Hazardous Waste:

Management Problems Continue at Overseas Military Bases

NSIAD-91-231: Published: Aug 28, 1991. Publicly Released: Sep 27, 1991.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed hazardous waste management at the Department of Defense's (DOD) overseas installations, focusing on whether DOD bases overseas were protecting humans and the environment.

GAO found that: (1) due to unclear and outdated DOD policy and service regulations, it was difficult to determine the extent to which overseas bases should comply with U.S. laws when host country hazardous waste laws either did not exist or were not as stringent as U.S. laws; (2) some overseas bases did not provide adequate oversight of their activities that generated hazardous waste, and Inspectors General, audit agencies, and commands did not provide sufficient oversight; (3) shortcomings in hazardous waste management policy, training, and oversight have resulted in inadequate efforts to minimize the amount of hazardous waste being generated; (4) as of October 1990, 18 host country claims totalling $21.8 million resulted from the improper handling, storage, or disposal of hazardous waste; (5) DOD accepted responsibility for portions of some of these claims and, as of October 1990, it had partially reimbursed some of the claimants for about $50,000; (6) additional environmental pollution claims may be brought against U.S. forces at nearly 300 additional sites with an estimated settlement cost of $111 million for one-third of the claims; and (7) inappropriate hazardous waste management practices at overseas bases may jeopardize political and defense relationships with host nations.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should improve the management of hazardous waste at overseas bases by: (1) clarifying the policy on whether U.S. bases overseas are to comply with U.S. environmental laws to protect human health and the environment when host country environmental laws either do not exist or are not as stringent as U.S. laws; and (2) ensuring that implementing service regulations conform with DOD policy.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On March 22, 1993, a DOD contact said that the reply to GAO was still undergoing review and he could not estimate when a reply would be sent. DOD reports no further action, except that it has recently reopened the case. In a October 13, 1994, letter, the Deputy Undersecretary of Defense (Environmental Security) informed GAO that DOD had issued Directive 6050.16 in September 1991 setting policy on hazardous waste management and, in October 1992, issued overseas guidance and had appointed an executive agent for each host nation or area of responsibility.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should require the services to reevaluate their hazardous waste management programs at overseas bases to ensure that the services provide needed oversight by the applicable organizations not located at bases to ensure compliance with host country or U.S. laws.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On March 22, 1993, a DOD contact said that the reply to GAO was still undergoing review and he could not estimate when a reply would be sent. DOD reports no further action, except that it has recently reopened the case. For additional details, see response to first recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should require the services to reevaluate their hazardous waste management programs at overseas bases to ensure that the services provide improved base-level management and oversight of the hazardous waste programs and operations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On March 22, 1993, a DOD contact said that the reply to GAO was still undergoing review and he could not estimate when a reply would be sent. DOD reports no further action, except that it has recently reopened the case. For additional details, see response to first recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should require the services to reevaluate their hazardous waste management programs at overseas bases to ensure that the services provide required training in a timely and consistent manner.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On March 22, 1993, a DOD contact said that the reply to GAO was still undergoing review and he could not estimate when a reply would be sent. DOD reports no further action, except that it has recently reopened the case. For additional details, see response to first recommendation.

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