In response to the National Security and Homeland Security Presidential Directive, signed on May 9, 2007:
The directives addressing continuity of the federal government in the event of an occurrence that would effectively preclude normal operation of the three branches of government updates directives and policies that were first promulgated during the Cold War. With the threat of nuclear attack becoming a perceived reality after the Soviets obtained the atomic bomb (accelerated but not caused by traitorous Americans) and then the hydrogen bomb, the spectre of a destroyed Washington and a country where essential communications aand venues for government administration being wiped out became both an operational possibility and the gist for quite a few movies and TV dramas.
From the 1950s on, the federal government planned for the dispersal, voluntary or forced, of the three branches of government. Fort Ritchie, in West Virginia, became an alternative White House although this was kept from the public for some time (I visited the facility during my tour as an Army Intelligence officer in the late 60s). Other sites were developed, largely on military bases. Elaborate communications networks were prepared to take over when needed from the presumably impotent normal channels.
As with all major contingency plans, this one was modified from time to time. The latest incarnation reflects the redirected threat posed by terrorists who may not be part of the forces of a sovereign nation. In other words, it’s one more response to 9/11.
Activation of the plan requires a disaster of almost cosmic proportions so that by itself it imperils no aspect of constitutional government. Whether in the event of a massive dislocation of the federal government, the constitutional blueprint could still be read, much less followed, is currently the question for novelists, screenwriters and doomsayers. The Presidential directive is not an example of unconstitutional lawmaking by the Chief Executive-it is well within his Article II powers and reflects the will of Congress.
-Ralph Michael Stein