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Post-Sept. 11 reserve mobilization called inefficient

After the Sept. 11 attacks, the Pentagon's mobilization of military reserve forces was inefficient because the Defense Department had to cobble together a new strategy to deal with domestic terrorism, according to the General Accounting Office.

"Because DoD could not rely on existing operation plans to guide its mobilizations, it used a modified process that relied on additional management oversight and multiple layers of coordination, which resulted in a process that was slower and less efficient than the traditional process," the report (GAO-03-921) concluded.

Before Sept. 11, 2001, mobilization plans did not include provisions for stationing National Guard troops at the country's civilian airports or for the extended use of Guard and Reserve members to fly combat air patrols over Washington and other major cities.

Under the revised process crafted after the Sept. 11 attacks, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld signed 246 deployment orders to mobilize more than 280,000 reservists, compared with the less than 10 orders needed to mobilize more than 220,000 reservists during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. About 300,000 of the 1.2 million National Guard and Reserve personnel have been called to active duty since September 2001. The reserve forces include the Army Reserve, Army National Guard, Air Force Reserve, Air National Guard, Naval Reserve, Marine Corps Reserve and Coast Guard Reserve.

Defense had a difficult time overseeing the entire mobilization process because it lacked adequate systems for tracking personnel and other resources, the report said. Coordination of the mobilization effort between Pentagon officials and service officials was also spotty because of incompatible tracking systems and poor communication, according to GAO.

More than 70,000 reserve members could not be mobilized after Sept. 11 because they had not completed their training, while the services had inaccurate contact information for many other pre-trained reservists, the report found.

GAO also surveyed civilian employers, many of whom said they did not receive adequate notice that their reservist employees were being called up. According to the report, the services "consistently" failed to meet the 30-day advance notification goal. The Defense Department agreed to study the issue.

GAO recommended that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff incorporate post-Sept. 11 mobilization requirements into existing plans and update those plans as necessary. GAO also urged top Defense officials to develop a single automated system containing reservist information and to update mobilization notices and guidance accordingly.

The Defense Department generally agreed with GAO's findings.

In another recent report, GAO concluded that the Defense Department may need to rework the structure of the military to meet additional homeland defense missions.