U.S. Water News Online
WASHINGTON -- The Defense Department is overstating the
progress it has made in cleaning up contaminated soil and water and
unexploded ammunition at former military sites, congressional
auditors said in a report requested by House Democrats.
A Pentagon report on the $200 million-a-year program provided ``a
misleading picture'' by claiming that more than half the work had
been done when actually only about a third had been completed, the
General Accounting Office said.
``As a result, it appears that after 15 years and expenditures of
$2.6 billion, over 50 percent of the ... projects have been
completed,'' the GAO said in its report, released by Democrats. ``In
reality, only about 32 percent of those projects that required actual
cleanup actions have been completed, and those are the cheapest and
least technologically challenging.''
The program, run by the Army Corps of Engineers, targets sites
thought to contain hazardous, toxic, and radioactive wastes in the
soil and water or in containers such as underground storage tanks.
Of the more than 9,000 potential cleanup sites across the country
as of Oct. 1, 2000, the GAO report found, about one-quarter have
cleanup projects. The Corps determined that most did not require or
were not eligible for cleanup, according to the GAO.
However, the Corps reported many of those projects as having been
completed, even though they were closed merely as the result of
administrative action rather than any actual cleanup.
Spokesman Lt. Col. Eugene Pawlik said the Corps probably would
soon have more to say on the report. ``We've got to read the report
and review the contents,'' he said. ``We know it's a big program, and
it seems to get bigger all the time.''
The GAO noted that Pentagon officials provided oral comments
agreeing that they need to clarify their method of accounting for the
cleanup efforts in future annual reports to Congress.
The Corps estimates the remaining projects will cost more than $13
billion and take at least a half-century more to complete, the GAO
said. But those estimates do not account for removing unexploded
ordnance -- at an additional cost of $5 billion.
The GAO's yearlong investigation was done at the request of
Democratic Reps. John Dingell of Michigan and Tom Sawyer of Ohio,
both members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Copies of
the report were released by the committee's Democratic staff.
``While the Corps is attempting to use statistics to demonstrate
substantial progress, the GAO has found that less than a third of the
sites requiring clean-up have been addressed,'' Sawyer said.
``Even more troubling is the front-loading by the Corps of the
easy projects, with the schedule for the technically difficult sites
stretching out beyond even our children's lifetimes.''
Dingell, the committee's senior Democrat, criticized the Corps for
``tearing down buildings and pulling tanks while many high- and
medium-risk properties with toxic groundwater contamination or
unexploded ordnance have been left to percolate'' in the soil.
``These seriously contaminated sites must be addressed in a timely
manner before this dangerous brew threatens public health and
safety,'' he said.
Dingell believes more than $200 million a year should be put into
the program but he does not yet have a specific figure to propose,
the committee's Democratic counsel, Dick Frandsen, said.
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