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September 14, 1982: President Reagan Orders Overhaul of Secret Emergency Plans

President Reagan signs classified National Security Decision Directive 55, Enduring National Leadership. The directive authorizes a dramatic expansion of the highly secretive Continuity of Government (COG) procedures, intended to ensure the survival of the federal government in times of extreme national emergency. NSDD-55 will spawn a new wave of ultra-secretive programs and policies aimed at protecting the federal government during disasters, particularly in cases of prolonged nuclear war. A clandestine branch of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), known as the National Preparedness Directorate, will oversee many of the revamped COG programs. President Reagan’s directive substantially boosts spending for “government preparedness” within FEMA, from $21.9 million to $131 million a year. Spending for civil defense within FEMA is increased as well. Also around this time, a highly clandestine agency, the National Program Office (NPO), is established by way of a top-secret presidential directive (see (1982 -1991)). It is unclear, however, if this directive is NSDD-55, which is classified and never made public. NSDD-55 will be briefly mentioned years later in media reports, but details of its contents will remain unknown. Some information regarding the document’s background will be confused in the press. Cox News Service will mistakenly identify the order as National Security Directive 58, while the New York Times will report it was signed in January 1983. Records gathered by the Federation of American Scientists will date the directive September 14, 1982. [CNN Special Assignment, 11/17/1991; Cox News Service, 2/22/1993; New York Times, 4/18/1994; Federation of American Scientists, 6/9/2009]

Entity Tags: Federal Emergency Management Agency, Ronald Reagan, National Preparedness Directorate, National Program Office

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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