Defense Department officials may need to rework the structure
of the military to meet additional homeland defense missions,
according to a new report by the General Accounting Office.
The 1878 Posse Comitatus Act, enacted to preclude federal
troops from doing the bidding of local politicians in the occupied
South following the Civil War, prohibits the military from
conducting domestic law enforcement operations. But the law also
allows Congress and the president to make exceptions, and after
the Sept. 11 attacks the Defense Department picked up extra
responsibilities focused on preventing future domestic terrorist
attacks. This led to the creation of the Northern Command, an
organization that consolidates all existing military homeland
defense and homeland security operations. Bush administration
officials also developed the National Strategy for Homeland
Security, which broadly outlines the Defense Department's role in
supporting homeland security efforts.
But despite the plan and the new organization, U.S. military
forces remain poised for overseas combat and the existing
structure may overtax military personnel, reduce training levels
and threaten readiness levels, GAO concluded in its report (03-670).
For example, four Army military police combat units guarding
federal installations could not complete required training for
battlefield conditions, and Air Force fighter units assigned to
combat air patrols were unable to complete required tactical
maneuvers because of homeland security-related responsibilities.
“DoD has not evaluated or adjusted its force structure to perform
these missions,” GAO found in its review. “Some forces are
generally not well-tailored to perform domestic military
Also, operations both at home and abroad are causing stress in
the forces, the report said. During a Senate hearing in the weeks
before the war in Iraq, all of
the military leaders acknowledged that military troops were
stressed by increasing operational demands. In the months
since September 2001, Defense officials have issued 23 “stop loss”
orders, which ban military personnel from leaving their services
by suspending normal separations and retirements.
“Military force readiness may erode and future personnel
retention problems may develop, if action is not taken to address
these problems,” the GAO report concluded. It recommended that
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld “assess domestic military
mission requirements and determine if steps should be taken to
structure U.S. forces to better accomplish domestic military
missions while maintaining proficiency for overseas combat
In a written response, Paul McHale, Defense assistant secretary
for homeland defense, said that a force structure study was
already under way.