Washington, DC — The U.S. Army is poised to begin contracting out its environmental, natural and cultural resource staff positions, according to agency documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The Army is proceeding despite advice from its own lawyers that privatizing these functions violates the basic conservation law governing Defense Department operations.
In mid-March announcements, the Army notified contractors to begin preparing bids on environmental jobs at the nation’s oldest Army facility, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and its largest, the White Sands Missile Range, which covers more than 2.2 million acres in south-central New Mexico. Formal bidding will begin later this summer with contract awards slated for January 2008. Approximately 800 positions will be affected at the two bases.
While presently limited to these two bases, many more installations are beginning preparations for similar outsourcing packages covering more than 20,000 slots. Significantly, at both West Point and White Sands all environmental functions were classified as “commercial in nature” and the only positions exempt from potential replacement are the most senior positions that would be retained to oversee the contracts.
“Apart from being illegal, privatizing environmental and resource protection makes it easier for the Army to conceal mistakes and mismanagement,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization represents hundreds of civilian Defense biologists, engineers and archaeologists. “Our military does many things very well, but overseeing contractors is not one of those things.”
Last year, PEER successfully settled a lawsuit to stop the outsourcing of resource management jobs at Edwards Air Force Base in California. That suit was based on 20 years of congressional prohibitions against the military contracting out its environmental functions to private consultants. PEER is asking Congress to intervene to stop the outsourcing plans and instead require the Pentagon to report on whether it is meeting current environmental mandates.
“If the Army goes forward we will sue them,” added Ruch, noting that environmental and resource specialists at West Point and White Sands who have been notified that they may lose their jobs are already looking elsewhere. “If the Army was intent on demoralizing its people, they have done an excellent job.”
The Defense Department controls more than 25 million acres within the domestic U.S. More than 90% of these training grounds, bombing ranges and weapon depots remain undeveloped. As a consequence, these Defense Lands contain the highest number of federally protected species per acre of any federal lands. Besides their critical role in wildlife protection, Defense agencies play major roles in conservation of cultural resources and pollution prevention.