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Profile: National Program Office

National Program Office was a participant or observer in the following events:

The National Program Office (NPO), which is responsible for the highly classified Continuity of Government program, establishes a secret line of presidential succession for certain “narrowly defined” emergency situations. According to the traditional legal line of succession, should the president of the United States be killed or incapacitated, he is to be replaced by the vice president, followed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, then by the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, then each cabinet member from the Secretary of State down. The alternative succession plan developed by the NPO, known officially as the Presidential Successor Support System, or “PS cubed,” would suspend these traditional rules and allow a small group of officials to appoint a new government. A source with knowledge of the plan says it would “suspend that natural succession and these individuals would have the right to appoint, virtually appoint, a new government.” The program, according to author James Mann, calls for “setting aside the legal rules of presidential succession in some circumstances, in favor of a secret procedure for putting in place a new ‘president’ and his staff.” The idea is to “concentrate on speed, to preserve ‘continuity of government,’ and to avoid cumbersome procedures; the speaker of the House, the president pro tempore of the Senate, and the rest of Congress would play a greatly diminished role.” The alternative succession plan allows the presidency, the vice presidency, and each cabinet position to be filled by individuals from both inside and outside the active government. In 1991, CNN will list the names of several people that may assume power should the plan be put into action, including Dick Cheney, Howard Baker, Richard Helms, Jeane Kirkpatrick, James Schlesinger, Edwin Meese, Dick Thornburgh, and Tip O’Neill. Some participants say the alternative succession plan is absolutely necessary to ensure the survival of the federal government, but others argue the secrecy of the program undermines its credibility. “If no one knows in advance what the line of succession is meant to be,” says a constitutional scholar from Duke University, “then almost by hypothesis no one will have any reason to believe that those who claim to be exercising that authority in fact possess it.” [CNN Special Assignment, 11/17/1991; Atlantic Monthly, 3/2004]

Entity Tags: Jeane Kirkpatrick, Edwin Meese, James R. Schlesinger, Thomas Phillip ‘Tip’ O’Neill, Jr, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Richard Helms, National Program Office, Richard Thornburgh, Howard Baker

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, along with then-President Gerald Ford, April 28, 1975.Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, along with then-President Gerald Ford, April 28, 1975. [Source: David Hume Kennerly / Gerald R. Ford Library] (click image to enlarge)Throughout the 1980s, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld are key players in one of the most highly classified programs of the Reagan administration. Presently, Cheney is working as a Republican congressman, while Rumsfeld is head of the pharmaceutical company G. D. Searle. At least once per year, they both leave their day jobs for periods of three or four days. They head to Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, DC, and along with 40 to 60 federal officials and one member of the Reagan Cabinet are taken to a remote location within the US, such as an underground bunker. While they are gone, none of their work colleagues, or even their wives, knows where they are. They are participating in detailed planning exercises for keeping government running during and after a nuclear war with the Soviet Union.
Unconstitutional 'Continuity of Government' - This highly secret “Continuity of Government” (COG) program is known as Project 908. The idea is that if the US were under a nuclear attack, three teams would be sent from Washington to separate locations around the US to prepare to take leadership of the country. If somehow one team was located and hit with a nuclear weapon, the second or third team could take its place. Each of the three teams includes representatives from the State Department, Defense Department, CIA, and various domestic-policy agencies. The program is run by a new government agency called the National Program Office. Based in the Washington area, it has a budget of hundreds of million dollars a year, which grows to $1 billion per year by the end of Reagan’s first term in office. Within the National Security Council, the “action officer” involved in the COG program is Oliver North, who is a key figure in the mid-1980s Iran-Contra scandal. Reagan’s Vice President, George H. W. Bush, also supervises some of the program’s efforts. As well as Cheney and Rumsfeld, other known figures involved in the COG exercises include Kenneth Duberstein, who serves for a time as President Reagan’s chief of staff, and future CIA Director James Woolsey. Another regular participant is Richard Clarke, who on 9/11 will be the White House chief of counterterrorism (see (1984-2004)). The program, though, is extraconstitutional, as it establishes a process for designating a new US president that is nowhere authorized in the US Constitution or federal law. After George H. W. Bush is elected president in 1988 and the effective end of the Soviet Union in 1989, the exercises continue. They will go on after Bill Clinton is elected president, but will then be based around the threat posed by terrorists, rather than the Soviet Union (see 1992-2000). According to journalist James Mann, the participation of Rumsfeld and Cheney in these exercises demonstrates a broader truth about them: “Over three decades, from the Ford administration onward, even when they were out of the executive branch of government, they were never too far away; they stayed in touch with its defense, military, and intelligence officials and were regularly called upon by those officials. Cheney and Rumsfeld were, in a sense, a part of the permanent, though hidden, national security apparatus of the United States.” [Mann, 2004, pp. 138-145; Atlantic Monthly, 3/2004; Washington Post, 4/7/2004; Cockburn, 2007, pp. 85]
No Role for Congress - According to one participant, “One of the awkward questions we faced was whether to reconstitute Congress after a nuclear attack. It was decided that no, it would be easier to operate without them.” Thus the decision is made to abandon the Constitutional framework of the nation’s government if this plan is ever activated. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 198]
Reactivated after 9/11 - The plan they rehearse for in the COG exercises will be activated, supposedly for the first time, in the hours during and after the 9/11 attacks (see (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 3/1/2002] Mann subsequently comments, “The program is of particular interest today because it helps to explain the thinking and behavior of the second Bush Administration in the hours, days, and months after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.” [Atlantic Monthly, 3/2004]

Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Oliver North, National Program Office, James Woolsey, Kenneth Duberstein, Donald Rumsfeld, George Herbert Walker Bush

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, Civil Liberties

The National Program Office (NPO) secretly oversees the government’s highly classified Continuity of Government program. Established by a “top-secret” presidential directive in 1982, the NPO is tasked with ensuring the survival of the federal government in times of national emergency. The office, which reports to the vice president, is responsible for coordinating secret emergency plans across four organizations: the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and the Departments of State and Defense. From 1982 to 1991 the office spends roughly $8 billion maintaining massive underground bunkers, developing high-tech hardware, and devising last-resort plans to keep the government functioning during a nuclear war. The existence of the NPO is not publicly disclosed until a 1991 investigation by CNN reveals the title of the office and concludes it is plagued by corruption, fraud, and abuses of authority. [CNN Special Assignment, 11/17/1991]

Entity Tags: National Program Office

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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

Systems Evaluations Incorporated, a company recently founded by Fred Westerman, a newly retired 20-year Army intelligence veteran, is contracted by the Army Corps of Engineers to help set up secret storage facilities in five states for the ultra-secretive Continuity of Government program. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the clandestine National Program Office (see (1982 -1991)) will operate the facilities and oversee their construction. Within a year, Westerman will begin to report to government officials instances of waste, fraud, and abuse within the program (see 1986-1987). His job will be threatened in November 1987 (see November 1987) and his contract will be canceled in December of that year (see December 1987). Westerman will file a lawsuit against the government alleging FEMA burglarized Systems Evaluations’ offices in late 1987 (see Late 1987) and that the government launched a surveillance campaign against him (see November 1988). The lawsuit will be frozen when the Justice Department opens an investigation of Westerman (see November 1988) and the suit will later be sealed after an in-depth report highlighting Westerman’s case is published by a major magazine (see August 8, 1989). Westerman will lose another contract, along with his security clearances, in 1990 (see 1990), and by November 1991, he will be unemployable, several hundred thousand dollars in debt, and unable to gain any restitution from the government (see November 1991). [Emerson, 8/7/1989; San Francisco Chronicle, 8/8/1989; Associated Press, 9/11/1989; CNN Special Assignment, 11/17/1991]

Entity Tags: Systems Evaluations Incorporated, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Fred Westerman, US Army Corps of Engineers, National Program Office

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Officials from the National Program Office (NPO), responsible for the highly classified Continuity of Government program, fake an exercise in front of congressional leaders in order to cover up equipment failures. At a secret site near Great Falls, Montana, Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill (D-MA) and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert Byrd (D-WV) gather with other key officials to witness the first major test of a new post-nuclear communication system. The high-tech system, worth millions of dollars, is meant to provide government leaders with the ability to communicate during and after a nuclear war. Much of the equipment, however, was purchased from separate contractors and is technically incompatible. The multi-million dollar system does not function properly, but NPO officials rig the exercise, paving the way for additional funding. As one participant will later explain: “At one point information was supposed to be sent out, and even though lights were blinking and the wheels were turning, the message was being sent by payphone about a block and a half from the site where the exercise was taking place.… Millions of dollars worth of equipment failed to function correctly and 25 or 50 cents worth of change and a pay telephone got the message through.” The visiting congressmen, who are responsible for allocating funds for the project, are fooled into thinking the system is fully functional. Money will continue to flow into the shoddy equipment for years to come. Sources will tell CNN five years later that the system is still not working properly. “Very few people knew about the scam and because the program is so classified there was no one they could tell,” CNN will report in 1991. [CNN Special Assignment, 11/17/1991]

Entity Tags: Robert C. Byrd, Thomas Phillip ‘Tip’ O’Neill, Jr, National Program Office

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Fred Westerman, a retired Army intelligence veteran who now heads a government contracted security firm, reports several instances of waste, fraud, and abuse within the highly secretive Continuity of Government (COG) program, which is supposed to ensure the survival of the federal government during disaster situations. Westerman’s company, Systems Evaluations Incorporated, was hired by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1985 to set up secret COG storage facilities around the country for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the clandestine National Program Office (see 1985). Within a year, however, Westerman becomes disturbed by problems he notices within the secret COG program. He alerts officials that engine parts are falling off emergency vehicles at several secret sites. He reports that security systems and alarms at secure government facilities are faulty. He says doors and locks at the secret locations are weak and flimsy. He says his workers have been exposed to toxic chemicals from leaking containers at multiple government installations. Westerman reports that at one location water has seeped onto high-voltage electrical lines. He also becomes concerned about payments being made to companies for inadequate work. Westerman is repeatedly pressured by superiors not to complain about the problems, but nonetheless brings his complaints to the FBI, the Justice Department, and the inspector general’s office within FEMA. Westerman’s job will be threatened after he refuses to hand over corporate documents to a competitor (see November 1987). FEMA officials will allegedly burglarize Westerman’s office in search of the documents in late 1987 (see Late 1987). System Evaluation’s contract with the government will be canceled in December 1987 (see December 1987) and Westerman will later file a lawsuit against the government seeking reimbursement (see November 1988). The lawsuit will be frozen when the Justice Department opens an investigation of Westerman (see November 1988) and the suit will later be sealed after an in-depth report highlighting Westerman’s case is published by a major magazine (see August 8, 1989). Westerman will lose another contract, along with his security clearances, in 1990 (see 1990), and by November 1991, he will be unemployable, several hundred thousand dollars in debt, and unable to gain any restitution from the government (see November 1991). [Emerson, 8/7/1989; San Francisco Chronicle, 8/8/1989; Associated Press, 9/11/1989; CNN Special Assignment, 11/17/1991]

Entity Tags: National Program Office, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Fred Westerman, Inspector General’s Office (FEMA), Systems Evaluations Incorporated

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Members of the Federal Emergency Management Agency allegedly burglarize the offices of Systems Evaluations Incorporated, a government-contracted security firm working on the highly classified Continuity of Government program (see 1985). The head of the company, Fred Westerman, recently reported to federal officials several irregularities within the classified project (see 1986-1987) and was subsequently ordered to hand over corporate materials to a competitor, although he refused (see November 1987). Systems Evaluations’ contract will soon be canceled (see December 1987) and the Justice Department will open an investigation of the company shortly after Westerman files a lawsuit against the government seeking restitution (see November 1988 and November 1988). Westerman’s lawsuit will be frozen and sealed (see August 8, 1989), his contracts with the government will be canceled (see December 1987 and 1990), his security clearances will be stripped, and by 1991 he will be left unemployable, in debt, and unable to gain any restitution from the government (see November 1991). [Associated Press, 9/11/1989]

Entity Tags: Federal Emergency Management Agency, National Program Office, Systems Evaluations Incorporated, Fred Westerman

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Army Corps of Engineers notifies the head of Systems Evaluations Incorporated, Fred Westerman, that his company’s contract to set up secret storage facilities for the highly secretive Continuity of Government program will not being extended, despite previous promises that a five-year renewal was forthcoming. Westerman, a retired 20-year Army intelligence veteran, began work on the secret project in 1985 (see 1985). He began reporting irregularities within the program to government officials in 1986, against the wishes of his superiors (see 1986-1987). Westerman will file a lawsuit against the government seeking restitution (see November 1988), but the suit will be frozen when the Justice Department opens an investigation of him (see November 1988). US District Judge Norma Johnson will seal the suit shortly after an in-depth story on the COG program referring to Westerman’s case is published in a major magazine (see August 8, 1989). In 1990, Westerman will lose another contract, along with his security clearances (see 1990). By November 1991, he will be unemployable, several hundred thousand dollars in debt, and unable to gain any restitution from the government (see November 1991). [Emerson, 8/7/1989; San Francisco Chronicle, 8/8/1989; Associated Press, 9/11/1989; CNN Special Assignment, 11/17/1991]

Entity Tags: Systems Evaluations Incorporated, Federal Emergency Management Agency, US Army Corps of Engineers, National Program Office, US Department of Justice, Fred Westerman

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Retired 20-year Army intelligence veteran Fred Westerman, who now heads the security firm Systems Evaluations Incorporated (see 1985) and whose government contract was canceled after he reported abuses inside the highly secretive Continuity of Government program (see December 1987 and 1986-1987), is alerted that his recently filed lawsuit against the government (see November 1988) is being frozen because the Justice Department has opened a criminal investigation into his company for allegedly trying to defraud the government. The suit, now frozen, will later be sealed (see August 8, 1989). Westerman will eventually lose another contract, along with his security clearances (see 1990). He will end up living in debt and unable to gain any restitution from the government (see November 1991). [Emerson, 8/7/1989; San Francisco Chronicle, 8/8/1989; Associated Press, 9/11/1989; CNN Special Assignment, 11/17/1991]

Entity Tags: Systems Evaluations Incorporated, Federal Emergency Management Agency, US Army Corps of Engineers, National Program Office, US Department of Justice, Fred Westerman

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Retired 20-year Army intelligence veteran Fred Westerman, who now heads the security firm Systems Evaluations Incorporated (see 1985) and last year reported abuses inside the highly secretive Continuity of Government (COG) program (see 1986-1987), files a lawsuit in the US Court of Claims against the Army, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), two other unidentified federal agencies, and a private company believed to be Brogan Associates Incorporated. A government contract maintained by Systems Associates was canceled last year after Westerman reported irregularities inside the clandestine COG program (see December 1987 and November 1987). The suit states that government officials targeted Westerman for surveillance and wiretaps shortly after he reported abuses inside the COG program. The lawsuit also alleges that FEMA burglarized his corporate offices (see Late 1987) and officials from the Army, FEMA, and Brogan Associates came to Systems Evaluations demanding corporate files shortly prior to the break-in (see November 1987). The lawsuit also alleges Westerman’s company is still owed half a million dollars in expenses. The suit will be frozen due to an investigation of Westerman’s business (see November 1988) and sealed by a US district judge shortly after an in-depth story on the COG program referring to Westerman’s case is published in a major magazine (see August 8, 1989). In 1990, Westerman will lose another contract, along with his security clearances (see 1990). By November 1991, he will be unemployable, several hundred thousand dollars in debt, and unable to gain any restitution from the government (see November 1991). [Emerson, 8/7/1989; San Francisco Chronicle, 8/8/1989; Associated Press, 9/11/1989; CNN Special Assignment, 11/17/1991]

Entity Tags: National Program Office, Brogan Associates Incorporated, Fred Westerman, US Army Corps of Engineers, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Systems Evaluations Incorporated

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

US District Judge Norma Johnson seals a lawsuit filed in the US Court of Claims by retired 20-year Army intelligence veteran and whistleblower Fred Westerman (see November 1988), who currently heads Systems Evaluations Incorporated (see 1985) and whose government contract was canceled after he reported abuses inside the highly secretive Continuity of Government program (see December 1987 and 1986-1987). Johnson issues a gag order on Westerman, forbidding him from discussing his case with members of Congress. The order comes a day after US News and World Report published an in-depth article on the COG program that highlighted Westerman’s case. Westerman’s lawsuit has been frozen since the Justice Department opened an investigation of his company (see November 1988). In 1990, Westerman will lose another contract, along with his security clearances (see 1990). By November 1991, he will be unemployable, several hundred thousand dollars in debt, and unable to gain any restitution from the government (see November 1991). [Emerson, 8/7/1989; San Francisco Chronicle, 8/8/1989; Associated Press, 9/11/1989; CNN Special Assignment, 11/17/1991]

Entity Tags: Norma Johnson, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Federal Emergency Management Agency, National Program Office, Systems Evaluations Incorporated, US Army Corps of Engineers, Fred Westerman

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Retired 20-year Army intelligence veteran and whistleblower Fred Westerman, who came under investigation by the Justice Department shortly after filing a lawsuit against the government (see November 1988 and November 1988), loses his security clearances, as well as a classified federal contract, when officials notify his boss that he is facing indictment. Westerman lost a previous contract (see December 1987) after reporting several abuses inside the highly classified Continuity of Government program (see 1986-1987). His lawsuit has been frozen and sealed by the government (see November 1988 and August 8, 1989). With no security clearances and a tarnished reputation, Westerman will become unemployable in the field he knows best. By November 1991, he will be several hundred thousand dollars in debt and unable to gain any restitution from the government (see November 1991). [CNN Special Assignment, 11/17/1991]

Entity Tags: Federal Emergency Management Agency, Fred Westerman, National Program Office, US Army Corps of Engineers, US Department of Justice, Systems Evaluations Incorporated

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Despite several years of multi-million dollar investments, the high-tech communication system at the heart of the Continuity of Government program does not work properly. The system has been malfunctioning since it was first established. Officials from the National Program Office (NPO) faked the broken system’s first major test in 1985, successfully fooling the congressmen responsible for allocating funds for the project (see Late 1985). Five years later, federal agencies are still unable to “talk” to one another with the equipment. “It was like, ‘So what, we’ll catch up with it later,’” a former NPO official will tell CNN, “but later never came.” Sources familiar with the system say a lack of oversight has allowed problems within the Continuity of Government program to go unchecked and spiral out of control. [CNN Special Assignment, 11/17/1991]

Entity Tags: National Program Office

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Retired 20-year Army intelligence veteran, classified security expert, and whistleblower Fred Westerman is hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt and unable to find work in the field he knows best. Beginning in 1985, Westerman headed a security firm that worked on the highly classified Continuity of Government program, which is designed to keep the government functioning in times of disaster (see 1985). The program is predominantly run by the clandestine National Program Office (see (1982 -1991)) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA—see April 1, 1979-Present). Westerman reported several instances of waste, fraud, and abuse within the classified program to the FBI, the Army, and the inspector general’s office within FEMA (see 1986-1987). Westerman’s contract with the government was subsequently canceled (see December 1987) and the Justice Department launched an investigation of Westerman and his company when he attempted to file a lawsuit against the government (see November 1988 and November 1988). For the past three years, Westerman has been living in what CNN describes as an “intelligence twilight zone… unable to clear his name, unable to resolve his legal cases… caught in an unwinnable struggle with the powerful secret National Program Office.” Westerman has lost his security clearances, government contracts, and reputation (see 1990). “What assets I did have, have either been sold off or have been mortgaged to the hilt,” he tells CNN. “I am in financial disrepair. I am unemployable in the profession that I know best.” David Mann, a security consultant who served with Westerman, tells CNN: “I think what is happening to him particularly is that the federal attorneys and whoever is driving them to do their job are attempting to ruin the man through legal means.… It is a type of modern McCarthyism if you will.” [CNN Special Assignment, 11/17/1991]

Entity Tags: National Program Office, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Systems Evaluations Incorporated, Fred Westerman, US Department of Justice, US Army Corps of Engineers

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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