States worried about loss of control over Guard units

The nation’s governors sought help Thursday from Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld in their ongoing fight against proposals in Congress to give President Bush more control — and governors less — over the National Guard during disasters.

A letter from the two chairpersons of the National Governors Association, along with the two governors who head the group’s work on the Guard, asked Rumsfeld to join the unanimous opposition of governors to proposed changes spurred by the chaos and delays in sending help that followed Hurricane Katrina.

All 50 governors earlier this month signed a formal letter opposing a House provision in the National Defense Authorization Act that would let Bush federalize the Guard without governors’ consent in the event of a “serious natural or manmade disaster, accident or catastrophe.”

Adding to their worries, the NGA said, the Senate approved-version of the legislation would give Bush similar powers by redefining the Insurrection Act, a Civil War-era law that’s rarely used.

“It’s a basic reshuffling of the balance between the states and the federal government,” said Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, chairwoman of the NGA. “It’s ill-advised. It’s a bad idea.”

The letter states: “Each of these proposals represents a dramatic expansion of federal authority during natural disasters that could cause confusion in the command-and-control of the National Guard and interfere with states’ ability to respond to natural disasters within their borders.” It was signed by Napolitano, Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, Mike Easley of North Carolina and Mark Sanford of South Carolina.

A Rumsfeld spokeswoman, Cynthia Smith, said he would not comment publicly and would respond directly to the governors.

The four governors also sent a letter to leaders in the House and Senate, urging them to drop the proposals.

Under current law, governors are commanders of the Guard in their states, but the president must get their consent to federalize the troops domestically, except in cases of rebellion.

Governors were particularly upset that the proposals in Congress were made without any discussion with governors.

“Governors are commanders-in-chief. They need to be consulted, they need to be part of solutions,” said David Quam, the NGA’s director of federal relations. “They shouldn’t have to catch things coming through Congress and on their way to the president’s desk.”

An agreement is expected later this month on the final legislation that would go to Bush.

Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press