Federal Facilities

Agencies Slow to Define the Scope and Cost of Hazardous Waste Site Cleanups Gao ID: RCED-94-73 April 15, 1994

Environmental laws require federal agencies to clean up hazardous and radioactive waste contamination at facilities they own or use or once owned or used. Agencies' early cleanup experiences indicate that the overall federal cleanup effort will be enormously expensive and will require decades to complete. Published estimates of the government's cleanup liability now range in the hundreds of billions of dollars and are still growing. This report (1) determines the status of federal efforts to identify facilities potentially requiring cleanup, (2) estimates future cleanup costs and (3) discusses obstacles to agencies' progress in these areas.

GAO found that: (1) the Departments of Defense (DOD) and Energy (DOE) and other agencies have mostly completed their efforts to identify hazardous waste sites requiring cleanup and have reported candidate facilities to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); (2) some Department of Agriculture (USDA) units have nearly completed their inventories, but the Forest Service, some Department of the Interior agencies, the Coast Guard, and the Federal Aviation Administration are continuing to inventory their facilities; (3) Interior and USDA cited the size of their landholdings, resource limitations, and liability issues as reasons why they have not completed site inventories; (4) the latest DOD estimate of long-term cleanup costs totalled $24.5 billion; (5) DOE has estimated that its cleanup costs will total at least $54 billion, and it is now required to update its total cleanup cost estimate annually; (6) USDA and Department of Transportation agencies have also made estimates; (7) Interior and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration have not estimated their cleanup costs; (8) an underlying cause of the slow progress in site inventories and cost estimates is the absence of statutory requirements for inventories and cost estimates, and the lack of EPA oversight over agency activities; and (9) securities laws require private companies to disclose and estimate the cost of their environmental liabilities.


Our recommendations from this work are listed below with a Contact for more information. Status will change from "In process" to "Open," "Closed - implemented," or "Closed - not implemented" based on our follow up work.

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