Combating TerrorismUse of National Guard Response Teams Is Unclear Gao ID: T-NSIAD-99-184 June 23, 1999
The Defense Department (DOD) recently approved the creation of 10 National Guard response teams to help state and local authorities deal with terrorists attacks involving weapons of mass destruction. GAO found differing views on the role and the use of these response teams and how they will fit into state and federal plans to respond to weapons of mass destruction. Army officials believe that the teams can be a valuable asset to federal authorities. They also believe that the teams will be a critical part of the state and local response. However, officials with the FBI and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which are responsible for managing the federal response to terrorist attacks, do not see a role for the teams in the federal response. Instead, they foresee the National Guard providing its traditional assistance in emergencies. Differing views also exist at the state level. Many state, local, and federal groups can do the work that the teams would perform. For example, more than 600 state and local hazardous materials teams in the United States deal with incidents involving highly toxic industrial chemicals and other hazardous materials. GAO's discussions with state, local, and federal officials and its own analysis found several concerns that could affect the teams' abilities to meet their mission and responsibilities. These concerns centered on recruiting and retention, training, and operational issues. This testimony summarizes GAO's June 1999 report, GAO/NSIAD-99-110.
GAO noted that: (1) GAO found that there are differing views among federal and state officials on the role and use of RAID teams and how they will fit into state and federal plans to respond to weapons of mass destruction (WMD) incidents; (2) among the principal federal agencies involved, Army officials believe the teams can be valuable assets to federal authorities, if needed, as part of the federal response plan; (3) they also believe that the teams will be a critical and integral part of the state and local response to such weapons; (4) officials with the two agencies responsible for managing the federal response to terrorist incidents--the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Federal Emergency Management Agency--do not see a role for the RAID teams in the federal response; (5) instead, they see the National Guard responding with personnel and equipment as it does for natural disasters and other emergencies; (6) differing views also exist at the state level; (7) officials in some states without a RAID team question the teams' utility primarily because of their response time; however, officials from a state with a RAID team are very enthusiastic about the concept and are making plans to use their team; (8) there are numerous local, state, and federal organizations that can perform similar functions to the RAID teams; (9) there are over 600 local and state hazardous materials teams in the U.S. that assess and take appropriate actions in incidents almost daily involving highly toxic industrial chemicals and other hazardous materials; (10) there are numerous military and federal civilian organizations that can help local incident commanders deal with WMD incidents by providing advice, technical experts, and equipment; (11) local, state, and federal officials expressed a number of concerns about the teams' abilities to meet their mission and responsibilities; (12) the most significant and frequently mentioned is the time it would take the RAID teams to respond to calls for assistance; (13) other concerns centered on recruiting and retention, training, and operational issues; (14) the Department of Defense believes that no "show-stopping" training or operational issues have been identified to date; and (15) because of the significant number of exercises conducted by federal, state, and local authorities, they believe there will be ample opportunities for the teams to exercise their skills.