GAO reviews effectiveness of National Guard's bioresponse capabilities

The U.S. Government Accountability Office recently reviewed the effectiveness of the National Guard’s potential response to a chemical, biological, radiological or high-yield explosive event.

The National Guard is prepared to face the threat of a CBRNE incident with 17 Enhanced Response Force Packages that are staffed by part-time personnel. The teams are expected to coordinate their actions with first responders at the state, local and federal level, including the U.S. Department of Defense.

The GAO examined how well the CERFPs are prepared by looking at how the teams would carry out their missions and, in turn, how they evaluate themselves. The agency also looked at how the CERFP teams coordinate with other first responders and the effectiveness of their command and control framework.

The report found that the National Guard’s CERFP teams face personnel, training and equipment problems that have limited their overall effectiveness. State National Guard and CERFP officials cited a persistent difficulty in maintaining personnel with the skills they need to perform many specialized tasks, as well as the equipment used to carry them out.

The GAO found that the National Guard was limited in its ability to comprehensively review its requirements, and its needs remain unknown to potential DOD response partners. This also keeps the National Guard from effectively prioritizing funding and mitigating any shortfalls in its teams’ resources.

CERFP capabilities are not regularly coordinated with state and local partners and there are no standards for evaluation. States also have limited interagency agreements that could help pool resources in the event of an emergency. The overall lack of consistency degrades the CERFP potential to react to a regional event.

Plans to introduce 10 Homeland Response Forces are thought to add complications to the National Guard’s Command and Control structure and no guidance for the changes has been issued to CERFP teams.

The DOD agreed with the GAO’s assessment and a list of the recommendations it issued to help develop standardized mechanisms for training, procurement of equipment and interagency cooperation.

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