The chief of the National Guard Bureau told Congress that converting its uniformed technicians into federal civilian employees will hamper the Guard's ability to respond to domestic emergencies.
Gen. Frank J. Grass's warning to lawmakers on Tuesday came two weeks after 41 governors wrote a letter asking Congress to repeal a legal change requiring the conversion of certain National Guard military technicians into non-uniformed, federal civilian employee status.
Rep. Pete Visclosky, a Democrat from Indiana and the ranking member of the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, asked Guard leaders at a March 22 budget hearing how the conversion would affect readiness of Guard units.
"With a 20-percent conversion, which is what is in the NDAA right now, we are very concerned about the readiness effects as well as the effects on our people," Grass said. "The Technician Act was passed in 1968, so we feel it's a good time to review the legislation that put into place that program."
The governors and the adjutants general are "very concerned about losing command and control of those forces and for them to be available to them in times of disaster in the homeland," Grass said.
The March 4 letter states that "These conversions would exacerbate two consecutive years of reductions in the National Guard uniformed end strength and deny governors access to thousands of duel-status technicians available for immediate military response to domestic emergencies."
Rep. Steve Womack, R-Arkansas asked Grass if he or any other Guard leaders were consulted about these conversions before they were passed into law.
"I was not consulted before the NDAA was published," Grass said.
Grass asked for more time to find a solution.
"What we really need is a delay right now," Grass said. "We have to implement on 1 January of 2017, and we feel we are just not ready without having huge impact on people and readiness, so we need a delay at least until fiscal year 2018."
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.