What GAO Found
United States Government Accountability Office
Why GAO Did This Study
Accountability Integrity Reliability
and Improved ProjectMana
ement Needed to Achieve Cleanup Pro
Highlights ofGAO-10-348, a report tocongressional requesters
Before the passage of federalenvironmental legislation in the1970s and 1980s, Department of Defense (DOD) activitiescontaminated millions of acres of soil and water on and near DODsites. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has certain oversightauthorities for cleaning upcontaminants on federal property,and has placed 1,620 of the mostcontaminated sites––including 141DOD installations––on its NationalPriorities List (NPL). As of February2009, after 10 or more years on theNPL, 11 DOD installations had notsigned the required interagencyagreements (IAG) to guide cleanupwith EPA. GAO was asked toexamine (1) the status of DODcleanup of hazardous substances atselected installations that lackedIAGs, and (2) obstacles, if any, tocleanup at these installations. GAOselected and visited threeinstallations, reviewed relevantstatutes and agency documents, andinterviewed agency officials.
What GAO Recommend
GAO is recommending, among otherthings, that EPA and DOD identifyoptions that would provide a uniformmethod for reporting cleanup progress at the installations andallow for transparency to Congressand the public. EPA and DOD agreedwith the recommendations directedat them. GAO is also suggesting thatCongress may want to considergiving EPA certain tools to enforceCERCLA at federal facilities withoutIAGs. DOD disagreed with thissuggestion. GAO believes EPA needsadditional authority to ensure timelyand proper cleanup at such sites.
EPA and DOD use different terms and metrics to report cleanup progress;therefore, the status of cleanup at Fort Meade Army Base, McGuire Air ForceBase (AFB), and Tyndall AFB is unclear. EPA reports that cleanup at all threeinstallations is in the early investigative phases, while DOD’s data suggest thatcleanup is further along and, in some cases, in mature stages. EPA and DODhave differing interpretations of cleanup progress because they describe andassess cleanup differently. In particular, while both agencies divideinstallations into smaller cleanup projects, DOD divides them into unitsgenerally smaller than EPA’s; therefore, DOD measures its progress in smallerincrements. Further, because DOD did not obtain EPA’s approval for keycleanup decisions, EPA does not recognize them. Unless key cleanupdecisions are justified, documented, and available to the public for review andcomment, they are not sufficient under the Comprehensive EnvironmentalResponse, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), and once an IAG is in place, some DOD cleanup work may have to be redone. When an agencyrefuses to enter into an IAG and cleanup progress lags, because of statutoryand other limitations, EPA cannot take steps––such as issuing and enforcingorders––to compel CERCLA cleanup as it would for a private party. A variety of obstacles have delayed cleanup progress at these installations. First,DOD’s persistent failure to enter IAGs, despite reaching agreement with EPA onthe basic terms, has made managing site cleanup and addressing routine matterschallenging at these installations. For example, in the absence of IAGs, DOD mayfund work at other sites ahead of these NPL sites. Second, DOD failed to disclosesome contamination to EPA and the public in a timely fashion, including lead shoton a playground, delaying cleanup and putting human health at risk. Third, theextensive use of performance-based contracts at these installations has created pressure to operate within price caps and fixed deadlines. In some cases, these pressures may have contributed to installations not exploring the full range of cleanup remedies, or relying on nonconstruction remedies, such as allowingcontaminated groundwater to attenuate over time rather than being cleaned up.In particular, Tyndall AFB’s long-standing lack of full compliance withenvironmental cleanup requirements, such as notification of hazardous releasesand EPA’s 2007 administrative order, has been an obstacle to verifiable cleanup of that installation.
round at Tyndall Air Force Ba
e in June 2009