Chemical Weapons and Materiel:

Key Factors Affecting Disposal Costs and Schedule

NSIAD-97-18: Published: Feb 10, 1997. Publicly Released: Feb 10, 1997.

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GAO assessed the Department of Defense's (DOD) programs for destroying the U.S. stockpile of chemical munitions and planning for the disposal of nonstockpile chemical warfare materiel, focusing on: (1) the programs' cost and schedule; (2) alternatives for improving program effectiveness and efficiency; and (3) actions the Army has and is taking to improve the programs.

GAO found that: (1) while there is general agreement about the need to destroy the chemical stockpile and related materiel, progress has slowed due to the lack of consensus among DOD and affected states and localities about the destruction method that should be used; (2) as a result, the cost and schedule for the disposal programs are uncertain; however, they will cost more than the estimated $24.4 billion above current expenditures and take longer than currently planned; (3) key factors impacting the programs include public concerns over the safety of incineration, compliance with environmental laws and regulations, legislative requirements, and the introduction of alternative disposal technologies; (4) the Chemical Stockpile Disposal Program cost and schedule are largely driven by the degree to which states and local communities are in agreement with the proposed disposal method at the remaining stockpile sites; (5) based on program experience, reaching agreement has consistently taken longer than the Army anticipated; (6) congressional direction to research and develop alternative technologies to destroy assembled chemical munitions indicates that there are continued public concerns about the proposed disposal method; (7) until DOD and the affected states and localities reach agreement on a disposal method for the remaining stockpile sites, the Army will not be able to predict the Chemical Stockpile Disposal Program cost and schedule with any degree of accuracy; (8) many of the problems experienced in the stockpile program are also likely to affect the Army's ability to implement the Nonstockpile Chemical Materiel Program; (9) recognizing the difficulty of satisfactorily resolving public concerns associated with each individual disposal location, suggestions have been made to change the programs' basic approach to destruction; (10) however, the suggestions create trade-offs for decisionmakers and would require changes in existing legal requirements; (11) these suggestions have included deferring plans for additional disposal facilities until an acceptable alternative technology to incineration is developed, consolidating disposal operations at a national or regional sites, destroying selected nonstockpile chemical warfare materiel in stockpile disposal facilities, establishing a centralized disposal facility for nonstockpile materiel, and modifying existing laws and regulations to standardize environmental requirements; (12) DOD and the Army have taken actions in response to congressional direction and GAO recommendations to improve program management; and (13) however, the Army cannot implement some of the more significant initiatives without the cooperation and approval of state regulatory agencies.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On March 11, 1997, the Subcommittee on Military Procurement, House Committee on National Security held a hearing on the status of the chemical weapons disposal program. During that hearing, in which GAO participated, the Committee discussed alternatives to the current approach including suggestions relating to the creation of alternative technologies, consolidation of stockpile disposal operations, utilization of stockpile facilities for nonstockpile items, centralization of nonstockpile destruction, and standardization of environmental laws and regulations.

    Matter: As Congress continues its oversight of the chemical stockpile and nonstockpile disposal programs and considers modifications or alternatives to the current approach, it may wish to include consideration of the suggestions discussed in this report relating to the creation of alternative technologies, consolidation of stockpile disposal operations, utilization of stockpile facilities for nonstockpile items, centralization of nonstockpile destruction, and standardization of environmental laws and requirements.

 

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