Military Base Closures:

Opportunities Exist to Improve Environmental Cleanup Cost Reporting and to Expedite Transfer of Unneeded Property

GAO-07-166: Published: Jan 30, 2007. Publicly Released: Jan 30, 2007.

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The cleanup of environmental contamination on unneeded property resulting from prior defense base realignment and closure (BRAC) rounds has been a key impediment to the transfer of these properties and could be an issue in the transfer and reuse of unneeded property resulting from the 2005 BRAC round. GAO's analysis of available data indicates that, when completed, the cleanup for the four prior BRAC rounds is expected to cost about $13.2 billion and additional costs will be needed for BRAC 2005 property. These costs reduce BRAC savings, especially in the short term. Because of broad congressional interest in BRAC, GAO prepared this report under the Comptroller General's authority to conduct evaluations on his own initiative. GAO's objectives were to examine costs to clean up 2005 BRAC properties, progress in transferring prior BRAC rounds properties to other users, and opportunities to expedite cleanups and transfers. To address these issues, GAO analyzed cleanup cost estimates, interviewed environmental officials and visited seven bases.

While expected environmental cleanup costs for unneeded property arising from the 2005 BRAC round are not yet fully known, Department of Defense (DOD) data indicate that about $950 million will be needed to clean up these bases, adding to the estimated $13.2 billion total cleanup cost for the prior rounds. Although DOD's cleanup program has matured compared to prior BRAC rounds, there are still many unknowns and the cleanup estimate for the 2005 round should be considered preliminary. In fact, environmental cleanup costs are likely to increase as more intensive environmental investigations are undertaken, additional hazardous conditions are discovered, and future reuse plans are finalized. Furthermore, Congress does not have full visibility over the total cost of DOD's BRAC cleanup efforts because none of the four reports DOD prepares on various aspects of environmental cleanup present all types of costs--past and future--to complete cleanup at each base. Compiling a complete picture of all costs requires extracting information from multiple reports, as GAO has done to estimate the total cleanup cost for the four prior BRAC rounds. More complete and transparent cost information would assist Congress in conducting its oversight responsibilities for this multibillion dollar effort. While GAO's analysis shows that DOD continues to make progress in transferring over 502,500 acres of unneeded property from the four prior BRAC rounds--78 percent of the acres have now been transferred compared to 72 percent 2 years ago--over 112,300 acres remain untransferred. Comparatively, a total of about 102,000 acres are potentially transferable as a result of the 2005 BRAC round. Impediments to transfer continue to be related primarily to a variety of interrelated environmental cleanup issues, including limited technology to address unexploded ordnance and prolonged negotiations on compliance with environmental regulations. Opportunities exist to expedite the cleanup and transfer of unneeded 2005 BRAC properties compared with other BRAC rounds. Congress provided DOD with a wide range of property transfer authorities for prior BRAC rounds. In the past DOD did not use some tools as much as others out of deference to community land reuse plans. For example, low- and no-cost transfer tools accounted for 65 percent of all acres transferred, whereas public and negotiated sales accounted for 5 percent. DOD's March 2006 guidance now encourages the services to make full use of all tools for transferring properties resulting from both the 2005 and prior-year BRAC rounds. The services have processes in place to monitor their progress to clean up and transfer BRAC properties, but they are not required to report periodically to the Office of the Secretary of Defense on their successes and challenges in using various transfer authorities. Collectively, such lessons learned could help others expedite the cleanup and transfer of unneeded properties by maximizing the use of all available tools, thereby accelerating the economic benefits of property reuse to communities while also saving the ongoing caretaker costs being incurred by DOD for unneeded properties.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Although DOD concurred with our recommendation, it has not yet been implemented. In response to our report, DOD said they would implement the GAO recommendation to include the non-Defense Environmental Restoration Program by BRAC installation but that it would determine the proper vehicle for reporting such costs. Subsequently, DOD indicated that it would use the Defense Environmental Programs Annual Report to Congress to provide Congress all of the cleanup information on the DOD BRAC environmental programs by installation. However, in our reviews of this annual report, we still have not seen evidence that DOD is reporting to Congress enough of the cost data by installation to state that DOD is meeting the intent of our recommendation. Specifically, our review of the latest Defense Environmental Programs Annual Report to Congress does show tables by installation, both BRAC and non-BRAC, but these tables did not include the non-Defense Environmental Restoration Program costs, which was the same situation we found during the engagement.

    Recommendation: In order to provide more complete and transparent cost information for the environmental cleanup of properties from all BRAC rounds, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense (Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics) to report all costs (Defense Environmental Restoration Program (DERP) and non-DERP)--past and future--required to complete environmental cleanup at each BRAC installation and to fully explain the scope and limitations of all the environmental cleanup costs DOD reports to Congress. This information should be included in the annual BRAC budget justification documentation since it would accompany information Congress considers when making resource allocation decisions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with the recommendation and has subsequently taken action to substantially implement our recommendation within the last two years. Specifically, the DOD Inspector General (DOD/IG) received a written follow-up response on our recommendation indicating that the military departments are required to now report on the status of all excess real property to include the available acreages, and under which authority the land was transferred, conveyed, or otherwise disposed of. In June of 2011, we contacted the responsible OSD office and were provided sufficient evidence that all four of the military services are now (within the last two years) implementing our recommendation as intended. In addition, a DOD/IG written response of February 25, 2011 when they closed out the GAO recommendation stated that the Under Secretary of Defense (Installations & Environment) in concert with the Military Components, continually reviews the need for new authorities and changes to existing authorities. As a result, recent actions taken by DOD are now substantially implementing the GAO recommendation and such action is helping to ensure that the military services are taking full advantage of all tools available to clean up and transfer unneeded BRAC properties by providing excess real property data to OSD and by working with the military services to review effectiveness disposal authorities.

    Recommendation: In order to help ensure that the military services are taking full advantage of all tools available to clean up and transfer unneeded BRAC properties from the 2005 round, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense (Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics) to require that the military services periodically report to the Office of the Secretary of Defense on the status and proposed strategy for transferring these properties and include an assessment of the usefulness of all tools at their disposal. This information should be placed in an easily shared location, such as a Web site, so that each service, and even the local communities and private sector, can share and benefit from lessons learned.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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