Magazine article National Defense

Industry-Government Competitions to Begin for Dwindling Defense Environmental Dollars

Magazine article National Defense

Industry-Government Competitions to Begin for Dwindling Defense Environmental Dollars

Article excerpt

The Pentagon's environmental cleanup program commands less than 1 percent of the Defense Departments budget. It does, however, boast growing attention from the civilian and military leadership.

Since the early days of the first Clinton term-when the Pentagon created an environmental security branch-the Defense Department has sought to convince the nation that the military is no longer in the business of trashing the environment. The polluting practices of the Cold War have given way to responsible environmental stewardship, assert defense officials.

The rhetoric and change of attitude notwithstanding, the Defense Department is increasingly under pressure to turn the talk into action. It will have to spend the next 10 to 15 years cleaning up decades worth of hazardous waste and buried munitions throughout the United States and at many U.S. military bases overseas.

There are at least 600 sites that currently pose safety threats to the public because they have unexploded ordnance in the ground, according to the Army Corps of Engineers.

The estimated cost to accomplish the cleanup ranges from $15 billion to $30 billion. The current defense spending plan provides less than $2 billion a year for environmental cleanup.

For Fiscal Year 1999, the Clinton administration also requested nearly $2 billion for Pentagon environmental compliance and about $500 million for other activities such as conservation, pollution prevention, and technology development.

The proposed $4.3 billion defense environmental security spending plan is $1 billion less than it was in 1994, when it peaked at $5.3 billion.

The funding decline notwithstanding, the business of cleaning up defense installations-both active and inactive-will continue for several decades even if only at a slow pace.

"We are paying a heavy price because we neglected to put environmental programs in place at the right time," says Jacques Gansler, undersecretary of defense for acquisition and technology, during a recent environmental symposium in Tampa, Florida, sponsored by the National Defense Industrial Association.

There are thousands of military installations that require immediate attention, he asserts.

The Defense Department is the nation's third largest landowner, occupying 25 million acres.

Stable cleanup funding is "very important," says Gansler, not only to restore the polluted land, but also to prevent further contamination. "What is clean must stay clean," he says.

Currently, 80 percent of the hazardous materials the Defense Department generates result from the way weapon systems are built. So the Pentagon is now dramatically changing its manufacturing practices to make them environmentally friendly

According to Gansler, the Pentagon has also made significant progress in cutting toxic waste. In 1994, the department released 10.6 million pounds of toxic chemicals into the air. By 1995, it had been reduced to 6.7 million pounds. By 2000, officials predict an additional 20 percent reduction.

Defense Department investments in environmental technologies will continue, Gansler says. "You always need more." During the next five years, "we will maintain the science and technology" funding that will underpin future cleanup efforts.

Privatization

During the past year, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen made no secret of his desire to trim Pentagon expenses so more money can be funneled into modernization projects and new technologies for the future.

One way to do that, he explains in his most recent management blueprint that is called the Defense Reform Initiative, is to open up Pentagon activities to market competition. By 1999, he says, the Defense Department will scrutinize its entire military and civilian work force and identify which functions are commercial in nature and could be opened up for competition under a legal process called A-76. …

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