Pentagon Weighs Changes in Deploying DC National Guard

Proposals follow problems with response to George Floyd, Jan. 6 protests
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Aug 12, 2023 1:30 PM CDT
Pentagon Weighs Changes in Deploying DC National Guard
District of Columbia National Guard and US Park Police officers advance through the white roses in front of the AFL-CIO headquarters as they push back demonstrators protesting the death of George Floyd on June 1, 2020.   (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

The Pentagon is developing plans to restructure the National Guard in Washington, DC, in a move to address problems highlighted by the chaotic response to the Jan. 6 riot and safety breaches during the 2020 protests over the murder of George Floyd, the AP reports. The changes under discussion would transfer the District of Columbia's aviation units, which came under sharp criticism during the protests when a helicopter flew dangerously low over a crowd. In exchange, the District would get more military police, which is often the city's most significant need, as it grapples with crowd control and large public events.

A key sticking point is who would be in control of the DC Guard—a politically divisive question that gets to the heart of what has been a turbulent issue. Across the country, governors control their National Guard units and can make decisions on deploying them to local disasters and other needs. But DC is not a state, so the president is in charge but gives that authority to the defense secretary, who generally delegates it to the Army secretary. Several current and former officials familiar with the talks spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. They said no final decisions have been made.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is weighing two options, officials said: maintaining the current system or handing control to US Northern Command, which is in charge of homeland defense. Senior officials have argued in favor of Northern Command, which would take control out of the hands of political appointees in Washington who may be at odds with the DC government, and giving it to nonpartisan military commanders who already oversee homeland defense. Others believe the decision-making should remain at the Pentagon, mirroring the civilian control that governors have on their troops, per the AP. The overall goal, officials said, is not to decrease the size of the District's Guard, but make changes to ensure it has the units, equipment and training to do the missions it routinely faces.

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DC Mayor Muriel Bowser and other local officials have long argued that the mayor's office should have sole authority to deploy the local guard, saying the DC mayor has the responsibilities of any governor without the extra authorities or tools. When faced with a potential security event, the mayor has to go to the Pentagon to request National Guard assistance. That was true during the violent protests over the killing of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer in 2020, and later as a mob stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in an effort to overturn the election of Joe Biden as president. City leaders complained heatedly about delays in the Jan. 6 response as the Pentagon considered Bowser's National Guard request. City police ended up reinforcing Capitol Police.

(More Washington, DC stories.)

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