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Interview with Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead

Co-chair, National Governors Association (NGA) Special Committee on Homeland Security

More than at any time in U.S. history, the nation’s states and governors have taken a heightened role in post-9/11 homeland security. That has manifested itself not only in new and increased in-state law enforcement and investigative organizations, but in a truly bipartisan interstate partnership and working relationship with the federal government.

One of those at the forefront of these efforts is first-term Gov. Matt Mead of Wyoming, a cattle rancher and former U.S. attorney who serves as co-chair – along with Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat – of the National Governors Association (NGA) Special Committee on Homeland Security. Mead also is one of five Republican governors, along with five Democratic governors, appointed by President Barack Obama to the Council of Governors.

Obama created the council by Executive Order in January 2010 to advise his administration on better coordination of state/federal/local response to homeland security and natural disasters. Joining the governors on the council are the secretaries of defense and homeland security; the assistants to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism and intergovernmental affairs and public engagement; the assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense and Americas’ security affairs; the commanding general of the U.S. Northern Command; the commandant of the Coast Guard; and the chief of the National Guard Bureau.

Mead spoke with Faircount senior writer J.R. Wilson about the new role the nation’s governors have taken in helping protect both the citizens of their states and critical national infrastructure and assets.

The premise behind that is, in the event of an emergency or disaster in which you have both the National Guard and federal forces involved, it is important to have a clear chain of command. What we hope is to have a dual status commander, appointed by the president, with the consent of the governor, who is clearly in command, so we don’t have dueling groups whenever a decision needs to be made in responding to a disaster.

 

J.R. Wilson: What are the chief homeland security concerns of the National Governors Association?

Gov. Matt Mead: In terms of both the committee and the association, the No. 1 priority for us is to see the passage of the dual commander status [provision of the Defense Reauthorization Bill]. That will allow a greater understanding on both the state and federal sides of who is in charge in case of an emergency or disaster.

That work began before I was appointed co-chair of the Homeland Security committee.

The premise behind that is, in the event of an emergency or disaster in which you have both the National Guard and federal forces involved, it is important to have a clear chain of command. What we hope is to have a dual status commander, appointed by the president, with the consent of the governor, who is clearly in command, so we don’t have dueling groups whenever a decision needs to be made in responding to a disaster.

Gov. Matt Mead

Gov. Matt Mead touring a landslide outside of Jackson, Wyo., that occurred during flooding in the spring of 2011, for which the Wyoming National Guard was activated. Photo courtesy of the Office of Gov. Matt Mead

You co-chair the NGA Special Committee on Homeland Security with Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley. What goals and activities is that committee pursuing?

We discuss issues regarding homeland security, the National Guard, criminal justice, public safety, etc. Each governor, regardless of party affiliation, is rightfully concerned about all matters of homeland security as it relates to possible terrorist activities. Broader than that, we are interested in the general safety of the public, whether a natural or man-made disaster. I view the focus of that group – and I think Gov. O’Malley would agree – [as] the safety and well-being of our citizens, which is the top priority of any governor.

You also are one of 10 members of the Council of Governors. How is that organized and what has it been working on in terms of homeland security?

The Council of Governors is five Republicans and five Democrats, appointed by the president. We focus on national security, homeland defense, the integration of state and federal military, and general interests of the National Guard and its future. I’ve enjoyed my meetings with that group because we get a high level of federal participation from members of the departments of Defense and Homeland Security, so we are talking to the decision-makers there. That has been key as we continue to push on issues such as dual status command.

As we go to press, the Senate is working on the Defense Reauthorization Bill, which has two primary components you and the NGA support. Please describe the intent of each and why the governors consider them important. The first of those is dual status command – what more can you tell us about that?

The person in charge does not have to be a National Guard officer, but the expectation from the governors is that will be the case. The exception would be if you are in an area of exclusive federal jurisdiction, but otherwise, I think, it would always be a National Guard officer.

It makes sense, both from the governors’ and military leaders’ standpoint, to have one person in charge. We want to avoid time delays and unnecessary money being spent because we have two separate groups not operating in concert with one another. To me, that is a very commonsense approach, with input from the governors and the federal government and providing a single commander who is trained and knows how to handle those types of situations.

The person in charge does not have to be a National Guard officer, but the expectation from the governors is that will be the case. The exception would be if you are in an area of exclusive federal jurisdiction, but otherwise, I think, it would always be a National Guard officer.

The second of those issues is the National Guard Empowerment Amendment.

The key to this is having a National Guard seat at the Joint Chiefs. That is symbolically important, representing the role the National Guard plays both in the states and in national defense. But I think it also will provide a better way for the states to communicate our concerns and to hear back the concerns of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The Guard role continues to change. As we have been fighting overseas, they have become more integral to national defense and, in light of that, it is important that they have a seat at the table. That individual would be the head of the National Guard Bureau. [Editor’s note: The passage and signing into law Dec. 31, 2011 of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act made the chief of the National Guard Bureau a full and legal member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.]

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J.R. Wilson has been a full-time freelance writer, focusing primarily on aerospace, defense and high...