State lawmakers are hatching plans to bolster the ranks of Florida’s woefully staffed National Guard, suggesting they may send a letter to Congress or pass a memorial urging Washington to act, among other options.
The political call-to-arms was swift, coming moments after Florida’s top-ranking general stressed the issue to a Senate panel. Florida, the general warned, is ill-positioned to handle its next major emergency or “worst day.”
“This is stark. This is scary. It’s a ticking time bomb,” responded Sen. Danny Burgess, an Army Reservist and member of the Senate Committee on Military and Veterans Affairs, Space and Domestic Security.
Florida’s disproportionate ratio of Guard members to citizens is decades in the making. Over the last 30 years, the population of Florida doubled while Guard numbers declined. According to a document shared with lawmakers, Florida ranks second to last in the Guard members-to-Citizen ratio with roughly 12,000 troops. That number, Florida’s top general contends, should hover upward of 20,000.
“It’s a significant challenge for our Governor to be able to have forces at his disposal on Florida’s worst day,” Adjutant Gen. James Eifert told lawmakers on Oct. 12.
The issue of troop numbers, however, is a federal prerogative determined by the federal National Guard Bureau and the National Defense Authorization Act. The Guard Bureau, Eifert said, uses an algorithm he contends is outdated and ineffectual.
Speaking to the committee, the general noted some states — before the COVID-19 pandemic — hadn’t domestically activated a National Guard unit in roughly 20 years and yet share the same force size as Florida.
The situation, he told lawmakers, is “ridiculous.”
By comparison, Eifert added that Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia are allowed more troops under the algorithm despite collectively having a smaller population.
What’s more, Florida ranks second to last under the Guardsmen-to-civilian ratio despite serving the fourth most disaster-prone state in the nation.
“I would argue that it’s been a lack of attention on the National Guard Bureau’s part over the past 50 years, and a lack of fortitude in wanting to go and make the hard case to these congressional delegations,” Eifert said.
Lawmakers contend the shortage threatens Floridians’ security and requires them to respond as a body. A memorial, if proposed, would undergo the legislative process and require a companion bill in the upcoming Session.
“It’s really time do something about it. … We are really going to have to try to push a movement,” said Committee Chairman Tom Wright.
Notably, this isn’t Florida’s first cry for help. Beyond Eifert, members of Florida’s congressional delegation, and even Gov. Ron DeSantis, have shared their concerns with Washington officials.
A bipartisan collective of Florida congressional members, including U.S. Reps. Mike Waltz, Scott Franklin, Stephanie Murphy and Matt Gaetz, published a letter in February addressing the issue.
In it, they note the challenges facing the Florida National Guard because of its limited force size. The letter cites concerns about recruitment and retention, as well as mission capacity limits.
“These are incredible people, but they are humans and not machines,” the letter says. “The situation is exacerbated by the simple fact that the Florida National Guard, by nearly any metric, is not large enough. This means that individual guardsmen must respond to mission requirements again and again without enough rest or sufficient ability to rotate personnel.”
Data the Guard shared suggests the troop shortage is particularly aggravated by federal deployments, rather than state activations.
According to the data, the Florida National Guard devoted more than 2.9 million federal work days between 2016 and 2021, but only 834,000 on state missions.
Eifert warned if the rate of deployments continues and Florida’s population continues to increase, the Guard’s current rate of growth won’t meet demand or even requirements.
In June, DeSantis echoed the concerns of Eifert and congressional members to National Guard Bureau Chief Gen. Daniel Hokanson. In a letter, he called for Florida’s “fair share” of force allocation and described the state as “significantly underrepresented.” DeSantis, a Navy veteran, said the changes are “long overdue.”
“Florida is predicted to grow by 5 million residents over the next 10 years, and this population growth will only exacerbate this proportionate shortfall,” the Republican Governor wrote.
Meanwhile, two lawmakers are proposing measures that would limit the federal government’s usage of the Florida Guard.
The bills, sponsored by Republican Rep. Melony Bell and Democratic Sen. Jason Pizzo, would prohibit the Florida Guard’s deployment into “active duty combat” without a congressional declaration of war. Congress, the measures note, has not officially declared a war in over 70 years.
“In spite of the clear language of the United States Constitution vesting the power of war exclusively in the United States Congress, the United States executive branch has unconstitutionally assumed that power while the United States Congress has abdicated its constitutional duty,” the identical measures say.
The proposals (SB 422 and HB 261) repeatedly cite the Founding Fathers and their intention to reserve the nation’s war powers with Congress.
James Madison, known as the Father of the Constitution, warned the Executive Branch is “most interested in war and most prone to it,” the bill notes.
Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, described Congress’ power to let “loose” the ‘Dog of War’ as an “effectual check,” the bills add.
More than 25,000 Florida Guard members have mobilized since Sept. 11, 2001, according to Guard data.
“When such unconstitutional actions are taken by the Federal Government, it is the proper role of the states to take action to remedy such situations,” the bills say.
Pizzo’s Senate proposal is slated for three committee stops. Members of the Military and Veterans Affairs, Space and Domestic Security Committee will first hear the bill. That will be followed by stops in Judiciary and Rules. The House measure, meanwhile, awaits referrals.
If passed, the proposals would take effect upon the Governor’s signature.