Environmental Cleanup:

Too Many High Priority Sites Impede DOD's Program

NSIAD-94-133: Published: Apr 21, 1994. Publicly Released: May 4, 1994.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Department of Defense's (DOD) environmental cleanup program, focusing on: (1) DOD progress in its cleanup efforts and its estimated costs; (2) DOD plans for completing the cleanup at high priority installations; and (3) the factors that have affected the cleanup of high priority sites.

GAO found that: (1) as of September 1993, DOD has spent $3.76 billion on cleanups at its high priority sites, but its progress has been slow and relatively few sites have been cleaned up; (2) most DOD cleanup expenditures have been for environmental studies; (3) DOD estimates that it will cost $18.2 billion to clean up its 254 high priority installations, but actual costs will probably increase; (4) DOD has proposed revising its cleanup process to develop cooperative relationships with regulatory agencies, set up priorities based on risk, accelerate cleanups, increase management attention, and improve the environmental funding process; (5) the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) system for identifying DOD high priority sites for cleanup has led to a large number of installations being listed while some more contaminated unlisted sites pose a greater risk; (6) DOD must apply the entire cleanup process to all contaminated sites even if the contamination is minor; (7) for DOD to use its limited cleanup resources efficiently, DOD and EPA must evaluate the large number of DOD installations on the National Priorities List (NPL) and determine which are truly high priority; and (8) factors affecting DOD cleanup of high priority sites include the complex and time-consuming cleanup process, prolonged environmental studies, disagreements with regulatory agencies on the extent of cleanups, cleanup issues that do not pertain to government installations, and scarce resources.

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 and the Administrator, EPA, should revise the system for designating high priority sites and reduce the number of high priority sites currently included as part of the high priority program to a more manageable number by including only those DOD sites that would qualify as NPL sites in the private sector.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD is actively engaged in discussing the possible modification of EPA policies. DOD has proposed amendment language to address concern in the superfund reauthorization process which would defer NPL listing for DOD sites that are accomplishing cleanup under RCRA corrective action. According to DOD, some DOD installations have made good progress under RCRA corrective action programs and in these cases, NPL listing may provide limited benefits.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense and the Administrator, EPA, should revise the system for designating high priority sites and reduce the number of high priority sites currently included as part of the high priority program to a more manageable number by including only those DOD sites that would qualify as NPL sites in the private sector.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD has briefed EPA and state regulators on assessing relative risk at all installation sites. Data GAO obtained in early 1996 indicates that 70 percent of the 10,361 operation and formerly used defense sites may require future cleanup.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense and the Administrator, EPA, should modify the EPA process for applying National Contingency Plan requirements to all DOD sites.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD is actively engaged in discussing the possible modification of EPA policies. DOD has proposed amendment language to address concern in the superfund reauthorization process which would defer NPL listing for DOD sites that are accomplishing cleanup under RCRA corrective action. According to DOD, some DOD installations have made good progress under RCRA corrective action programs and in these cases, NPL listing may provide limited benefits.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense and the Administrator, EPA, should modify the EPA process for applying National Contingency Plan requirements to all DOD sites.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD is actively engaged in discussing the possible modification of EPA policies. DOD has proposed amendment language to address concern in the superfund reauthorization process which would defer NPL listing for DOD sites that are accomplishing cleanup under RCRA corrective action. According to DOD, some DOD installations have made good progress under RCRA corrective action programs and in these cases, NPL listing may provide limited benefits.

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