National Defense-Related Silver Needs Should Be Reevaluated and Alternative Disposal Methods Explored

EMD-82-24: Published: Jan 11, 1982. Publicly Released: Jan 11, 1982.

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John W. Sprague
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GAO was requested to evaluate the consequences of a sale of silver from the National Defense Stockpile, a supply of materials retained to prevent costly dependence upon foreign supply sources during national emergencies. Specifically, GAO was asked to address all aspects of the sale, including changes which have occurred since the sale was last justified and alternatives to disposing of any excess silver.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) determined that the supply of silver from domestic production and reliable imports exceeded the estimated quantity required to sustain the United States for periods of not less than 3 years in the event of a national emergency. Subsequent legislation has suspended a proposed disposal pending a redetermination that the silver to be disposed of is in excess of stockpile requirements. Several factors used to establish stockpile goals for all strategic materials, including a zero silver goal, have changed. These changes have: (1) increased projected defense-related demand for silver during national emergencies; and (2) reduced the availability of silver from existing domestic mines and processors. Additionally, three major foreign suppliers have protested the disposal, alleging that a sale will depress the market price, resulting in decreased employment and foreign exchange earnings. To dispose of the silver, the General Services Administration held weekly auctions, but the sale did not ensure that the disposal would be for domestic consumption nor did it ensure that the short-term market price of silver would not be depressed relative to what it had been. GAO explored disposal alternatives, including coinage programs, small silver bars, transferring or selling the silver to the U.S. Treasury, and leaving the silver in the National Defense Stockpile. The bullion coinage program appears to be the most attractive alternative that should be considered.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Interior has never released the study on the need for stockpile silver. It now appears that the report has been permanently shelved. As of October 1985, there were no proposals for a massive disposal of stockpile silver. If such a proposal should resurface, GAO may wish to challenge it.

    Recommendation: The Director, FEMA, in evaluating various factors and information, should specifically consider: (1) the most recent war scenario hypothesized in terms of participants, war fronts, type of military action, and warning time; (2) defense-related uses of silver during past national emergencies; (3) reduced expansion from existing mines during wartime; (4) decreasing domestic smelting capacity; (5) the cost of silver from recycling, domestic stocks, and foreign suppliers; (6) the impact that selling the silver at auction may have on relations between the United States and its major foreign suppliers; and (7) long-term uncertainties relating to projected increased U.S. dependency on foreign silver sources and the possibility that a silver stockpile goal could be reestablished at some future date.

    Agency Affected: Federal Emergency Management Agency


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