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Leigh RowlandSimone Robers
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Joint Task Force Civil Support (JTF-CS) is the nation’s only standing JTF to respond to chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) events. JTF-CS was established in 1999 as a subordinate command to United States Northern Command (NORTHCOM). In 2020, NORTHCOM expanded JTF-CS’ mission set from an exclusive focus on CRBN events to include all hazards Defense Support to Civil Authorities (DSCA) response operations in a future homeland defense operating environment. In response, JTF-CS revised their mission statement, reorganized their staff ad-hoc, and developed a new organizational employment model—the Headquarters Echelon Concept (HEC). JTF-CS also used real-world operations during COVID-19 to test and refine its organizational constructs. 

The new mission statement was approved by NORTHCOM in 2022. However, JTF-CS’ new structure, as of writing, has not been independently evaluated to determine its feasibility, acceptability, suitability, and completeness for the execution of the new and expanded mission set. As a result, JTF-CS asked CNA to provide an external, independent review of the JTF-CS–developed organizational structure and an overview of relevant constraints and restraints, as well as evaluate how well the new organizational structure is aligned to execute assigned roles and responsibilities (RRs), and mission, functions, and tasks (MFT).

This report summarizes our analysis of JTF-CS’ tasking and roles and responsibilities for CBRN and DSCA. We examine how the expansion of DSCA all hazards as an additional mission set has impacted JTF-CS’ MFT and staffing requirements. We also review the HEC organizational structure and how the command transformation aligns with the new MFT to optimize staff structure and efficiencies. We conclude with an overall assessment of the HEC and how the command can successfully achieve the transition to DSCA all hazards, while maintaining its CBRN no-fail mission and readiness.

Study approach

We executed this study in two phases. In phase 1, executed between June and September 2022, we examined the new MFT and the use of the HEC. In phase 2 of our study, we built on phase 1 analysis findings and addressed gaps and inefficiencies and refinements or improvements to the HEC construct.

The primary research questions guiding the study were: “What does the new MFT for JTF-CS look like?” “Does the HEC allow JTF-CS to efficiently fulfill its MFT? If not, what organizational changes can be made to address any gaps or inefficiencies?” To answer these questions, we adopted a four-step analytic approach:

  1. Review mission statement, TACSOP, concept of operations plans (CONPLANS), and operations plans (OPLANS) to develop a current and complete MFT and Joint Mission Essential Task List (JMETL) for JTF-CS.
  2. Review current org charts, manpower data, exercise after-action reports (AARs), and exercise observations to baseline both the HEC and the underlying organizational structure (i.e., staff sections) available to execute the MFT and JMETL laid out in (1).
  3. Using a Delphi data call and exercise AARs/observations, match the JMETL from (1) to the available structure and HEC elements from (2) and identify any gaps and/or inefficiencies.
  4. Identify and evaluate additional or alternative manning and/or structural options for addressing the gaps/inefficiencies identified in (3), given command-defined constraints and restraints.

In each step, we leveraged a combination of command and higher headquarters (HHQ) generated products, Department of Defense (DOD) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) guidance and plans, subject matter expert (SME) discussions and responses to Delphi questions, and exercise products and observations to inform our work. Wherever possible, we sought to overlay our textual and thematic analysis of these source materials to mitigate subjectivity and bias and better ensure completeness and consensus in our findings.

Study findings

JTF-CS is a two-star command with a T/O of 150, at roughly 135 manned. JTF-CS plans and executes CBRN and DSCA response to save lives and provide temporary critical support to enable recovery. The command prepares to conduct all-hazards domestic response (e.g., hurricane, earthquake, pandemic) and habitually trains and exercises with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), interagency partners, the National Guard, and other state and local partners. JTF-CS’s mission set is summarized in their documentation as follows: “On order, JTF-CS conducts CBRN response and All Hazards DSCA operations in support of the lead federal agency in order to save lives, mitigate human suffering and prevent further injury.”

Roles and responsibilities

To baseline the roles and responsibilities of Joint Task Force-Civil Support (JTF-CS), we began by reviewing plans and orders. Our analysis under phase 1 of the study concluded that, except for the JTF-CS TACSOP and Branch Plan 3510, most of the plans and orders were mission agnostic. That is, each described the general roles and responsibilities of JTF-CS (among others) in the context of a specific event. The general structure of the resultant mission statements was something akin to:

On order, conduct [CBRN response or DSCA] operations in support of the [Lead Federal Agency (LFA) or Primary Actor (PA)] in response to [mission name (e.g., “an earthquake”)] within the domestic portion of the USNORTHCOM AOR to save lives, prevent further injury, and provide temporary critical support to enable community recovery.

This is consistent with the National Response Framework (NRF) definition of a “response” mission, which include “actions to save lives, stabilize community lifelines, protect property and the environment, and meet basic human needs after an incident has occurred.”

We similarly found that the function of JTF-CS was likewise largely the same across source documents. Specifically, JTF-CS was repeatedly called on to “provide command and control (C2) for Department of Defense (DOD) Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) response forces in the event of CBRN event or all-hazards defense support of civil authorities (DSCA) operations.

Overall, JTF-CS is responsible for a total of 34 operational-level tasks (OPs), either in the course of its day-to-day operations or in the course of CBRN or DSCA response operations. In fact, nearly all of the OPs associated with CBRN and DSCA are the same as the OPs required of JTFCS during steady-state, non-response operations. Exceptions include four OPs specific to CBRN operations and two OPs specific to certain types of all-hazards DSCA operations. Otherwise, we found that JTF-CS is consistently responsible for 19 tasks related to logistics/personnel support and command and control. We also found that the J4 and J3 staff sections were explicitly associated with the greatest number of OPs overall (18 and 16, respectively). In contrast, the J1 and J6 were only sparingly mentioned (3 and 8, respectively). 

In sum, we found that JTF-CS has roles and responsibilities aligned with CBRN and all-hazards DSCA missions, and in particular with earthquake and hurricane response operations. Their common function across these missions is to provide C2 of DOD response forces. Despite varying descriptions of the tasks required to fulfill this function, a common set of 19 OPs does exist across general (i.e., non‐response), CBRN, and all‐hazards operations and there are relatively few tasks specific to a singular type of event. This suggests that adding the all-hazards mission set did not dramatically increase the number or diversity of JTF‐CS’ tasks. Instead, it increased likelihood that JTF‐CS would be required to execute these tasks across multiple response operations with consecutive, overlapping, or event concurrent timelines. Thus, while the vast majority of the requirements we uncovered are ones that JTF-CS must be prepared to satisfy only in the event of a CBRN or DSCA incident, the added frequency of DSCA incident response could lead to greater confluence between “enduring” and “on-order” roles and responsibilities.

Organizational structure

We baselined the organizational structure of JTF-CS by reviewing the following source materials: JTF-CS TACSOP, JTF-CS Master Organizational Chart, JTF-CS JTD and JTMD Monthly Rosters (for the last 2 years or Jun 2020-Jul 2022), JTF-CS C2 Concept and MA _MATO Mission Processing Brief, JTF-CS Org Review Brief, 2022 ROC Drill Slides (Turns 1-3B), Vibrant Response 2022 (VR22) Final Exercise Report and Enclosures. We took note of both administrative and organizational structures delineated in these documents and summarize our findings below.

JTF-CS consists of the command group (i.e., Commander, Chaplain, SEL, etc.), special staff (e.g., SJA, PAO, SG), and six Napoleonic staff sections. According to its JTD, JTF-CS is authorized 156 billets for steady‐state operations. An additional 36 billets are authorized in the JTMD for activation and use in the event of crisis or contingency operations. Of course, not all these billets are filled at any given time. In fact, according to JTF-CS staff estimates, typical fill for JTF‐CS steady‐state billets is 80 percent. Calculations on both organizational charts and the JTD suggest that the J1, J4, and SG staff sections have some of the highest fill relative to others in the organization. In contrast, the J3 and J5 staff sections, despite having extensive roles and responsibilities (RRs), are often closer to 80 percent using org chart estimates and at 76 percent and 71 percent, respectively, using the JTD.

Under the HEC construct, if dictated by operational requirements, the command would retain the capability to split into forward and rear elements to accomplish its missions, functions, and tasks, as explained in the TACSOP. In sum, based on our reading of all available documentation, modifications to forward elements—not just which are employed or how, but their actual composition and capabilities—are the norm, making it difficult to ascertain whether the baseline echelon concept is, in fact, sufficient for all hurricane, pandemic response, and no-notice DSCA incidents. 

We found the rear elements of JTF‐CS’s echelon concept to be far less defined than the forward elements, which were the focus of most of the source documentation we reviewed. Only two source documents discussed the rear elements in any detail, and the only point of consensus across them was that the MCP should consist of several boards, cells, centers, and working groups (BC2WGs). Yet, which BC2WGs, exactly, should be contained within the MCP as well as the composition of said BC2WGs was either unclear or largely inconsistent across these two documents. 

Our interim report provides an in-depth analysis of the MFT/JMETL and organizational construct. Appendix E also provides supplemental findings beyond what is included in the summary or main body of this report. Below we present key analysis findings from Phase 2 of study execution. Again, in this section, we provide a summary overview of key highlights.

Unclear task ownership across HEC elements

Task ownership across HEC elements is unclear. We identified several tasks for which there is not a single “lead” operational element and/or where the “lead” element(s) are not consistently identified across source materials. We note several inefficiencies related to this. First, overlapping task ownership within the MCP could result in multiple BC2WGs completing the same or very similar tasks in parallel. Second, in the absence of unambiguously assigned responsibilities, SME discussions and Delphi commentary suggest that tasks default to the JOC, even if they are “doctrinally” owned by another BC2WG. This kind of mission creep within the JOC may result in reduced effectiveness (i.e., since the best-suited personnel for the tasks may or may not reside in the JOC) and/or reduced efficiency (e.g., as JOC personnel struggle to keep pace with excess tasking). Third, in some cases, task ownership appears to be tied more to specific personnel (e.g., J4, commander) than their operational location and/or configuration. Such overly individualized task ownership could result in inefficiencies as information is lost and/or decisions are delayed by transitions in and out of different operational configurations. Finally, we noted several instances where exercise observations and/or Delphi responses indicated that forward elements (e.g., IST-S, FCE) should be the lead for an OP, while more formal source documents indicated rear element (i.e., MCP) ownership. The absence of formally codified guidance and/or consistently practiced processes for transitioning these tasks from the MCP to forward elements, once established, risks information being lost and/or decisions being delayed as informal transitions take place.

MCP (may) not (always be) right sized

Most of the OPs overwhelmingly rely on the MCP—including the JOC and other BC2WGs. The ISTs, in contrast, appear to act as extensions of the MCP, providing real-time situational awareness (SA), overseeing key operations, and/or coordinating with critical partners. The MCP retains most JTF‐CS personnel in steady‐state, limited dispersion, and/or duration conditions. However, fielding additional ISTs could disrupt this relative sizing. For example, surge or sustained (90+ days) operations could require additional MCP personnel to staff IST rotations. Alternatively, greater geographic dispersal could require greater numbers of ISTs or less formal liaison officers (LNOs), to integrate into federal and state response structures, both of which would draw from the MCP personnel pool. In either case, a reduction in the number of MCP personnel could affect the MCPs ability to complete both its on-order and enduring tasks. We find the current manning of the MCP to be short and not sufficient to support 24-hour operations of the MCP and Forward Elements. 

Relative section sizes do not reflect task loads

Our analysis identified an uneven distribution of tasks across JTF‐CS staff sections, with the J3 and J4 responsible for more than double the tasks of most other staff sections. Moreover, the J3 is the unequivocal “lead” staff section for three overarching OPs, while all other staff sections “lead” one or no OPs. Based on this task distribution, we would expect the J3 to be the largest staff section with the best fit/fill. Yet, the J3—while the largest staff section by size—has the second-lowest fill rate (tied with the J1). And while the J3 is authorized to receive the second largest number of JTMD augments (after the J6), at 53% average fill, they effectively receive fewer than three additional personnel, less than both the J6 and J4. Similarly, the J2 is both undersized and underfilled when compared to other staff sections (J1) with fewer tasks but more personnel (both authorized and filled). These disparities suggest that available
resources (e.g., billets, time/capitol spent filling billets and/or civilian positions) may not be spread efficiently across the command. Uneven resource distribution relative to task loading could lead to task saturation and/or burnout, making it challenging for affected staff sections to satisfy all their responsibilities (i.e., could create gaps). 

Critical tasks not (appropriately) assigned

We found that not all CBRN‐related tasks are clearly assigned to JTF‐CS operational elements and/or staff sections. For example, OP 1.6 (see Appendix E in report PDF) lacks a “lead” staff section specified in either the JMETL or other source documents. In addition, OP 7.9 lacks any consensus-based “lead” staff section and/or operational element; that is, different source materials identify different leads for this task (e.g., staff generated JMETL and exercise observations suggest J3 as the lead; Delphi respondents suggest CMD, J6, and MCP). Absent clearly assigned roles and responsibilities for these OPs, JTF‐CS risks failing its “no fail” mission of CBRN response.  

We similarly found that several enduring tasks have multiple task owners. For example, according to source documents, the J2, J3, J4, and J5 share responsibility for the execution of OP 1.3. Adding complexity, we also found variation across source materials regarding the exact combination of staff sections responsible for certain OPs. This lack of clarity regarding critical task assignments could result in gaps (i.e., incomplete tasks) if associated roles and responsibilities are unknown to the respective staff sections. Likewise, insufficient deconfliction of shared roles and responsibilities, even if clearly assigned and acknowledged by staff sections, could reduce JTF-CS’ ability to efficiently complete these tasks.

Lastly, two enduring tasks are assigned exclusively to forward elements of the HEC. Specifically, according to source documents and exercise observations, OP 4.1 is assigned to IST-S and OP 5.8 is assigned to the FCE (PAO). However, since these are enduring tasks, they require a task owner whether response operations—and, thus, forward element employment—are ongoing are not. Without a designated MCP “owner” for these tasks in the event HEC forward elements are not employed, JTF-CS cannot ensure continuity in their execution.

Critical task owners lack sufficient manning

Staff sections responding to the Delphi generally disagreed with the premise that “The number of billets allocated…would be sufficient to sustain HQ operations and complete all assigned tasks as part of JTF-CS’ HQ echelon concept.” The extent of disagreement (i.e., from “slightly disagree” to “disagree” to “strongly disagree”) increased commensurate with the duration of the event, suggesting that sustaining any kind of operations beyond 30 days would be problematic under the HEC model. Similarly, there appeared to be greater confidence in the staff’s ability to “make it work” for a single response operation than for any kind of concurrent or overlapping events. Given the fact that all of the OPs in Table 3* are critical (according to our analysis in Table 6*), this means that critical task owners do not believe they have sufficient manning to complete their assigned tasks in the event of prolonged and/or contemporaneous operations.  One consequence of this common across JTF-CS staff sections is reduced task efficiency and effectiveness upon commencement of response operations that worsens as time goes on. In other words, to cope with the stresses of sustained and/or concurrent operations, the staff either curtails or suspends work on a variety of more “administrative” tasks, which then accrete over time and increase risk to other aspects of JTF‐CS’ mission.

According to Delphi respondents, correcting this situation would require, at a minimum, that all JTD billets be 100% filled. Relatedly, Delphi responses and exercise materials suggested that augmentation above/beyond the JTD would likely be required to sustain HEC operations and/or to execute concurrent operations. Yet, on average, no staff section meets the 100% threshold for JTF fill and JTMD billets are likewise not consistently filled to high levels. Delphi respondents attributed these persistent fill issues to a number of causal factors, and we observed and discussed several others during command exercises, including augments belong to a separate component and sub-command of NORTHCOM; funding and scheduling of augments often requires planning outside of operational windows (6+ months); and prioritization can vary by mission set. In the absence of changes designed to address these underlying issues and improve relationships with augmenting and enabling organizations, critical task owners will likely continue to experience substantial stress during prolonged  and/or coincidental response operations and introduce undetermined risk to JTF-CS’ overall mission set as they struggle to complete their tasking.

Change options

Our analysis identified gaps and inefficiencies challenging the organizational structure of JTFCS. While we deem the HEC feasible and acceptable overall, the gaps and inefficiencies must be addressed to (1) successfully achieve full transition to DSCA all hazards and be able to (over the long-term) support the DSCA mission, and (2) maintain the CBRN no-fail mission. To overcome the gaps and alleviate the inefficiencies we identified in our analysis; we propose a set of change options for consideration. Table 1 (see report PDF) presents a number of organizational change options that—based on past CNA and industry research—have the potential to mitigate if not eliminate the challenges that JTF-CS faces. In each row we present a change option that is mapped against the primary challenges (shown in the columns) the change option would address if implemented.

The feasibility and ease of implementation of these options is critical to consider. Thus, we vetted the change options with the command to identify: (1) which change options are within the control of JTF-CS to implement on its own (without involvement, beyond situational awareness, of HHQ); (2) how hard the change option is to implement (required resources, chains of approval etc.), and (3) whether support from HHQ is required to implement the change option. In Table 2 (see report PDF), we summarize the output of the feasibility mapping for the change options. The rightest column identifies specific actions to be taken by JTF-CS. 

In sum, at minimum, we recommend that JTF-CS implement change options 1-5 (rows 1-5). Change options 1-5 are related; that is, they focus on roles and responsibilities and task assignments. Implementing these change options will clearly delineate between roles and responsibilities for all OPs by element (staff section) to ensure clear task ownership, balance task loads among the sections, and ensure all critical tasks are assignment. However, ideally, JTF-CS can implement all change options in order to determine the appropriate sizing of sections and allow for tailoring of HEC elements to ensure each section within JTF-CS has the manpower necessary to efficiently execute its assigned tasking. To do so, we recommend a structured organizational troop-to-tasking (OT3) game. OT3 will allow JTF-CS to stress-test staffing configurations within available resources to identify the optimal staffing structure to support the new mission set and ensure execution of all OPs to successfully transition to DSCA, while maintaining its no-fail CBRN readiness.


JTF-CS has adapted to its expanded mission set via an ad-hoc reorganization and the development of the HEC. The new structure and employment model generally supports the execution of JTF-CS’s vast MFT. However, sustained operations over an extended period, or the execution of multiple operations concurrently (potentially spread over several locations) will be problematic for JTF-CS as laid out in our report. Our analysis identified gaps and inefficiencies that impact JTF-CS’s surge- and long-term capacity to sustain operations. The change options we have developed provide a foundation for the command to eliminate these gaps and inefficiencies. Feasibility mapping with the command allowed us to identify the change options within sole control of JTF-CS versus change options that reside outside of their control and will require support or action external to JTF-CS. For example, while JTF-CS can develop and employ a responsibility assignment matrix (e.g., RACI), JTF-CS cannot, without support from HHQ, fill critical billet gaps (i.e., aviation planner). NORTHCOM’s future operating environment in the context of homeland defense requires JTF-CS to not only be flexible and immediately responsive/highly adaptable but also to be able to sustain operations over the long-term and provide surge capacity for coast-to-coast DSCA response operations and associated requirements. We recommend JTF-CS and HHQ implement change options as described in Table 2 (see report PDF).

*See report PDF. 

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DISTRIBUTION STATEMENT A. Approved for public release; distribution unlimited.


  • Pages: 92
  • Document Number: DRM-2023-U-035609-Final
  • Publication Date: 6/30/2023
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