It has been widely recognized that the National Guard is overcommitted and under-equipped. Many members of Congress also acknowledge that the challenges facing the National Guard go beyond equipment and personnel to include a lack of institutional power within the Pentagon and antiquated processes for organizing, training and compensating troops.
The equipment shortfalls in the Guard and Reserves have gone from bad to worse during the last six years. Chief of the National Guard Bureau Lt. Gen. Steven Blum noted that in September 2001, the Guard had 75 percent of its needed equipment. Today, that number is less than 35 percent. The recent tornado in Kansas exposed a state-level organization with less than half of its tractor trailer trucks on hand for removing debris and less than one-third of its medium tactical vehicles with the high ground clearance useful during floods.
To meet the demands of the Army's force rotations in Iraq and Afghanistan, combatant commanders mandate that National Guard units deploy with 90 percent to 100 percent of their required equipment. The Guard and Reserves have been transferring equipment from non-deployed units to those preparing to deploy to make up for severe shortfalls. As of July 2005, the Army National Guard had transferred more than 101,000 items to units deploying overseas, exhausting the inventories of radios and generators in non-deployed units.
Transferring equipment from a stateside unit to one that is about to leave the United States causes a vicious cycle that continues with future deployments. In addition, as the conflict in Iraq becomes more protracted, the Guard has had to leave much of its equipment in Iraq so that it can be used by incoming units. The Government Accountability Office estimates that since 2003, Army National Guard units have left overseas more than 64,000 items valued at more than $1.2 billion.
The chairman of the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves said that 45 percent of Army National Guard units are "not ready," or ranked at the lowest C3, C4, or C5 ratings. Blum told Congress that no non-deployed Army National Guard unit has more than 65 percent of its gear. He added that only 12 percent of Army Guard units are equipped to "acceptable" levels.
Last fall, senior Army officials committed to spending $38.6 billion through 2013 for Army National Guard equipment. The Pentagon's 2008 budget requests $22 billion for the Army National Guard during the next five years to restore Guard units up to 76 percent of their authorized equipment levels. The co-chairs of the Senate National Guard Caucus, Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., are seeking additional funding for Guard equipment.
After the Pentagon's fiscal year 2008 budget request was sent to Congress, the Army National Guard offered an unfunded requirements list of about $24 billion detailing vehicles, radios, helicopters, night-vision devices and other equipment needed. These include 18,000 humvees, which would cost $2.4 billion during the next five years, 30,000 trucks requiring an additional $5.6 billion, and $6 billion for 159 Chinook helicopters.
Even if the additional funds were approved, to ensure that the money is spent on Guard equipment, Congress has to specifically direct that to happen. Too often, money intended by Congress for the National Guard is diverted to the active force before Guard needs are fulfilled.
Contributing to the problem is that the National Guard lacks a formal mechanism to generate Title 32 requirements. The Commission on the National Guard and Reserves noted that no one in the Defense Department has the responsibility of advocating for homeland security or civil support-related mission funding. While the U.S. Northern Command would be a natural source of responsibility, its leaders have not regularly advocated these requirements on behalf of the Guard during the Pentagon's internal planning, programming and budgeting process. The commission recommended the Defense Department formally budget and program for civil support, in coordination with the Department of Homeland Security.
Beyond the need for funding, the problems facing the Guard and Reserves include decision making, planning, programming and budgeting processes.
In 2005, Congress established the independent Commission on the National Guard and Reserves to recommend changes in law and policy to ensure that the Guard and Reserves are organized, trained, equipped, and compensated to best meet national security requirements. Last year, Congress charged the commission to review legislation intended to bolster the institutional authority of the National Guard Bureau and enhance the resources of the National Guard based upon legislation introduced by Bond and Leahy, and Reps. Thomas M. Davis, R-Va., and Gene Taylor, D-Miss., co-chairmen of the House Guard and Reserve Components Caucus.
The most recent commission report includes the stark finding that Pentagon leaders' decision-making processes do not fully consider the interests of the Guard. "Reform efforts should ensure that the Guard is integrated with other military entities -- not set it apart," said the report.
The commission's work has already had a substantive impact as Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recently endorsed all or part of 20 of the 23 recommendations in the commission's second report. Many of these recommendations will be implemented quickly by executive order. Gates intends to modify the remaining recommendations based on feedback from his advisors and will soon send legislative proposals to Congress.
In his guidance to the service secretaries, Gates noted that "many of the recommendations made by the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves were the direct result of perceived shortcomings they identified in the Department's ability to support civil authorities in domestic emergencies." His key initiatives include:
Defining, validating, and budgeting for civil support requirements;
Revising how the department determines funding and provides resources for the Reserves, including its civil support requirements;
Providing Congress with an annual report on collaborative defense, homeland security and civil support activities;
Authorizing eligibility for the National Guard bureau chief to be promoted to the rank of general; and,
Modifying joint professional military education to enhance opportunities for Guard and Reserve personnel to obtain joint education, qualifications and experience.
A council of governors will be established to advise the secretaries of defense and homeland security on states' requirements for the Guard and Reserves.
By quickly approving the vast majority of the commission's recommendations, Gates has made substantial strides toward improving the outdated procedures that have hindered the National Guard and Reserves. He was able to implement these watershed changes due in large part to the congressional leaders of the National Guard caucuses who have been pushing broad changes for years.
It is not a coincidence that shortly after Gates announced these reforms, senior defense officials acknowledged before the commission that members of the Guard and Reserves have not received the necessary funding and resources over the past several years. Archaic decision making, budgeting, and planning processes have impaired the National Guard and Reserves, particularly during the intense military operations of the last six years. This admission certainly sounds like vindication for members of Congress and others who have long been telling the Defense Department that change has been long overdue.
Mackenzie Eaglen is a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation.
First appeared in National Defense