It may not be what you think.
With scarcely a mention in the mainstream media, President Bush has ordered up a plan for responding to a catastrophic attack.
Under that plan, he entrusts himself with leading the entire federal government, not just the Executive Branch. And he gives himself the responsibility “for ensuring constitutional government.”
He laid this all out in a document entitled "National Security Presidential Directive/NSPD 51" and "Homeland Security Presidential Directive/HSPD-20."
The White House released it on May 9.
Other than a discussion on Daily Kos led off by a posting by Leo Fender, and a pro-forma notice in a couple of mainstream newspapers, this document has gone unremarked upon.
The subject of the document is entitled “National Continuity Policy.”
It defines a “catastrophic emergency” as “any incident, regardless of location, that results in extraordinary levels of mass casualties, damage, or disruption severely affecting the U.S. population, infrastructure, environment, economy, or government function.”
This could mean another 9/11, or another Katrina, or a major earthquake in California, I imagine, since it says it would include “localized acts of nature, accidents, and technological or attack-related emergencies.”
The document emphasizes the need to ensure “the continued function of our form of government under the Constitution, including the functioning of the three separate branches of government,” it states.
But it says flat out: “The President shall lead the activities of the Federal Government for ensuring constitutional government.”
The document waves at the need to work closely with the other two branches, saying there will be “a cooperative effort among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the Federal Government.” But this effort will be “coordinated by the President, as a matter of comity with respect to the legislative and judicial branches and with proper respect for the constitutional separation of powers.”
Among the efforts coordinated by the President would be ensuring the capability of the three branches of government to “provide for orderly succession” and “appropriate transition of leadership.”
The document designates a National Continuity Coordinator, who would be the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism.
Currently holding that post is Frances Fragos Townsend.
She is required to develop a National Continuity Implementation Plan and submit it within 90 days.
As part of that plan, she is not only to devise procedures for the Executive Branch but also give guidance to “state, local, territorial, and tribal governments, and private sector owners and operators of critical infrastructure.”
The secretary of Homeland Security is also directed to develop planning guidance for “private sector critical infrastructure owners and operators,” as well as state, local, territorial, and tribal governments.
The document gives the Vice President a role in implementing the provisions of the contingency plans.
“This directive shall be implanted in a manner that is consistent with, and facilitates effective implementation of, provisions of the Constitution concerning succession to the Presidency or the exercise of its powers, and the Presidential Succession Act of 1947 (3 USC 19), with the consultation of the Vice President and, as appropriate, others involved.”
The document also contains “classified Continuity Annexes.”