Continuity of Government is basic to survival of the nation. This principle has received increasing attention by government at all levels and in all branches. Despite this general awareness and an increasing understanding, there is still some confusion about the survival of government which is essential to the future of the nation and the world. Stated simply, the major objective of emergency planning, and therefore of these specific programs, is to preserve the American representative form of government. The country cannot afford to leave a vacuum at any governmental level which could lead to anarchy or to an unlawful assumption of authority. On 12 February 1962 President Kennedy stated: "the continued effective functioning of civilian political authority in an emergency is vital to the survival of our free society."
The survival of a president to provide national leadership is essential to national unity and strong public will. Emergency plans must be so drawn and implemented as to give the nation assurance of: the survival of a president; a capability for bringing to bear the president's influence on the immediate emergency situation; and the functioning of central government.
The plans and provisions for continuity of the executive departments and agencies of the federal government are based on executive orders 10952 and 10346, and National Security Council action documents.
Executive order 10346, issued to the federal departments by President Truman, specifically charges them to prepare plans for maintaining the continuity of their essential functions at the Seat of Government and elsewhere during the existence of an emergency. It further stipulates in order to achieve uniformity of planning for the continuity of essential functions, the Office of Emergency Planning shall establish such standards and policies as it may from time to time deem desirable.
Section 2(b) of executive order 10952, by which President Kennedy reorganized the nonmilitary defense program, charged the Director of the Office of Emergency Planning with responsibility to "develop plans, conduct programs and coordinate preparation for the continuity of federal governmental operations in the event of attack."
The elements comprising the program for the continuity of the executive departments and agencies of the federal government have changed but little in the years since the federal government initiated the program.
The single most important element for achieving continuity of government is the preservation of constitutional leadership. Since this cannot be handled by delegation with regard to the presidency, establishing an effective line of succession is the only solution. In 1947 Congress changed and lengthened the line of succession to the presidency. This line extends from the Vice President to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, to the President pro tem of the Senate, and thence through nine members of the cabinet, thus providing twelve successors to the president. The Secretaries of the various Cabinet Departments which did not exist at the time this law was passed are not Constitutional successors to the presidency.
The departments and all major agencies of the federal government have established lines of succession for their key positions at the seat of government. The currency of these lines have been maintained and are checked annually. Most of the departments and agencies have publicly announced their lines of succession through publication in the Federal Register, thus informing all agencies and the public of their plans. A few of the departments and agencies have classified their lines of succession as a security measure; the information is, of course, available at their records repositories.
There are ranges of opinions concerning what federal functions will be carried on during and immediately after an all-out nuclear attack, with some maintaining that there is little or nothing that the federal government can or should do. Others proposed federal programs and federal controls inconsistent with the situation resulting from widespread destruction which would be caused by such an attack.
A great deal of attention has been given over the years to the question of determination essential functions. Most of the analysis which has been done by individual departments and agencies in this field reflected the lack of overall criteria for this purpose. The process which was undertaken in the review of essential functions was one of analyzing each function of the department or agency and making a specific determination as to essentiality or non-essentiality; when a function was determined to be essential an estimate was made of the number of people required to carry it out.
Federal planning has proceeded on a basic assumption that maximum effectiveness and efficiency could be derived by requiring federal departments and agencies to undertake planning and the development of emergency capability compatible with their ongoing major peacetime missions. To provide specificity and further emphasis the president has, by the issuance of executive orders, made emergency preparedness assignments to a number of departments and agencies in addition to the Department of Defense.
Crisis Relocation Facilities are designated which would accommodate all persons required to perform agency's emergency functions under an austere economy. Guidance from the Office of Emergency Planning was used in the development of regional relocation programs. Generally these sites would be used as conditions warrant and permit to maintain continuity of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the government.
During the 1980s the White House National Program Office (NPO) was responsible for Continuity of Government (COG) initiatives, to incude projects to maintain command and control centers during a National Emergency.