Chemical Weapons:

Lessons Learned Program Generally Effective but Could Be Improved and Expanded

GAO-02-890: Published: Sep 10, 2002. Publicly Released: Sep 10, 2002.

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The Army has been tasked to destroy 31,500 tons of highly toxic chemical agents by April 2007, the deadline set by an international treaty for the elimination of all chemical weapon stockpiles. To destroy the weapons, the Department of Defense (DOD) established the Army Chemical Demilitarization Program. The Army has destroyed over one-quarter of the U.S. stockpile as of March 2002. Originally, the Chem-Demil Program consisted only of the Chemical Stockpile Disposal Project, which was initiated in 1988 to incinerate chemical weapons at nine storage sites. In response to public concern about incineration, in 1994 Congress established the Alternative Technologies and Approaches Project to investigate alternatives to the baseline incineration process. The Chemical Stockpile Disposal Project operates a Programmatic Lessons Learned Program whose aim is to enhance safety, reduce or avoid unnecessary costs, and maintain the incineration schedule. This program has successfully supported the incineration project's primary goal to safely destroy chemical weapons and has captured and shared many lessons from past experiences and incidents. However, the Lessons Learned Program does not fully apply generally accepted knowledge management principles and lessons sharing best practices, thereby limiting its effectiveness. The program's management plan does not provide policy guidance for senior managers to help them in decision-making or daily operations. In addition, it does not have formal procedures to test or validate whether a corrective action has been effective in resolving its deficiency. Finally, the lessons learned database is difficult to search and does not prioritize lessons. The Lessons Learned Program has been effective in sharing knowledge among the different stakeholders within the Chemical Stockpile Disposal Project. However, as new components were created to destroy the stockpile, the scope of the Lessons Learned Program remained primarily limited to the incineration project. As a result, some components that could greatly benefit from timely and full sharing of lessons learned with the incineration project are not doing so.

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 direct the Secretary of the Army to develop policies and procedures for capturing and sharing lessons on an ongoing basis with the Alternative Technology and Approaches Project and in consultation with the Under Secretary of Defense (Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics).

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In July 2004, the Army's Lessons Learned Program was expanded to include all Systems Contractors, including the Alternative Technologies and Approaches Project. The Army now shares its lessons with all Systems Contractors.

    Recommendation: To improve the effectiveness and usefulness of the Chemical Demilitarization Program's Lessons Learned Program, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army to improve the organizational structure of the database so that users may easily find information and develop criteria to prioritize lessons in the database.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In July 2003, the Army's Systems Contractor converted the current Programmatic Lessons Learned database to an Internet-based program and made the organizational structure of the database more user-friendly.

    Recommendation: To improve the effectiveness and usefulness of the Chemical Demilitarization Program's Lessons Learned Program, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army to develop procedures to validate, monitor, and prioritize the lessons learned to ensure corrective actions fully address deficiencies identified as the most significant.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In October 2002, the Army said it had given systems contractors responsibility for prioritizing, monitoring, and validating lessons learned.

    Recommendation: To improve the effectiveness and usefulness of the Chemical Demilitarization Program's Lessons Learned Program, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army to develop guidance to assist managers in their decision making when making exceptions to lessons learned.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Army established an advisory board at headquarters and in the field for the chem-demil program to provide guidance to assist managers of the 8 sites in determining whether or not lessons should be adopted based on their applicability to a particular site.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army to develop policies and procedures for capturing and sharing lessons on an ongoing basis with the Assembled Chemical Weapons Assessment Program.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In July 2004, the Army's Lessons Learned Program was expanded to include all Systems Contractors, including the Assembled Chemical Weapons Program. The Army now shares its lessons with all Systems Contractors.

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