Military Bases:

Environmental Impact at Closing Installations

NSIAD-95-70: Published: Feb 23, 1995. Publicly Released: Feb 23, 1995.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the environmental cleanup of Department of Defense (DOD) facilities slated for closing, focusing on: (1) the cleanup cost, transferability, and reuse of property by nonfederal users; and (2) DOD progress, difficulties, and plans to address the problems.

GAO found that: (1) despite DOD actions to resolve environmental cleanup issues at bases slated for closure or realignment, problems remain with determining accurate cleanup costs, timing appropriations with cleanup needs, prioritizing available cleanup funds, and protecting the government's interests when leasing or transferring property; (2) cleanup costs will probably exceed the current DOD estimate of $5.4 billion because of additional cleanup needs and longer cleanup periods; (3) DOD could postpone clean up of some bases until after closure, since they will remain federal property or be under long-term lease to nonfederal users; (4) cleanup progress has been limited, since DOD is still studying the most contaminated sites; (5) the full extent of DOD cleanup actions may not be known for years; (6) some bases may not be cleaned up by the time they close, partly due to the need to develop new technology to cleanup groundwater, landfills, and unexploded ordnance sites; and (7) DOD has developed a fast track cleanup program to accelerate base cleanups, but it needs to improve program implementation.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD partially concurred, and said that it was in the process of conducting an installation-by-installation review of every major closing or realigning base. DOD stated that it would use the results of that review to evaluate program financing and make adjustments where needed. DOD's planned action will not be as detailed as GAO had recommended.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should develop a total environmental program cost estimate of the financial impact of realignment and closure actions that reflects: (1) a more complete description of the costs as identified in the installations' base realignment and closure (BRAC) cleanup plans, including estimates for compliance, preservation of natural and cultural resources, and long-term costs associated with cleanup and monitoring; and (2) unfunded liabilities where property is being retained by the federal government and cleanup will be deferred.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD did not concur and maintained that the funding priorities already being used were appropriate.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should approve sites for high priority environmental funding only when cleanup or compliance is required or cost-effective for nonfederal reuse to occur.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD did not concur and stated that it already had goals and measures in place and that those standards were appropriate and adequate.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should establish Fast-Track Cleanup Program standards that will allow DOD to assess the steps taken to accelerate the cleanup process at BRAC installations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense


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