Lawmakers flag legal problems with Bush proposal for military role in disaster relief

[JURIST] US lawmakers Wednesday expressed some discomfort with a proposal by the Bush administration to increase the response role [JURIST report] of the US Department of Defense [official website] in disasters during a hearing of a House Armed Services Committee [official website] subcommittee. House members questioned whether such a plan would leave the military stretched too thin, and also noted that the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 [text; NORTHCOM factsheet] could stand in the way. Although there has been discussion among some legislators about reforming the Act [JURIST report] in the wake of Hurricane Katrina [JURIST news archive], others have expressed concern that reforms might infringe on local and state officials [2001 Congressional testimony on potential legal and other problems with federalizing the National Guard during state emergencies, PDF] better-suited to handle disasters. The Act prevents the US military from serving a law enforcement role on US soil absent certain exceptions. The Committee has transcripts from the hearing. Assistant Defense Secretary Paul McHale [official profile] told committee members that the Pentagon would serve a supporting role to the Department of Homeland Security's efforts, while National Guard head Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum [official profile] said that state governors would remain empowered in disaster sites. AP has more.

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