Continuity of Government, United States

Continuity of Government, United States


The Continuity of Government (COG) program ensures the survival of essential federal government leaders and agencies in the event of a severe crisis. Created at the height of 1960s public and government concern about the possibility of nuclear warfare, COG provides a network of disaster relief, emergency assistance, law enforcement, and information services to the general citizenry of the United States. COG also maintains underground facilities to protect the president, cabinet members, and essential government personnel in the event of attack or catastrophe.

President John F. Kennedy created the Continuity of Government program on February 12, 1962. The stated purpose of COG was to shield the essential infrastructure of the United States government from destruction, permitting its continued operation and authority in a time of crisis. Intended to preserve the American form of representative government, continuity of federal authority aided law enforcement, ensured general safety, and protected the government from the illegal assumption of power by rival foreign powers or anti-government organizations. The government acknowledged plans to construct secret facilities and implement a COG strategy, but the details and locations of COG operations were meant to remain secret.

The Kennedy administration incorporated existing emergency strategies into its COG plans. Executive Order 10346, issued by President Harry S. Truman in 1947, outlined emergency plans for federal departments. Truman created the Office of Emergency Planning to establish policies for continued operations in the event of a national crisis. Kennedy reorganized the Office of Emergency Planning as part of his wide-sweeping reform of national defense infrastructure. These reforms were dictated by Executive Order 10952, and the Office of Emergency Planning gained the authority to set policy for the continuity of all three main branches of government.

One of the first orders of the COG was to ensure the survival of the president, or executive authority. In 1947, the line of succession of to the presidency was expanded, and more firmly established. The line of succession moved first to the vice president, then to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the president pro tem of the Senate, and then proceeds through nine members of the cabinet. Cabinet positions created after 1947 are not included in the line of presidential succession. COG used this established line of succession to determine its strategies for the preservation of executive function. According to COG policy, not all twelve people on the list of presidential succession can gather in the same location, at the same time. During large, pan-government events, such as the State of the Union Address, and presidential inaugurations, one member of the Cabinet is removed to a remote, safe, COG-designated location.

After securing the line of succession in the Executive branch, the COG program mandated that individual government departments create their own, internal lines of succession and continuity plans. COG officials check these lines and plans annually, and most are published in the Federal Register, so that other agencies can coordinate operations with continuity personnel.

One of the most clandestine operations of the COG program is the maintenance of the so-called Shadow Cabinet. The Shadow Cabinet is composed of trained personnel, appointed by the president and cabinet to serve as a reserve government in the unlikely event of a catastrophic disaster that destroys the government in Washington. The Shadow Cabinet operates at a secure COG location, and has never been utilized or played any role in Federal policy formation.

COG plans also included the physical protection of government entities. The preeminent COG safe facility was constructed in stages, beginning in the 1940s. An extensive series of underground bunkers that contain all of the necessities of a small city, was constructed in the mountains of Virginia. The facility, known as Mount Weather, is one of a series of regional Crisis Relocation Facilities. Command centers for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the National Emergency Coordinating Center are located deep within the cavernous structure. Other facilities designated as COG safe sites include several military bases and Air Force One, the president's personal airplane.

In the 1980s, the White House National Program Office was responsible for COG operations. Operations were expanded to include the establishment of facilities responsible for the maintenance of critical information systems, including government and banking computer systems. Emergency management agencies decided to house reserve command centers at Mount Weather, providing a central, underground, and contained location for COG operations.

As the Cold War ended, and details of the government's COG operations garnered public attention, debate emerged over the usefulness and possible effectiveness of COG plans. Critics alleged that the system was outdated; others claimed it was insufficient to handle a crisis of great magnitude. As the frenzy about nuclear weapons ebbed, the COG strategy was evaluated to handle post-cold war threats, such as terrorist attacks. Indeed, some aspects of the COG plan went into effect during the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C.

The recent creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will possibly alter current, established COG plans. The DHS gained the authority to administer COG plans, and assumed responsibility for many of its member agencies. To compliment the federal COG program, DHS officials encouraged state and local governments to implement or reform their own COG strategies. New guidelines and annual audits will aid in the supervision of sate and local COG plans, making sure that such plans provide an adequate guarantee of local law enforcement and government operation in the event of a crisis.



Federal Emergency Management Agency. Mount Weather Emergency Assistance Center homepage. < > (20 April 2003).


Emergency Response Teams
FEMA (United States Federal Emergency Management Agency)

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