Defense Secretary Can Now Activate D.C. National Guard in Some Circumstances

The Pentagon announced Thursday changes to the process for deployment of the District of Columbia National Guard, giving more authority to the Secretary of Defense to deploy them in certain urgent situations.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin requested a review of how the National Guard is operated and deployed in Washington D.C. following the events of Jan. 6, when the Pentagon was criticized for not deploying National Guard troops to the Capitol faster.

Austin now has the authority to approve requests for National Guard personnel when they are to be deployed within 48 hours, or when the activities the Guardsmen are needed for involve civilian law enforcement tasks like crowd control or making arrests, according to the memo announcing the changes.

The changes amended a 1969 executive order that shifted control over the National Guard from the president, who controlled the guard in the district as there was no state governor to fill the role, to the defense secretary, and that authority was later transferred to the Army secretary, the top civilian official in the branch.

The Army secretary is still authorized to control National Guard deployments in the district for other governmental requests and non-law enforcement, non-urgent situations.

The review initiated by Austin led to the amending of the 1969 order, and clarified the process for federal and local agencies to request Guard troops for planned and time-sensitive events in D.C., according to Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby.

Lloyd Austin, National Guard, Pentagon, Defense Secretary
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin speaks at an event honoring children in military and veteran caregiving families in the East Room of the White House on Nov. 10, 2021 in Washington, D.C. Austin, according to a Thursday announcement from the Pentagon, now has more authority in deploying National Guard troops in D.C. Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The changes are intended to make the Pentagon better prepared to handle urgent requests for law enforcement support by civil authorities. After January's riot, the Pentagon came under criticism by some for a slow response to requests for Guard assistance, although a Defense Department inspector general review concluded that senior defense officials had acted appropriately before and during the riot.

Austin said law enforcement activities include crowd control, traffic control, search, seizure, arrest or temporary detention.

It was not immediately clear how this policy change might have affected the response time on Jan. 6, when a mob of supporters of then-President Donald Trump swiftly and violently overran the Capitol Police, which was assisted by the Metropolitan Police Department, and interrupted the certification of Joe Biden's election victory. Lawmakers ran for their lives as the rioters climbed through broken windows and doors at the Capitol.

Prior to the riot, then-Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy handled requests for Guard deployments in the district, initially from the commander of the D.C. Guard. McCarthy acted in consultation with more senior Pentagon officials, including Christopher Miller, the acting secretary of defense at the time, and Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Last spring, Austin ordered a review of how the Defense Department handles requests for support in the National Capital region, including approval authorities, request processes, planning, available forces, command relationships, staff support, and training exercises.

"By clarifying and refining the request process, including outlining the required information needed to assess requests from federal and local partners, the department will be able to respond to requests efficiently, quickly, and effectively," Kirby said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report