I was watching an A&E documentary the other day called "Day After Disaster" and, in it, the continuity of government plan introduced by Reagan was discussed. I hadn't heard anything about it, and found it intriguing. Apparently, Reagan, by secret executive order, overruled the legal order of succession mandated by the constitution and the Presidential Succession Act of 1947, in the case of a catastrophic attack on the United States which killed both the President and Vice President. Under his plan, martial law would immediately be declared, and a cabinet member, previously selected by the President, would become the acting President and Commander in Chief. The normal order of succession would be ignored, and congress would not necessarily be reconvened. Later administrations, citing information classification, refuse to discuss current succession plans. Below is the link to an article written on Reagan's plan, and some excerpts from that article. http://www.commondreams.org/views04/0318-14.htm The Armageddon Plan by James Mann Excerpts: At least once a year during the 1980s Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld vanished. Cheney was working diligently on Capitol Hill, as a congressman rising through the ranks of the Republican leadership. Rumsfeld, who had served as Gerald Ford's Secretary of Defense, was a hard-driving business executive in the Chicago areawhere, as the head of G. D. Searle & Co., he dedicated time and energy to the success of such commercial products as Nutra-Sweet, Equal, and Metamucil. Yet for periods of three or four days at a time no one in Congress knew where Cheney was, nor could anyone at Searle locate Rumsfeld. Even their wives were in the dark; they were handed only a mysterious Washington phone number to use in case of emergency. After leaving their day jobs Cheney and Rumsfeld usually made their way to Andrews Air Force Base, outside Washington. From there, in the middle of the night, each manjoined by a team of forty to sixty federal officials and one member of Ronald Reagan's Cabinetslipped away to some remote location in the United States, such as a disused military base or an underground bunker. A convoy of lead-lined trucks carrying sophisticated communications equipment and other gear would head to each of the locations. Rumsfeld and Cheney were principal actors in one of the most highly classified programs of the Reagan Administration. Under it U.S. officials furtively carried out detailed planning exercises for keeping the federal government running during and after a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. The program called for setting aside the legal rules for presidential succession in some circumstances, in favor of a secret procedure for putting in place a new "President" and his staff. The idea was to concentrate on speed, to preserve "continuity of government," and to avoid cumbersome procedures; the speaker of the House, the president pro tempore of the Senate, and the rest of Congress would play a greatly diminished role. …….. The Constitution makes the Vice President the successor if the President dies or is incapacitated, but it establishes no order of succession beyond that. Federal law, most recently the Presidential Succession Act of 1947, establishes further details. If the Vice President dies or cannot serve, then the speaker of the House of Representatives becomes President. After him in the line of succession come the president pro tempore of the Senate …… and then the members of the Cabinet, in the order in which their posts were created, starting with the Secretary of State and moving to the Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of Defense, and so on. The Reagan Administration, however, worried that this procedure might not meet the split-second needs of an all-out war with the Soviet Union. ….. The outline of the plan was simple. Once the United States was …… under nuclear attack, three teams would be sent from Washington to three different locations around the United States. Each team would be prepared to assume leadership of the country, and would include a Cabinet member who was prepared to become President. ……. The obvious candidates were people who had served at high levels in the executive branch, preferably with the national-security apparatus. …… One of the questions studied in these exercises was what concrete steps a team might take to establish its credibility. ….. One option was to have the new "President" order an American submarine up from the depths to the surface of the ocean, since the power to surface a submarine would be a clear sign that he was now in full control of U.S. military forces. ……. "One of the awkward questions we faced," one participant in the planning of the program explains, "was whether to reconstitute Congress after a nuclear attack. It was decided that no, it would be easier to operate without them." For one thing, it was felt that reconvening Congress, and replacing members who had been killed, would take too long. Moreover, if Congress did reconvene, it might elect a new speaker of the House, whose claim to the presidency might have greater legitimacy than that of a Secretary of Agriculture or Commerce who had been set up as President under Reagan's secret program. …… Ronald Reagan established the continuity-of-government program with a secret executive order. According to Robert McFarlane, who served for a time as Reagan's National Security Adviser, the President himself made the final decision about who would head each of the three teams. Within Reagan's National Security Council the "action officer" for the secret program was Oliver North, later the central figure in the Iran-contra scandal.