Statement by Arnold L. Punaro, Chairman, Commission on the National Guard and Reserves, on the House and Senate Conference Repor

ARLINGTON, Va., Dec. 7 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The following is a statement by Arnold L. Punaro, Chairman of the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves:

The conference report on the National Defense Authorization Act of 2008 just filed by House and Senate conferees is a clear acknowledgment of the vital role played by the National Guard and Reserves in maintaining the nation's security at home and abroad, and of the urgent need to institute reforms to strengthen that role. Congress has included several landmark reforms in this regard.

By mandating that the Department of Defense work with the Department of Homeland Security to identify and fund needs to protect the homeland, Congress has sent a powerful message that it is time to change, in a fundamental way, DOD's roles and responsibilities for the homeland. In my opinion, this represents the kind of dramatic and sweeping change that is long overdue.

By making the Chief of the National Guard Bureau a principal advisor to the Secretary --- through the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff --- on the Guard's nonfederal role, by making the Bureau a joint activity of the Defense Department, and by authorizing a fourth star for the Chief of the National Guard Bureau, this legislation updates the status, structure, and activities of the National Guard Bureau and its leadership, and improves its ability to fulfill its homeland obligations.

The bill also recognizes the important role the National Guard Bureau should play in coordinating federal preparedness and response efforts with Joint Forces Command and Northern Command and with other federal agencies and the states. It seeks to hasten the nascent effort to incorporate more Guard and Reserve personnel into Northern Command, and it will require that at least one deputy of NORTHCOM be a National Guard officer. These are all important objectives.

We applaud the creation of a bipartisan Council of Governors to advise the President on how best to use the National Guard for civil support missions. The decision to review and revise the Reserve Forces Policy Board, in a manner consistent with our recommendations, will improve the quality of advice that the Secretary of Defense receives on reserve matters and will result in a significant and long-needed improvement in the effectiveness of the Board.

When our interim report was presented to Defense Secretary Gates in March 2007 , he acted on it quickly and decisively. He conducted a thorough review and accepted, in large measure, 20 of its 23 recommendations on reforms to the National Guard and Reserves. Implementation of those recommendations is already underway within the Department.

Today we see that Congress also was prepared to act quickly and decisively with legislation that will strengthen national defense on several fronts, particularly the home front.

The Commission is gratified that so many of the recommendations contained in its March 2007 report to Congress are reflected in the provisions of this bill, which indicate broad agreement with the Commission's findings, conclusions, and recommendations as well as a real partnership with the Department of Defense on making the necessary changes.

Since March 2006 the Commission has been examining the need for changes in law and policy to ensure that the Guard and Reserves are organized, trained, equipped, compensated, and supported to best meet national security requirements. We are approaching the end of our detailed study and will submit the Commission's final report to Congress and the Secretary of Defense on January 31, 2008 .

The conference report on the NDAA makes it clear to us that Congress remains a strong leader in the effort to strengthen the National Guard and Reserves and, in so doing, strengthen the nation. We look forward to submitting our final report to Congress and to the Secretary of Defense next month, and to sustaining this momentum.

SOURCE Commission on National Guard & Reserves