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Defense > 15. DOD Excess Ammunition

The Department of Defense could potentially reduce its storage, demilitarization, and disposal costs by hundreds of thousands of dollars by transferring excess serviceable conventional ammunition, including small arms ammunition, to federal, state, and local government agencies.

Why This Area Is Important

The Department of Defense (DOD) manages conventional small arms ammunition that includes bullets for rifles, hand guns, and shotguns, some of which are also used by other government agencies and departments. When a military service determines that serviceable ammunition is beyond its requirements, that ammunition is offered to the other services. If that ammunition is not taken, it is transferred to the Army, which manages the stockpile of conventional ammunition awaiting demilitarization and disposal (CAD stockpile) and takes actions to demilitarize and dispose of the ammunition in the stockpile. 

According to data provided by DOD officials, as of February 2015, the CAD stockpile was about 529,373 tons, which included 3,533 tons of serviceable small arms ammunition.[1] DOD estimates that from fiscal year 2016 to fiscal year 2020, it will add an additional 582,789 tons of conventional ammunition to this CAD stockpile, making the proper management of the disposal of such large quantities of explosive materiel critical. DOD demilitarizes and disposes of the conventional ammunition by burning it, detonating it with other explosives, or using a number of closed disposal technologies that control or clean the discharge waste from the demilitarization process.[2] In fiscal year 2015, DOD spent about $118 million to demilitarize and dispose of conventional ammunition.  DOD can also reduce the CAD stockpile by transferring useable small arms ammunition to other federal, state, and local agencies.



[1] The February 2015 data were the latest available information that GAO reported in its July 2015 report, on which this report section is based. The types of ammunition in the stockpile include items ranging from small arms cartridges, to rockets, mortars, and artillery, to tactical missiles.

[2] The Secretary of the Army serves as DOD’s Single Manager for Conventional Ammunition (SMCA), and is responsible for centrally managing all aspects of the life cycle management of conventional ammunition, from research and development through demilitarization and disposal. Because the Army centrally manages DOD’s demilitarization activities as the SMCA, in this context, GAO refers to the Army as DOD.

What GAO Found

GAO reported in July 2015 that DOD had reduced some of its demilitarization and disposal costs by transferring some excess ammunition to other government agencies as opposed to demilitarizing and disposing of it, but that DOD does not have a systematic means for communicating with these agencies about available excess ammunition. Communicating in a systematic manner with other government agencies on available excess ammunition could help reduce the CAD stockpile and save DOD hundreds of thousands of dollars in storage, demilitarization, and disposal costs.

Section 346 of the Ike Skelton National Defense Authorization Act, as amended, requires, among other things, that serviceable small arms ammunition and ammunition components in excess of military needs not be demilitarized, destroyed, or disposed of unless they are in excess of commercial demands or certified as unserviceable or unsafe by the Secretary of Defense.[1] Before offering the excess serviceable small arms ammunition for commercial sale, this provision outlines a preference that DOD offer the small arms ammunition, such as bullets and ammunition components, for purchase or transfer to other federal government agencies and departments, or for sale to state and local law enforcement, firefighting, homeland security, and emergency management agencies, subject to certain conditions. In addition, DOD Manual 4140.01, Volume 6, states that the Secretary of Defense can transfer excess ammunition suitable for law enforcement activities, including counter-drug and counter-terrorism activities, to other federal and state agencies.[2]  However, the DOD manual does not specify how the transfer of the ammunition should be facilitated.

In July 2015, GAO reported that there have been instances of DOD transfers of ammunition to other government agencies but that these have been done informally and on a limited basis. For example, GAO reported that in fiscal year 2014, DOD provided 38 million rounds of small arms ammunition to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and 7.5 million rounds of small arms ammunition to the U.S. Marshals Service. In 2015, according to DOD officials, the department also transferred approximately 10 million rounds of 5.56 millimeter ammunition to the U.S. Marshals Service, which uses the ammunition for training purposes. DOD officials stated that this transfer saved the department approximately $968,000 in demilitarization and disposal costs. In addition, DOD officials noted that DOD transferred an unspecified amount of small arms ammunition to state enforcement agencies—the Texas Rangers and Pennsylvania State Police—about a decade ago, but they could not identify any additional requests from or transfers to state or local agencies.

According to DOD officials, DOD uses informal methods—such as relying on relationships with agency officials and contacting them by phone or e-mail—to communicate information about available excess ammunition. DOD could potentially save hundreds of thousands of dollars in future storage, demilitarization and disposal costs if it provided information about excess ammunition to law enforcement agencies in a more systematic manner. Law enforcement agencies, such as the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security (including the Immigration and Customs Enforcement), annually procure millions of dollars in ammunition. GAO reported in January 2014 that the ammunition purchases are driven primarily by firearms training and qualification requirements for the firearm-carrying workforce. For example, according to Department of Homeland Security officials, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has an estimated annual 5.56 millimeter ammunition requirement of approximately 25 million rounds. Department of Homeland Security officials stated that the agency uses the ammunition for training and weapons qualifications and has expressed interest in meeting a significant amount of its annual usage with serviceable excess DOD 5.56 millimeter ammunition. Such a transfer could also produce cost savings for DOD in avoiding the disposal and demilitarization of this ammunition.

How much DOD could save in storage, demilitarization, and disposal costs would depend upon how much ammunition could be transferred to other services.  According to officials with several law enforcement agencies within the Department of Justice, there are potential challenges to using the military version of the conventional ammunition. For example, FBI officials stated that they obtained excess ammunition from DOD in 2014 for training purposes but initially experienced problems in using the military version of the ammunition. The agency modified their weapons to avoid damage. FBI officials stated that they would like to continue to obtain ammunition from DOD but would need to test the ammunition first before use. The U.S. Marshals Service did not note any challenges with using the ammunition that it received from DOD, and reported that it could use DOD’s ammunition for firearms training but not for qualification because there is a different standard and type of ammunition required for these purposes.While in some cases challenges associated with acquiring DOD ammunition would need to be addressed, without establishing a formal means to communicate with and provide other government agencies with information on available excess serviceable ammunition, DOD could miss opportunities to reduce its overall storage, demilitarization, and disposal costs by transferring such ammunition to other government agencies. 



[1] The Ike Skelton National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011, Pub. L. No. 111-383, § 346 (2011), as amended by the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012, Pub. L. No. 112-81, § 361 (2011).

[2] This manual references 10 U.S.C. § 2576a, under which DOD is permitted to transfer (sell or donate) ammunition to federal or state agencies where the Secretary of Defense determines that the ammunition is “(A) suitable for use by the agencies in law enforcement activities, including counter-drug and counter-terrorism activities; and (B) excess to the needs of the Department of Defense.” The ammunition must also be part of the existing stock of DOD, accepted by the recipient agency on an as-is, where-is basis, transferred without the expenditure of any funds available to DOD for the procurement of defense equipment, and transferred such that all costs incurred subsequent to the transfer of the property are borne or reimbursed by the recipient agency. Finally, there is a stated preference for those applications indicating that the transferred property will be used in counter-drug or counter-terrorism activities of the recipient agency.

Actions Needed

To improve the visibility and awareness of serviceable excess ammunition in the CAD stockpile that could potentially be transferred to other government agencies, thereby reducing costs to DOD, in July 2015, GAO recommended that the Secretary of Defense direct the Secretary of the Army to take the following action:

  • Develop a systematic means to make information available to other government agencies on excess ammunition to include small arms ammunition that could be used to meet their needs.

Taking the action would allow DOD to potentially save hundreds of thousands of dollars by reducing the storage, demilitarization, and disposal costs for DOD. A more precise estimated amount of future potential cost savings is difficult to quantify because the quantities of available DOD excess ammunition as well as the government agencies and departments annual requirements for ammunition vary from year to year.

How GAO Conducted Its Work

The information contained in this analysis is based on findings from the reports listed in the related GAO products section and additional work GAO conducted to follow up on its recommendation in 2015. To assess the extent to which DOD adequately shared information on the quantity, condition, and location of excess, obsolete, and unserviceable conventional ammunition for each military service, GAO reviewed DOD’s inventory data on excess, obsolete, and unserviceable conventional ammunition held in the CAD stockpile as of February 2015. Further, GAO obtained information from and interviewed officials at DOD and federal law enforcement agencies, specifically those from the Department of Homeland Security (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and Department of Justice (U.S. Marshals Service and Federal Bureau of Investigation).  GAO used its January 2014 report, which described ammunition purchases of the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice, to select the federal law enforcement agencies that could potentially use excess serviceable ammunition in the CAD stockpile for training purposes. In addition, GAO reviewed documents from the federal law enforcement agencies that obtained excess ammunition from DOD to identify the amount of ammunition transferred. Agencies that are able to obtain serviceable ammunition in transfers from DOD would see reductions in their procurement costs, although we did not estimate the extent of such savings.

Table 10 in appendix V lists the programs GAO identified that might have opportunities for cost savings. 

Agency Comments & GAO Contact

In commenting on GAO’s July 2015 report on which this analysis is based, DOD concurred with the recommendation. DOD stated that Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics would ensure that the Secretary of the Army is tasked to develop a systematic means to make information available to other government agencies on excess ammunition. However, in conducting follow-up work, GAO found that DOD continues to transfer ammunition to federal law enforcement agencies on an informal basis and no formal process has been implemented.

GAO provided a draft of this report section to the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice for review and comment. In an email received on March 3, 2016, the Department of Homeland Security agreed with the material facts as presented and provided technical comments, which were incorporated as appropriate.  In an email received on March 4, 2016, the Department of Justice agreed with the material facts as presented. GAO provided a Statement of Facts of this draft report section to the Department of Defense for review and comment.  In an email received on February 27, 2016, the Department of Defense agreed with the material facts as presented.   

For additional information about this area, contact Zina Merritt at (202) 512-5257 or merrittz@gao.gov.