The White House has taken on a wider role in forming a backup government in case a crisis forces officials to leave Washington.
Government officials familiar with the plans tell The New York Times that the initiative began during the final months of the Bush administration, and the Obama administration decided to leave it in place.
The White House Military Office will now lead the way in installing a “shadow government” should officials have to leave the capital because of a terrorist strike or some other catastrophe. The contingency plans include moving those officials to Mount Weather, Va. and running backup computer systems.
Previously, civilian agencies, led by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, had many of these responsibilities.
But White House officials in the Bush administration were disappointed with civilian management of the response to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
The involvement of multiple agencies slowed things down, they found.
The civilian agencies, of course, weren’t too happy to see their power curtailed. They argued that the change gave too much authority to a small group inside the administration, and they expressed concern that Bush was concentrating too much power in the White House, The Times reports.
Those complaints came despite the fact that the White House Military Office employs a staff of 2,300, many of whom are uniformed soldiers, and that it has often been led by a military officer.
The office is best known for flying Air Force One. But that responsibility caused a ruckus in April, when Obama’s civilian director of the office, Louis Caldera, authorized a photo shoot of the plane flying low over Manhattan. New York City resident, frightened that another terrorist attack was occurring, ran out of their buildings in a panic. Caldera resigned a short time later.
The flight cost taxpayers more than $300,000, and prompted Sen. John McCain to write Def. Secretary Robert Gates: "The supposed mission represents a fundamentally unsound exercise in military judgment and may have constituted an inappropriate use of Department of Defense resources."
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