Cover: California Base Closure

California Base Closure

Lessons for DoD's Cleanup Program

Published 1995

by David Rubenson, John Anderson


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Achieving Multiple Goals in the DoD Cleanup Program

The cumulative effect of public opinion and legislation during the past decade requires the Department of Defense (DoD) to clean up hazardous waste on closing, active, and former DoD sites. Cleanup is primarily governed by the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA), and the implementing rules contained in the National Contingency Plan (NCP). CERCLA and SARA have been debated intensively and are often criticized for promoting slow, ineffective cleanup. Congress appears to be frustrated and seems determined to reduce annual cleanup funding. This implies that complete cleanup of military bases will be deferred and the viability of the cleanup effort may hinge on setting priorities and achieving meaningful interim goals.

Priorities and interim goals have been discussed extensively in the national debate on cleanup policy. We introduce our analysis, which is presented in the form of an annotated briefing, with a narrative background discussion of CERCLA, SARA, and priority setting. We describe a variety of priority-setting systems, including risk driven, reuse driven, speed driven, jobs driven, and others. Of particular interest is DoD's explicit attempt to implement reuse-driven cleanups on closing bases. This suggests that cleanup should be sequenced according to potential community interest in reusing portions of a base.

Implementation of any priority system depends on the ability to adapt the CERCLA and SARA regulatory framework to that system. We note that many assume that CERCLA and SARA already correspond to a risk-driven priority system and hence require little adaptation for this approach. We then describe the requirements imposed by CERCLA and SARA and highlight the areas in which project managers and/or local regulators have significant flexibility.

Use of this flexibility to implement priority systems and to achieve multiple interim goals is currently being tested on California's closing bases. California has 19 major closing bases, and there is intense economic and political interest in accelerating the cleanup process. More significantly, DoD has an explicit goal of integrating reuse-driven cleanups with risk-driven cleanups and CERCLA and SARA compliance. It has also implemented a number of policy innovations, known as the "fast track," to ensure that local project leaders and regulators take maximum advantage of the flexibility existing in CERCLA and SARA.

Giving significant attention to closing bases in California and examining on-going efforts to achieve multiple priorities within the CERCLA and SARA framework, we identify the following questions, which are the focus of this report:

  1. What goals actually govern cleanup projects for California's closing bases? To what extent have cleanup projects been modified to conform to reuse-driven goals?
  2. Is risk-driven priority setting a by-product of CERCLA and SARA requirements or is it a distinct priority-setting system?
  3. How significantly do reuse-driven priorities differ from risk-driven priorities and/or CERCLA and SARA requirements? What about speed-driven or jobs-driven priorities? Can DoD's goal of harmonizing risk-driven priorities with reuse-driven priorities and CERCLA and SARA requirements be achieved?
  4. What is the role of project management in achieving this goal? Do DoD policy innovations help project managers take advantage of the flexibility existing in CERCLA and SARA?

Having defined the policy questions, the remainder of the report is written in briefing form with an emphasis on site-specific concerns. We have chosen this format because the essential trade-offs in an engineering project are easily illustrated in this manner.

Our approach is case-study oriented. We chose this approach because cleanup projects are strongly influenced by site-specific conditions. Aggregate data are easily skewed by anomalous soils and contamination found at a single site. More significantly, we have taken the case-study approach because question 4 involves the role of project management. It is only with a site-specific focus that this variable can be dissected.

Goals and Protocols

We begin the briefing with a review of base closure in California and DoD's goal of achieving multiple cleanup objectives. We discuss risk-driven, reuse-driven, and speed-driven cleanup and the requirements of CERCLA and SARA. We also discuss some of the fast-track policy innovations that DoD has implemented to improve the cleanup process at closing military bases.

We then describe the relationship between CERCLA and SARA requirements and reuse-driven goals. We note that CERCLA and SARA protocols lead to division of a large facility, consisting of many individual sites, into a series of operable units (OUs). Federal Facility Agreements (FFAs) signed by DoD, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), and the state specify schedules and milestones for the cleanup of each OU. FFAs are enforceable through fines.[1]

Protocols for transferring clean parcels and for dividing a base in a manner that may suggest a reuse-driven strategy are defined by CERFA, the Community Environmental Response Facilitation Act. Although CERFA has few substantive obligations, it does allow for reuse parcels to be identified and transferred if those parcels are uncontaminated. Reuse parcels typically overlay a preexisting division of a base by OUs defined in the CERCLA and SARA Federal Facility Agreement.

Reuse-driven cleanups will be consistent with CERCLA and SARA if there is good correspondence between OUs and parcels. We therefore focus much of our investigation on a comparison of OUs (CERCLA) and reuse parcels (CERFA). We note, however, that reuse parcels, OUs, and FFAs are administrative constructs. Project managers and local regulators can jointly amend each of these. Therefore, simply tracking the overlap between parcels and OUs does not in itself provide a complete answer to questions 1 and 2 above. The role of project management is critical (question 4).

Two Case Studies

Mather Air Force Base (AFB)

Mather AFB is located in the suburbs of Sacramento and has had a cleanup program since 1982. The base was placed on the National Priorities List in 1987 and on the closure list in 1988. As a result, Mather's cleanup started well before CERFA or President Clinton's "Five Point Plan" introduced a reuse emphasis.

Mather is a large base divided into 19 reuse parcels and only three OUs. One OU contains 59 of the 69 contaminated sites at Mather. The cleanup process is based on OUs and involves a nearly basewide effort, with sequential stepping through CERCLA's lengthy investigative protocols. As a result of the complexity and costs associated with thoroughly investigating an entire base, approximately $50 million has been spent on characterizing the site; virtually no remedial action has been taken. On this basis, there is no evidence that the CERCLA process corresponds to either a reuse-driven or a risk-driven approach. Instead, the Mather AFB cleanup appears to be protocol driven.

Current estimates imply that more than $150 million will be expended before cleanup is complete at Mather. Our analysis suggests that by focusing efforts on the most important reuse parcel, which crosses OU boundaries, along with other sites where contamination could spread, a combined reuse- and risk-based strategy can be pursued. Although we cannot argue that total costs to clean the entire base will be reduced, interim goals can be set and achieved at costs well below that required for total base cleanup. This requires moving away from the current designation of Mather as a single cleanup project. There are many low-risk sites that also have limited reuse value. Interim goals should, in effect, replace the goal of cleaning up the entire base, which is both too problematic and too expensive to provide a realistic policy objective.

March AFB

March AFB is located near Riverside, California. Half of the base is slated for closure while the other half will continue to operate. The correspondence between reuse parcels and OUs (CERCLA) is poor, with the small number of OUs implying a basewide sequencing of CERCLA protocols just as at Mather.

The cleanup at March cannot be classified as protocol driven because a key DoD policy innovation, the base realignment and closure (BRAC) cleanup team (BCT) consisting of DoD and regulatory personnel working jointly, has adjusted FFA (CERCLA) milestones to facilitate actual cleanup. The BCT is able to do this by taking advantage of DoD's independent authority to conduct removal actions that are forming the basis of the overall project. CERCLA protocols have become largely a formality.

A variety of factors have allowed March AFB to develop this speed-driven approach, most of which involve taking advantage of the flexibility already contained in CERCLA and SARA. One is the creative use of removal actions originally intended for emergencies and not as a basis for long-term cleanup. This has been accomplished by a combination of experienced project managers and regulators who seem to understand the DoD budgeting and contracting system as well as the CERCLA and SARA process. The trust of the community, which may be more difficult to build in more highly charged political climates, has also been an essential factor. The BCT has also developed a competitive system of contractors rather than relying on a single large contractor for the entire facility. This requires more-intensive management on the part of the BCT, but seems to bring greater speed and efficiency. Although cleanup at March is speed driven rather than reuse driven, the approach could be focused on individual parcels to facilitate partial reuse.

Other Bases and Conclusions

In the last section of the report, we discuss the cleanup process at a number of bases in California, including El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, Tustin Marine Corps Air Station, Mare Island Naval Shipyard, Hunter's Point Naval Shipyard, Fort Ord, the Presidio of San Francisco, and Hamilton Army Airfield. We show that reuse parcels are generally far smaller than OUs and that the latter move projects toward basewide cleanup strategies and away from achieving interim goals.

These cleanups lead us to answer questions 1–4 above in the following manner:

  1. CERCLA compliance, not risk reduction, reuse, or speed is still the goal of many cleanups. A reuse goal is hampered by a poor correspondence between OUs and reuse parcels. Under an intense political spotlight, cleanup projects at Fort Ord and Hamilton Army Airfield have at least partially shifted direction toward cleanup and transfer of reuse parcels. However, this level of political attention cannot be the basis for an overall program.
  2. CERCLA compliance often leads to protocol-driven cleanups and not necessarily risk-driven cleanup. The meaning of risk-based priorities is not clear after emergency removals have eliminated known exposure pathways.
  3. Under the current divisions of the base by OU and parcels, there is often a significant distinction between CERCLA compliance and reuse-driven goals. However, there is no fundamental reason this must occur and no fundamental divergence between a risk-driven approach and a reuse-driven strategy. Multiple goals can be achieved by renegotiating regulatory agreements, redrawing internal base boundaries, and focusing cleanup efforts on the most important reuse parcels and most risky sites. Use of removal actions, an intermediate cleanup step that can be undertaken by DoD without regulatory review, can accelerate this process.
  4. DoD policy innovations facilitate use of flexibility existing in CERCLA. The BRAC Cleanup Team concept of teaming DoD project managers and regulators is particularly successful. However, project leaders and local regulators need a better understanding of the CERCLA flexibility that exists and the interim goals the flexibility should be used to achieve.

The answer to the first question implies that DoD's goal of reorienting cleanups toward reuse goals has not been fully met. Reasons for the limited reuse emphasis include project momentum before reuse became a goal and hesitancy to pay the costs of transitioning a project along new engineering directions, existing FFA (CERCLA) obligations, the absence of precisely defined reuse plans, and the need for highly experienced project personnel who can modify complicated technical/legal protocols.

To achieve these multiple objectives for site cleanups we recommend consideration of the following policy ideas:

  • Recognize that the total cleanup of many military bases, though desired, is too distant and too expensive to provide realistic policy goals or structure for project management. There should be increased emphasis on identification of realistic interim goals for cleanup and the obstacles to achieving them, rather than on issues aimed at reducing long-run program costs.
  • Identify and eliminate obstacles to redrawing internal base boundaries. The USEPA should continue to move away from the policy of fence-line-to-fence-line listing.[2]
  • Recognize that while FFAs and FFSRAs strengthen the ability of regulators and communities to influence cleanup projects, they can impose restrictions that prevent efficiency and achievement of interim goals. Alternatives to the FFA and FFSRA process should be formulated and evaluated.
  • Realize that for sites remaining in federal hands pending funds for cleanup, the potential for contamination to spread may represent a better basis for establishing risk-based priorities than traditional exposure assessment.
  • Note that despite the well-known problems of CERCLA and SARA, it is the experience and dedication of site project management (including regulators), and the extent of support given by higher-level commands, that are the dominant factors in determining failure or success. DoD's investment in human resources for site-level management is inappropriately low given the enormous projects being undertaken.

At a program level at DoD headquarters and/or at the USEPA, we recommend the following to policymakers:

  • Review and refine the flexibilities in CERCLA and SARA as summarized in Table 1 and prepare a version of this summary for project leaders and local regulators.
  • Provide clearer policy (as opposed to regulatory) guidance than currently exists to encourage the use of removal actions to break administrative logjams.
  • Take steps to retain project leaders and regulators who have the experience to "go off line" as they adapt projects toward achieving multiple interim policy goals. The Air Force Base Closure Authority (BCA) should adopt a policy of retaining existing staff when it takes over a base rather than utilizing new BCA personnel.
  • Encourage communities to develop more-strategic reuse plans that provide cleanup projects with general guidance for developing reuse-driven cleanups, even when local zoning or planning processes are still in flux.
  • Recognize that the DoD project manager has a more complex obligation than simple administrative oversight of large contractors. The project manager must actively engage in project execution, be involved in all engineering decisionmaking, and not allow contractor-led projects to evolve with little policy focus.

At the project management level, we recommend the following to DoD remedial project managers and regulators:

  • Review use of the flexibilities contained in CERCLA and SARA.
  • Identify interim goals by dividing each base (both active and closing) into sets of sites that are critical for reuse, critical for risk reduction, critical for other policy objectives, and those where cleanup can be delayed. Cleanup projects should then be focused on the most-critical goals.
  • Provide greater geographical focus for all environmental programs (munitions removal, lead, asbestos, historic preservation responsibilities, etc.), in addition to cleanup, for the parcels of greatest interest.
  • Closely scrutinize potential economies of scale and recognize that many occur only when contemplating basewide cleanup, for which there may not be sufficient funds.
  • Similarly, recognize that the administrative economies of scale associated with large remedial contractors may not outweigh the advantages of a competitive contracting structure. Project leaders should tailor the contracting structure to the needs of individual bases and the interim goals for cleanup.

We note that most of these recommendations are relevant for active bases as well as for closing bases.

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  • [1] Six of the 19 major closing bases in California are not on the National Priorities List (NPL) of the nation's worst hazardous waste sites. The lead regulator for NPL sites is USEPA. The lead regulator on non-NPL sites is the California Environmental Protection Agency (Cal-EPA). On non-NPL sites a Federal Facility Site Remediation Agreement (FFSRA) replaces the FFA.
  • [2] We note that this recommendation is consistent with very recent guidance given to EPA regions. See Environmental Reporter, August 18, 1995, p. 773.

The work was conducted for the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Environmental Security, within the Acquisition and Technology Policy Center of RAND's National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, and the defense agencies.

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