Congress, the Bush Adminstration and Continuity of Government Planning–The Showdown
March 31, 2008
by Peter Dale Scott
In August 2007, Congressman Peter DeFazio, a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, told the House that he and the rest of his Committee had been barred from reviewing parts of National Security Presidential Directive 51, the White House supersecret plans to implement so-called “Continuity of Government” in the event of a mass terror attack or natural disaster. (1)
Norm Ornstein, of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, commented, “I cannot think of one good reason” for denial. Ornstein added, “I find it inexplicable and probably reflective of the usual, knee-jerk overextension of executive power that we see from this White House.” (2)
The story, ignored by the mainstream press, involved more than the usual tussle between the legislative and executive branches of the U.S. Government. What was at stake was a contest between Congress’s constitutional powers of oversight, and a set of policy plans that could be used to suspend or modify the constitution.
There is nothing wrong with disaster planning per se. Like all governments, the U.S. government must develop plans for the worst contingencies. But Congress has a right to be concerned about Continuity of Government (COG) plans refined by Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld over the past quarter century, which journalists have described as involving suspension of the constitution. (3)
In the 1980s, a secret group of planners inside and outside the government were assigned, by an Executive Order, to develop a response to a nuclear attack in which the U.S. government had been decapitated, forcing an alternative to the constitutional rules of succession. Two of these planners were Dick Cheney, then a Congressman, and Donald Rumsfeld, then a private citizen and CEO of the G.D. Searle drug company.
“One of the awkward questions we faced was whether to reconstitute Congress after a nuclear attack.It was decided that no, it would be easier to operate without them,” said one of the COG planners in the 1980s, who spoke to James Mann (The Rise of the Vulcans, 141-42). James Bamford reported the same remark in his book Pretext for War (p. 74).
After the end of the Cold War, the urgency of coming up with plans faded. The COG nuclear planning project “has less than six months to live,” reported Tim Weiner of the New York Times. (April 17, 1994). Mann and Bamford concluded, wrongly, that all the COG planning of the Reagan era had been abandoned.