Military Base Closures:

Reducing High Costs of Environmental Cleanup Requires Difficult Choices

NSIAD-96-172: Published: Sep 5, 1996. Publicly Released: Sep 16, 1996.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the costs of the Department of Defense's (DOD) environmental cleanup efforts under the base realignment and closure (BRAC) process, focusing on the: (1) reasons that cleanups are so costly; and (2) potential for reducing costs and the impact on program goals.

GAO found that: (1) as of March 1996, DOD had allocated about $3.4 billion for the BRAC environmental cleanup program; (2) as more bases are closed and more cleanup actions are underway, program costs are likely to increase significantly; (3) although DOD has not computed a total cost estimate for the program, available DOD financial data indicate that program costs are likely to exceed $11 billion; (4) the key reasons for the high cost of closing base cleanups include the large number of contaminated sites and difficulties associated with types of contamination, requirements of federal and state laws and regulations, lack of cost-effective cleanup technology for certain contaminants, and intended property reuse; (5) DOD has identified over 5,300 potentially contaminated sites at its BRAC bases; (6) the laws and regulations DOD must abide by in expediting property transfer for reuse have proven to be time- consuming, complex, and costly; (7) technology limitations in cleaning property of certain contaminants (such as unexploded ordnance) have proved costly; (8) options for reducing cleanup costs at closing bases include deferring or extending certain cleanup actions, modifying existing laws and regulations, adopting more cost-effective cleanup technologies, and sharing costs with the ultimate user of the property; (9) all of these options may adversely impact programmatic goals, thereby presenting decisionmakers with difficult choices in developing a cost-effective environmental cleanup program; (10) deferring or extending cleanup actions may delay property transfer and reuse, hurt the economic revitalization of communities affected by the closure process, and harm the environment and health as well; (11) modifying law and regulations may increase environmental risk, thereby increasing public resistance and dissatisfaction; (12) adopting more cost- effective technologies may delay the program because new technologies currently under development may not be available for years and the new technologies may not be more cost- effective than existing technologies; and (13) sharing costs with the ultimate user could present problems because of unknown future liabilities and difficulty establishing the value of the property.

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