The Navy's backlog of contaminated facilities now stands at nearly 4,000 sites.
To expedite this formidable waste removal job, the service is actively recruiting
Funding to conduct the cleanup, however, has dropped off in recent years-from
about $400 million in 1995 to nearly $280 million in 1999. For that reason,
the Navy hopes that it can generate enough competition among vendors to push
down cleanup costs.
Earlier this year, the Naval Sea Systems Command began "seeking expressions
of interest" from industry to assess contractor response. The announcement
posted on the command's web site called for firms with "quick reaction
capability" to fulfill environmental engineering and remediation services,
as well as BRAC compliance support, for naval bases slated for closure. The
service has 53 installations with 900 hazardous waste sites in the BRAC cleanup
Although the Navy does not plan to issue any official proposal requests until
later this spring, the idea is to gauge the outlook for future vendor competitions,
says an industry source.
The Navy does not want to commit to any contracting strategy until it sees
how many contractors are potentially interested in competing, says Naval Sea
Systems Command contracting officer William Randolph. The recent announcement
seeking industry feedback is designed to "see what the universe of remediation
firms" looks like, he says in an interview. If the Navy determines there's
"ample competition," then there will be a procurement decision, he
says. "We are now in mid-stream."
Shrinking its cleanup expenses also is important to the Navy because the environmental
accounts throughout the Defense Department have been on a downturn.
Environmental remediation funding, additionally, competes with other immediate
priorities such as fleet readiness and maintenance. A recent study by the National
Research Council (NRC) on naval cleanup activities notes the service is "under
pressure from Congress" to slash its environmental remediation costs.
The combination of tight budgets and overwhelming waste-removal challenges
means the Navy faces some rough seas ahead in its cleanup mission, according
to the study.
Contaminants and site conditions at naval facilities are "highly variable,"
says the NRC report. They contain such recalcitrant compounds as metals, chlorinated
solvents, and various organic chemicals. Cleanup efforts, therefore, can be
"frustrating, time consuming and expensive."
NRC researchers also assert that, during the last five years, there has been
a trend at Navy facilities towards spending more money on cleanup and less on
the study phase that precedes cleanup. For the most part, says the report, the
"true fiscal requirements of cleanup exceed the budget allocated to the
Navy for that purpose." The reason is that most of the technological solutions
are expensive, "especially for contaminated sites containing highly recalcitrant
About two-thirds of the Navy's hazardous waste sites are remediated under a
federally mandated process called CERCLA, for Comprehensive Environmental Response,
Compensation and Liability Act. NRC agrees with CERCLA critics who claim the
process is complicated, lengthy and expensive. The study says it takes more
than 10 years to complete remediation of a site under CERCLA.
That leads to another crisis confronting the Navy-the need to close sites more
quickly. Pressure to close out sites, says NRC, comes primarily from communities
and developers in areas adjacent to BRAC facilities. They are eager to convert
the land to other uses. Local citizens, meanwhile, want to maintain the employment
levels that existed when the base was active. They are certainly not happy about
having to wait 10 years for the cleanup to conclude.
NRC believes the Navy should adopt risk-based cleanup strategies that offer
more flexibility. The upshot would be the ability to clean more
or less depending on the specific site requirements and the intended
future use of the property.