Napolitano pushes “civilian army” conspiracy theory with Ready Reserve Corps falsehoods

On April 23, Fox & Friends hosted Fox News judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano to advance his debunked conspiracy theory that the health care reform bill establishes a “paramilitary Ready Reserve Corps,” whose purpose is unknown. In fact, the Ready Reserve Corps is a reserve unit of health professionals who can be called up to assist in times of a national emergency -- like Hurricane Katrina -- and is an expansion of a 200-year-old program.

Fox & Friends fearmongers about a “paramilitary Ready Reserve Corps”

Baker: Health care bill “allows the president to force health care professionals into active military duty ... against the will of the health care worker.” On Fox News' Fox & Friends, guest co-host Mike Baker claimed that a “questionable item in the [health care reform] bill allows the president to force health care professionals into active military duty against the will of the governor and against the will of the health care worker.” Referencing President Obama's 2008 comments about “a civilian national security force,” Baker asked, “Coincidence or something more sinister?”

Napolitano falsely claims that “we don't know” what the “paramilitary Ready Reserve Corps” will do. Napolitano suggested that Obama may be creating “a civilian corps just as powerful, just as well funded as the military” with “five pages in the 2,700-page health care bill that establishes something called the Ready Reserve Corps.” Napolitano also claimed that “in these five pages is the authority for the president to take members of the National Guard” and put them into “this paramilitary Ready Reserve Corps.” He added: “The president can only take them against the governor's will in time of insurrection. He can take them under this new law in peacetime against the governor's will, against their will. He can call them out of retirement and put them into this paramilitary Ready Reserve Corps.” Co-host Steve Doocy asked, “To do what?” Napolitano replied, “We don't know.” Napolitano later tied the Ready Reserve Corps to Obama's 2008 “civilian national security force” comments and asked, “Is this the sort of civilian version of the military that he called for in that clip that we just ran, which, by the way, was him in July of '08 on his way to the Democratic National Convention to claim the Democratic nomination for president?”

In fact, Ready Reserve Corps is “like to the public health service what the Army Reserve is to the Army”

In March, Cato's Cannon debunked Napolitano's conspiracy theory: Ready Reserve Corps “is sort of like to the public health service what the Army Reserve is to the Army.” On the March 31 edition of Fox News' Glenn Beck -- which Napolitano guest-hosted -- the Cato Institute's Michael Cannon debunked Napolitano's Ready Reserve Corps conspiracy theory by noting: “The people who serve in it are commissioned officers. They have to be approved by Congress. Their commissions have to be approved by Congress, and what the legislation would do is it would create a Ready Reserve Corps, which is sort of like to the public health service what the Army Reserve is to the Army. In the case of some pandemic, the president would be able to call for these reservists in order to help contain the spread of contagion.” Health care law “creates the ready reserve of individuals who can be called up for service by the U.S. surgeon general in times of need.” reported on April 7:

The truth about the new Ready Reserve Corps is a lot less interesting than the conspiracy theories. Before the law was passed, the Public Health Service, unlike other elements of the government's seven uniformed services, didn't have a “ready reserve” -- a cadre of individuals who could be called up involuntarily in times of need. What it had was a regular, full-time corps of 2,800 doctors, nurses, scientists and other medical professionals, which was the limit under law. It also had a reserve corps. But most of the individuals in the reserve corps, which was larger than the regular corps, were on extended active duty for the duration of their careers; in other words, they worked full-time, just like the regular corps, because they were needed, but the statutory cap prevented the service from bringing them into the regular corps.

The new law eliminates the personnel cap and brings the members of what used to be the reserve corps into the regular corps, which as a result now numbers about 6,600, according to an official at the Public Health Service who spoke to us on background.

And the law creates the ready reserve of individuals who can be called up for service by the U.S. surgeon general in times of need; the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is often used as an example of an incident that might trigger a call-up.

The health care bill establishes “a Regular Corps” and “a Ready Reserve Corps for service in time of national emergency ... similar to the uniformed service reserve personnel.” From the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010:


Section 203 of the Public Health Service Act (42 U.S.C. 204) is amended to read as follows:



''(1) IN GENERAL. -- There shall be in the Service a commissioned Regular Corps and a Ready Reserve Corps for service in time of national emergency.



''(1) PURPOSE. -- The purpose of the Ready Reserve Corps is to fulfill the need to have additional Commissioned Corps personnel available on short notice (similar to the uniformed service's reserve program) to assist regular Commissioned Corps personnel to meet both routine public health and emergency response missions.

''(2) USES. -- The Ready Reserve Corps shall --

''(A) participate in routine training to meet the general and specific needs of the Commissioned Corps;

''(B) be available and ready for involuntary calls to active duty during national emergencies and public health crises, similar to the uniformed service reserve personnel;

''(C) be available for backfilling critical positions left vacant during deployment of active duty Commissioned Corps members, as well as for deployment to respond to public health emergencies, both foreign and domestic; and

''(D) be available for service assignment in isolated, hardship, and medically underserved communities (as defined in section 799B) to improve access to health services.

The Ready Reserve Corps is a part of the more than 200-year-old Commissioned Corps. The Ready Reserve Corps is a supplement to the Commissioned Corps, which has existed in some form since 1798. From the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps:

The history of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps is the history of health defense in the United States. For more than 200 years, the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps has been our Nation's frontline against the spread of disease from sailors returning from foreign ports, to immigrants entering the country, to communities affected by natural and manmade disasters. The Corps response to the health threats posed by Hurricane Katrina and other recent disasters underscores the value to our Nation of having a highly trained, multidisciplinary, and quickly mobilized cadre of medical professionals. Today, the Corps fights for better public health on multiple fronts. Corps officers are involved in disease control and prevention, biomedical research, regulation of food and drugs, mental health and drug abuse, health care delivery, and international health. As a vital part of the U.S. Public Health Service, the Commissioned Corps is an essential component of the largest public health program in the world.

The Ready Reserve Corps is not “as well-funded as the military”

The health care bill appropriates $12.5 million per year for the Ready Reserve Corps. Contrary to Napolitano's suggestion that the “Ready Reserve Corps” could be “as well-funded as the military,” in the “Funding” section of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, the bill appropriates "$12,500,000 for each of fiscal years 2010 through 2014 for the Ready Reserve Corps." From the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act:

''(d) FUNDING. -- For the purpose of carrying out the duties and responsibilities of the Commissioned Corps under this section, there are authorized to be appropriated $5,000,000 for each of fiscal years 2010 through 2014 for recruitment and training and $12,500,000 for each of fiscal years 2010 through 2014 for the Ready Reserve Corps.''

By contrast, the FY 2011 budget “provides $548.9 billion for the Department of Defense.” From the Department of Defense's FY 2011 budget:

Funding Highlights:

  • Supports access to medical care to the more than 9.5 million beneficiaries: active military members and their families, military retirees and their families, dependent survivors, and eligible Reserve Component members and families.
  • Supports wounded warrior transition units and centers of excellence in vision, hearing, traumatic brain injury, and other areas to continuously improve the care provided to wounded, ill, and injured servicemembers.
  • Continues to reform defense acquisition, reducing its use of high-risk contracts related to time-and-materials and labor-hours by 17 percent through the end of 2011, while modernizing key weapons systems to provide our troops with the best technology to meet battlefield needs, and eliminating or reconfiguring lower-priority acquisitions.
  • Continues strong support for our men and women in uniform through a robust benefits package including pay increases that keep pace with the private sector.
  • Includes $33.0 billion for a 2010 supplemental request and $159.3 billion for 2011 to support ongoing overseas contingency operations, including funds to execute the President's new strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
  • Prioritizes resources by ending or reducing several programs, including the C-17 aircraft, the Joint Strike Fighter Alternate Engine program, the Third Generation Infrared Surveillance program, and the Net-Enabled Command Capability program.
  • Maintains ready forces and continues efforts to rebalance military forces to focus more on today's wars, and provides capabilities to deter or if necessary engage in future conflicts.
  • Provides $548.9 billion for the Department of Defense base budget in 2011, a 3.4 percent increase over the 2010 enacted level.
  • Supports a reconfigured ballistic missile defense strategy, in line with the President's policy, to better address current threats.

    Obama's 2008 remarks about a “civilian national security force” were in reference to service organizations

    As Media Matters for America has previously noted, Obama's 2008 remarks were in reference to an expansion of the Foreign Service, Americorps, and the Peace Corps, not a “paramilitary” group. From Obama's July 2, 2008, speech in Colorado Springs, Colorado:

    Today, AmeriCorps -- our nation's network of local, state, and national service programs -- has 75,000 slots. And I know firsthand the quality of these programs. My wife, Michelle, once left her job at a law firm and at City Hall to be a founding director of an AmeriCorps program in Chicago that trains young people for careers in public service. And these programs invest Americans in their communities and their country. They tap America's greatest resource -- our citizens.

    And that's why as president, I will expand AmeriCorps to 250,000 slots and make that increased service a vehicle to meet national goals like providing health care and education, saving our planet and restoring our standing in the world, so that citizens see their efforts connected to a common purpose. People of all ages, stations, and skills will be asked to serve. Because when it comes to the challenges we face, the American people are not the problem -- they are the answer.

    So we are going to send -- we're going to send more college graduates to teach and mentor our young people. We'll call on Americans to join an Energy Corps to conduct renewable energy and environmental cleanup projects in their neighborhoods all across the country. We will enlist our veterans to find jobs and support for other vets, to be there for our military families. And we're going to grow our Foreign Service, open consulates that have been shuttered, and double the size of the Peace Corps by 2011 to renew our diplomacy.

    We cannot continue to rely only on our military in order to achieve the national security objectives that we've set. We've got to have a civilian national security force that's just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded.

    We need to use technology to connect people to service. We'll expand USA Freedom Corps to create online networks where Americans can browse opportunities to volunteer. You'll be able to search by category, time commitment, and skill sets; you'll be able to rate service opportunities, build service networks, and create your own service pages to track your hours and activities. This will empower more Americans to craft their own service agenda, and make their own change from the bottom up.