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Profile: Office of Emergency Preparedness (1968-1973) (OEP)
Office of Emergency Preparedness (1968-1973) (OEP) was a participant or observer in the following events:
The Office of Emergency Planning, which is responsible for parts of the federal government’s civil defense and continuity of government plans, is renamed the Office of Emergency Preparedness (OEP). Federal agencies responsible for emergency planning have undergone several duty and title changes over the past two decades (see December 1, 1950, December 16, 1950, June 12, 1953, July 1, 1958, and July 20, 1961). The changes, the New York Times notes, have created a “tale of more names than even government civil servants care to remember.” The latest change is largely superficial and comes as the result of Public Law 90-608, which was drafted and presented to Congress by President Johnson. [New York Times, 12/14/1968, pp. 19]
President Nixon signs Executive Order 11490, updating the nation’s secretive Continuity of Government (COG) plans. Under the vague title, “Assigning Emergency Preparedness Functions to Federal Departments and Agencies,” the order directs government leaders to ensure the continuation of “essential functions” in the event of a crisis. The order grants a wide range of emergency powers to the executive branch. It directs department heads to have emergency plans for succession of office, predelegation of authority, safekeeping of records, alternative command facilities, and other “emergency action steps.” The plans are to be overseen by the Office of Emergency Preparedness (OEP). Conservative writer Howard J. Ruff will express concern over the scope of the order. “The only thing standing between us and a dictatorship,” Ruff writes, “is the good character of the president and the lack of a crisis severe enough that the public would stand still for it.” In 1984, Attorney General William Smith will object to attempts by the Reagan administration to expand the powers granted in the order (see August 2, 1984). President Reagan will officially update the plans in 1988, replacing and expanding Executive Order 11490 with Executive Order 12656 (see November 18, 1988). [Executive Order 11490, 10/28/1969; Reynolds, 1990]
Press reports and freedom of information advocates expose details regarding the government’s secret plans to censor public information in the event of a national emergency or war. In the event of a declared emergency, the Office of Censorship, led by a 26-member board of “executive reservists,” would be in charge of restricting virtually all public information. The unit was established in 1949 as a reincarnation of a censorship office created during World War II (see 1949). The board was apparently put in place to oversee the unit in 1958 (see 1958). The unit is currently being operated out of the Office of Emergency Preparedness. In an article published in the Prescott Courier, Sam Archibald, director of the Freedom of Information Center, writes, “The government has set up a ‘Stand-by Voluntary Censorship Code’ and has planned all the bureaucratic trappings necessary to enforce the code.” Archibald says the plan would “become effective either in wartime or in some undefined ‘national emergency.’” The plans, he writes, are ready to be applied in “all kinds of less than war situations.” In the event of a crisis, members of the standby censorship office would be dispatched throughout the country to monitor and censor all channels of communication, from private letters and telephone calls to public radio and television broadcasts. According to Archibald, only five of the 26 board members are working newsmen. “The rest are public relations men, businessmen, government employees, college professors, or are listed merely as ‘retired.’” CBS executive Theodore F. Koop, who served as deputy director of the Office of Censorship during World War II, is revealed as the head of board. Archibald reports that Koop took up the position in the mid-1960s. Later reports will suggest President Eisenhower appointed Koop to head the censorship board in 1958 (see 1958). [Prescott Courier, 10/1/1970; New York Times, 10/9/1970; St. Petersburg Times, 10/25/1970; Carpenter, 1995]
In the wake of reports exposing government plans to censor public information in the event of a crisis (see October 1970), the Nixon administration changes the title of the secretive Office of Censorship to the Wartime Information Security Program (WISP). The WISP agency is run out of the Office of Emergency Preparedness (OEP), which is responsible for the highly classified Continuity of Government (COG) program (see October 21, 1968). The number of board members within the WISP unit, originally set at 26 (see 1958), is scaled down to just eight. The agency maintains the same basic objective of censoring public information in the event of a crisis. Author Ted Galen Carpenter will later report that “virtually nothing” changes in regards to the censorship plans. In the event of a national emergency, “press censorship would go into effect and several thousand ‘executive reservists’ would report to locations across the country to censor all mail, cables, telephone calls, and other communications (including press dispatches) entering or leaving the United States.” Under the WISP program, the government would not only censor information that may help an enemy, but also any data that “might adversely affect any policy of the United States.” Time magazine will later summarize, “Press reports in 1970 exposed the existence of a standby national censor and led to the formal dissolution of the censorship unit, but its duties were discreetly reassigned to yet another part of what an internal memo refers to as the ‘shadow’ government.” [Time, 8/10/1992; Carpenter, 1995, pp. 114]
Representative William S. Moorhead (D-PA) publicly criticizes a secret government contingency plan to censor public information in the event of a national emergency or war. Moorhead claims he has obtained a copy of the plan as part of an investigation by the House Foreign Operations and Government Information Subcommittee. His primary concern is that the censorship plans could be implemented in the event of a “limited war,” such as the conflict in Vietnam. According to Moorhead, representatives of the Office of Emergency Preparedness (OEP), which is responsible for managing the secret censorship program, testified to the committee that the plans were for use only in the event of nuclear attack within the United States. Moorhead, however, after reviewing the plans first-hand, says the program could be activated during “limited war or conflicts of the ‘brush fire’ type, in which United States forces are involved elsewhere in the world on land, sea, or in the air.” The plans would involve “opening mail, monitoring broadcasts, and questioning travelers entering the country.” Moorhead says James W. McCord Jr., who was arrested as part of the Watergate scandal (see June 17, 1972), was one of several individuals responsible for drafting the plans. Moorhead alleges McCord developed a “National Watchlist” as part of the program. [United Press International, 10/23/1972; United Press International, 10/23/1972]
President Nixon eliminates the Office of Emergency Preparedness (OEP), and transfers its functions to the General Services Administration (GSA) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The GSA will take over the agency’s civil defense, continuity of government, resource management, and other emergency preparedness functions, while HUD will be responsible for disaster preparedness and relief. [Message of the President, 1/26/1973; Richard M. Nixon, 6/27/1973 ; Wing and Walton, 1/1980, pp. 35; B. Wayne Blanchard, 2/5/2008, pp. 18] Similar emergency planning responsibilities are held by the Defense Civil Preparedness Agency, which was established by Nixon within the Department of Defense in May 1972 (see May 5, 1972).
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