guard Bureau and addresses the intent of the recommendation to improve awareness and understanding of guidance on coordinating with other CBRN responders. With these actions, the recommendation is considered closed implemented.

    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: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to our recommendation, in 2014, the National Guard Bureau developed an operation and training checklist for the CERFP in its Standardization, Evaluation, and Assistance Team inspection program. The inspection program was established to strengthen and improve the management controls and oversight for the National Guard CERFP forces. As part of the inspection program, the CERFP Commander is inspected on whether he/she or a representative performed liaison tasks with local, state, and federal agencies, civil authorities, and Title 10 response organizations to ensure that they understand the CERFP mission, capabilities, and request for support processes. By including CERFPs performance of pre-incident coordination activities in the inspection program, the National Guard Bureau should have more detailed information about coordination activities to support CERFP program management decisions. DOD has met both the letter and intent of this recommendation and, with these actions, the recommendation is considered closed implemented.

    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: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On August 13, 2015, the National Guard Bureau briefed GAO on their actions to implement the recommendations from GAO-12-114. In 2016, the National Guard Bureau provided supporting documentation to show that it has developed a number of efforts to date to set specific training goals and track progress by the CERFPs. These efforts include developing training and evaluation outlines which include a Joint Mission Essential Task List, collective tasks needed to support the Task List, and checklists to support completion of the tasks. In addition, the National Guard Bureau issues yearly training guidance, which directs CERFPs to develop yearly training plans and budgets that must include annual deployment readiness exercises, two collective training events per year, and the Joint Mission Essential Tasks to maintain proficiency and mission readiness, among other things. Further, the yearly planning guidance identifies the Joint Training Information Management System as the system of record for the National Guard CBRN Response Enterprise, to include the CERFPs, to report and track participation in collective training events and the results of external evaluations. We believe these efforts show substantial progress on the part of the National Guard Bureau and addresses the intent of the recommendation. With these actions, the recommendation is considered closed implemented.

    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: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Based on work GAO conducted for its report on Defense Civil Support: DOD Has Made Progress Incorporating the Homeland Response Force into the Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Response Enterprise (GAO-16-599, June 28, 2016), we determined through a review of classified documents that DOD has incorporated readiness data on a scheduled basis for the CERFPs. Additionally, DOD has updated its Defense Readiness Reporting System guidance. The National Guard Bureau confirmed these actions. With these actions, the recommendation is considered closed implemented.

    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: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to our recommendation, the National Guard Bureau developed a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear-specific Emergency Management Assistance Compact form, a memorandum of understanding form, and cost estimates for CERFP capabilities in support of civil authority. The pre-scripted forms are expected to reduce delays in decision making of state leaders in requesting support after an incident. Six of the 10 Federal Emergency Management Agency region National Guard response forces have implemented the use of the forms. Officials with the National Guard Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction office stated that the remaining four forces will implement the use of these forms by mid-2017. Specific deployment agreements between states that host CERFPs and those that may receive CERFPs could improve regional CERFP support and response planning specifying, for example, command and control relationships for interstate operations and, thereby, substantially enhance regional preparedness for an incident response. DOD has met both the letter and intent of this recommendation. With these actions, the recommendation is considered closed implemented.

    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: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The National Guard Bureau is using its existing management processes to analyze CERFP personnel, training, and equipment requirements. Further, since the issuance of this report in fiscal year 2012, DOD has laid out guidance for requirements validation as part of the Chief National Guard Bureau Instruction (CNGBI) 3500.01, which is the Homeland Response Force/Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Enhanced Response Force Package (HRF/CERFP) Working Group and Combating Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Integrated Product Team (IPT) Charter from November 2013. This document lays out the processes and the organizations (councils, working groups, and integrated product teams) responsible for reviewing and validating requirements for HRFs and CERFPs using the DOTMLPF process. The National Guard J3 Directorate is responsible for managing the CBRN Response Element Programmatic Management Process. Assessments are conducted and must include how well personnel, training, and equipment are performing in the field. This ongoing and annual assessment informs future guidance and plans of actions to be carried out by the staff and the states in order to have a trained and validated CERFP force capable of rapid deployment and mitigating loss of life in a catastrophic CBRN environment. The Combating Weapons of Mass Destruction Division of the National Guard Bureau is using external evaluations and Standardization, Evaluation and Assessment Team (SEAT) program results to identify training requirements. This division is responsible for all aspects of CERFP equipment management. National Guard officials told us that the division has updated the CERFP equipment requirement list regularly since 2012 to ensure the CERFP has the equipment necessary to conduct the CERFP mission. In addition, the division is responsible for identify resources to establish, analyze, and support the organizing, manning, equipping, training, and sustainment for all National Guard CBRN capabilities, including the CERFP. The division uses working groups to support their work to identify capabilities gaps in personnel, equipment, or other issues. According to the National Guard Bureau guidance, this management process provides guidance and direction, establishes priorities, aligns resources, and integrates efforts of National Guard Bureau and the states to ensure the CERFPs are able to conduct the mission. Therefore, based upon the support provided to us by the NGB, DOD has met both the letter and intent of the recommendation. With these actions, this recommendation is considered closed implemented.

    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: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On August 13, 2015, the National Guard Bureau briefed GAO on their actions to implement the recommendations from GAO-12-114. In 2016, the National Guard Bureau provided supporting documentation to show its efforts to ensure that CERFPs responding to a CBRN incident will have access to key communications capabilities that are interoperable with military and first responder communications equipment using the Joint Incident Site Communications Capabilities (JISCC). In particular, the National Guard Bureau introduced the Joint Incident Site Communications Capability to provide signal and communications capabilities. Based on the documentation provided, DOD has met the intent of the recommendation. With these actions, the recommendation is considered closed implemented.

    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: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to our recommendation, the National Guard Bureau Weapons of Mass Destruction office told us that they began conducting workshops across the Federal Emergency Management Agency regions. During those workshops, the National Guard Bureau provided state planners pre-scripted forms and cost estimates to support the establishment of agreements between states to ensure an expedited response by National Guard Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Response Enterprise forces when called upon by a Governor after an incident. Based on supporting documents provided by DOD, the department has met both the letter and intent of the recommendation. With these actions, the recommendation is considered closed implemented.

    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: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On August 13, 2015, the National Guard Bureau briefed GAO on their actions to implement the recommendations from GAO-12-114. Additionally, GAO analysis of both National Guard Bureau and U.S. Northern Command exercises demonstrate that DOD has plans in place to increasingly synchronize National Guard Bureau and U.S. Northern Command exercises so as to maximize opportunities for DOD's chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) response forces to gain experience in working in a shared command-and-control environment. Written responses from the National Guard Bureau state that an additional expectation of this exercise synchronization effort is that it would provide more and better opportunities for exercising with partners outside of DOD, such as local and state responders, the lack of such opportunities being a significant part of the relevant finding in GAO-12-114. As such, although more work may be required, we believe that DOD has substantially met the intent of the recommendation. With these actions, the recommendation is considered closed implemented.

    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: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On August 13, 2015, the National Guard Bureau briefed GAO on their actions to implement the recommendations from GAO-12-114. In 2016, the National Guard Bureau provided supporting documentation to show its efforts to strengthen existing guidance on interagency coordination to enhance regional CBRNE preparedness and facilitate the CERFP's ability to respond to regional events. In particular, in reflection of changes in DOD's consequence management strategy, DOD has restructured its chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) Consequence Management Response Force into a CBRN Response Enterprise (CRE) to include the establishment of 10 Homeland Response Forces (HRF) that are aligned by Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) region and can provide command and control over multiple Civil Support Teams and CERFP units as part of a regional response effort. As part of this effort, in October 2015, the National Guard Bureau issued a HRF/CERFP Concept of Operation which, among other things, clarifies command and control relationships between various elements of the CRE, as well as the relationship of the CRE to other key actors, such as combatant commands, state commands, and the Incident Command System. Although the HRF/CERFP Concept of Operation is final rather than interim guidance, we believe that it fully addresses the intent of the recommendation. Based on documentation provided by DOD, the department has met both the letter and intent of the recommendation. With these actions, the recommendation is considered closed implemented.

    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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