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Source: National Defense, June 2001 v85 i571 p34.

Title: Pentagon Unfairly Criticized In Chem-Bio Defense Effort.
Author: Albert J. Mauroni

Full Text COPYRIGHT 2001 National Defense Industrial Association

It's been more than four years since Congress directed the Defense Department to develop and execute a domestic preparedness program against chemical or biological terrorist incidents.

Federal agencies are soliciting billions of dollars to continue and increase their role in countering chemical-biological (CB) terrorism, despite the lack of an identified threat. It has been reported that the military's response forces are useless to the city emergency responders and that the city-training program was just an inflated, bloated contractor-driven effort to juice the government on the latest hot-button topic. One report accuses the Pentagon and other government agencies of playing the executive and legislative offices against each other to gain more funds.

But what these critics are not considering fairly is that the Defense Department leadership never sought out this role. Congress directed the Pentagon to train emergency responders at the city level. Congress approved the list of cities to be trained, and it directed the development of response capabilities. The Defense Department responded by teaming with top-notch consultants and developing a domestic preparedness program, resulting in tens of thousands of trained emergency responders.

But the Pentagon does not handle public-policy issues well, and the collection of government agencies coordinating the federal CB terrorism response made the execution of the effort clumsy and inefficient. It takes time and focused leadership to refine a public program. Unfortunately, the Senior Interagency Coordinating Group (SICG), and now, the National Domestic Preparedness Office (NDPO), have not provided the leadership or the focus to improve the program.

The Defense Department is a support agency only, not the lead--yet it gets the biggest rocks thrown in its direction.

The U.S. Army Soldier and Biological Chemical Command (SBCCOM) started the domestic preparedness program in the fall of 1996. This group, which included many of the government agencies involved in fighting "conventional" terrorism, drove the federal response program and coordinated how each agency would participate. As with any committee without a strong chair, the products end up being compromises and not ideal solutions.

The Pentagon's role was to be the main source of subject-matter expertise in chemical and biological warfare. It had to develop a training program, response assets and a hotline for emergency responders. The training program had to be ready to go by June 1997, in Denver, and 120 cities would be trained within three years.

There was no need for agencies to lobby for additional funds as the program took off. Rather, there was an excess of congressionally-mandated funds and directions without adequate personnel or materials to execute the program.

SBCCOM hired Booz-Allen and Hamilton as the lead coordinator for its training program, and a subcontractor, EAI Inc. SAIC led the medical training courses, and RPI conducted the exercise portion. Booz-Allen and IEM Inc., executed the CB hotline tasks, respectively. Many consultants were former Army chemical specialists.

The consultants teamed up with fire battalion chiefs, senior police officers and medical experts. They created a training program that mirrored the National Fire fighter Academy's incident command approach. They knew that the emergency responders would reject any purely military based training. They were guided by the following assumptions:

* The cities, lacking travel funds and needing their people available for emergencies, would not send their personnel away to a distant training center for an extended period of time.

* Multiple iterations of six courses had to be completed in less than one week, to allow the responders to get back to their jobs without delay.

* The federal teams couldn't train every responder in the city, thus requiring a train-the-trainer approach.

Extensive coordination with police, fire-fighters, hospitals and other emergency responders within the city and surrounding counties took time and patience to prepare for the week-long instruction. The SBC-COM team had to coordinate travel and training for two to six cities every month over three years. Tempers flared, marriages were broken and job turnover was heavy. But the job got done, and the majority of cities' emergency responders were appreciative.

The Pentagon's response force took the shape of a CB quick-reaction force (CBQRF),later renamed the rapid response team (CBRRT), with the Army's Technical Escort Unit (TEU) as its nucleus, with Army medical, Air Force and Navy unit support. The National Guard formed 22-person response teams, initially planned as one team per FEMA region. U.S. Joint Forces Command's joint task force on civil support (JTF-CS) includes the Marine Corps CB incident response force (CBIRF), as well as the CB-RRT. These organizations have been active at national events, such as the Olympics, political conventions, the millennium celebration and state-of-the-union addresses.

What has this cost the taxpayer? Not $10 billion in one year, as some have misread from GAO reports. That number is the total amount the federal government spent on countering terrorism, which is mostly focused on the conventional forms of terrorism. About $1.5 billion in fiscal 2000 was allocated to CB terrorism response, and less than half of that was spent by the Defense Department.

Transition to Justice

When the Justice Department took over the program, they used all the subtlety of a bouncer wading into a bar fight. Justice was to take over SBCCOM's training of the remaining cities (due to scheduling conflicts, not all 120 cities had been trained in three years). SBC COM was told to drop its CB helpline, which had been fielding more than 1,300 calls each month. The hotline was replaced with an e mail address on the NDPO website. The Pentagon's training materials would not be required. Justice had its own training program.

The NDPO seems to be more of a coordination center, "empowering" the emergency response community through electronic links to information sources. Justice may be the lead federal agency to respond to terrorism, but it does not have on-hand expertise on handling CB warfare agents.

No one is disputing the Justice Department's lead role in countering and responding to acts of terrorism. The need to prevent terrorist incidents and prosecute those responsible for terrorism under federal laws demands that it play a strong role. A lack of credentials in CB device assessment and handling and post-incident response makes the NDPO a knowledge source, not a leader. There are now two distinct federal programs, one focused on law-enforcement actions against CB terrorism (Justice Department), and one focused on responding to CB incidents (FEMA).

On the other hand, the Pentagon's leadership may be privately satisfied that it can divest itself of the city training program and helpline. The program was more of a diversion from its military mission. The response function continues as a congressionally mandated directive to develop National Guard civil support teams (CST). These teams are another source of criticism, such as the argument that a 22-person military team could not possibly offer substantive support to the local responders. Either they will be too late, or they are too small to make a difference in that critical first hour.

The Army Technical Escort Unit often is called upon to evaluate discovered devices or CB agent materials. Based on intelligence estimates, TEU, CBIRF, WMD CSTs or similar assets could collocate with local responders at high-profile events that may attract terrorists. This is done routinely for national special events and could be paralleled with little effort at the state and local levels. The objective is to bring in the real subject-matter experts to support city and state leaders before the incident unfolds, and the subject-matter experts are from the Defense Department, not the FBI or FEMA.

The response to the Oldahoma City bombing in 1995 was not a one-hour affair, but lasted several months. While a late federal response to a "no-notice CB terrorist incident" may not immediately save lives, there is the need to restore government services and general health and safety as soon as possible. Local forces would be overwhelmed just dealing with the immediate consequences of an incident. There is a role for federal assets that arrive hours or days after a CB terrorist event. They can bring in supplies and assist in long-term remediation of the incident site.

The constant turnover of emergency responders will demand that a source of expertise remain available in the cities and states. The National Guard strongly lobbied for the role of sustainment training, and the WMD CSTs are one potential solution to that requirement. Additionally, politicians want to demonstrate that they care about the health and welfare of their constituents by ensuring a WMD CST is equipped and ready in their state. It is naive to assume that congressional representatives would pull back their demands for these teams. Does every state and territory need its own CST? Probably not, but until Congress directs a threat-based assessment, it is difficult to determine, with any rigor, who should get a team and who shouldn't.

Defense Department Functions

The Hart-Rudman National Security Com mission, in its report, calls for a National Homeland Security Agency, which would assume the roles of FEMA, the Coast Guard and Border Patrol. The commission, recognizing the failure of the current "rule by committee" approach to terrorism response, believes this agency should both coordinate and implement policy for homeland security and critical infrastructure protection. Close working relations with the Pentagon and intelligence sharing with the FBI and CIA would be a responsibility for this agency. This would replace the NDPO in its poorly executed mission of coordinating federal agencies that don't want to cooperate and "empowering" emergency responders as they develop their city response plans.

Responding to CB incidents requires a start-to-finish support, from intelligence collection to plans and policy development to assessments to response. No one federal agency currently has all these roles, and it is clear that the committee approach doesn't work. The United States needs one national agency that coordinates the entire federal response program for CB terrorism.

The Defense Department will continue to provide the brunt of federal response capabilities, because it has the subject-matter experts. It can provide training facilities that permit emergency responders to train in toxic chemical environments. Their role also should include technical evaluations of contractors' equipment. The CB helpline should be reactivated to serve federal and city emergency responders.

This approach does not buy city emergency responders more equipment or promise zero casualties at "no-notice" incidents. But there are lessons that must be learned from history. The U.S. Civil Defense program once tried to protect every city and town from enemy ballistic missile attacks, but it couldn't protect everyone in every city throughout the nation without massive investments, unaffordable by any measure.

The federal domestic preparedness program needs improvement if it is to faithfully execute its responsibilities in a more effective manner than what is seen now. The current committee-style approach by the federal government does not permit an adequate response to terrorism, and it is fortunate that no adversary has seriously tested the system. By many assessments, this nation may never see a CB terrorist incident that results in the predicted thousands of casualties. Whether that incident ever comes, the CB response public program needs to be improved, to better fit the expectations of Congress and needs of the American public.

Albert J. Mauroni is a senior policy analyst and management consultant, specializing in chemical-biological defense.

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