Auditors OK outsourcing at chemical storage facilities

klunney@govexec.com

Outsourcing operations at chemical storage facilities would not prevent the Army from responding effectively to chemical accidents, according to a new General Accounting Office report.

The Army operates eight facilities storing chemical defense equipment. The facilities are required to develop emergency response plans in the event of a chemical accident. Of the eight, five are participating in a study examining whether the work can be performed more cost effectively in-house or by outside contractors.

Members of Congress have expressed concern over the impact outsourcing would have on emergency response capabilities in the event of an accidental release of chemicals. Typically, on-site federal employees have emergency response duties in addition to their routine tasks.

The GAO report concluded that the potential for any emergency response problems would be "minimal" since only a small number of positions would be affected. GAO recommended the Army provide adequate training for any replacement personnel performing response duties if the work ends up being outsourced.

"We found that the majority of the relatively few positions with emergency response duties are not first-line responders. Rather, these positions involve providing administrative and communications support or operating heavy equipment such as backhoes or cranes in the event of a chemical accident," said the report.

Although the Army believes the likelihood of chemical accidents is extremely small, the health effects resulting from such incidents could be serious. The Army concurred with the GAO report.

The GAO report is titled, "DoD Competitive Sourcing: Potential Impact on Emergency Response Operations at Chemical Storage Facilities Is Minimal" (NSIAD-00-88).

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