Washington, DC — The U.S. Army has taken a step backwards from its previously announced plans 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). In the two major bases preparing privatization plans this year, one has been withdrawn and the other is awaiting a final decision.
In a July 10 announcement, the Army notified contractors that no environmental or resource jobs would be subject to bid at the nation’s oldest Army facility, the military reservation (including the U.S. Military Academy) at West Point. A similar proposal affecting the Army’s largest base, the White Sands Missile Range, has been posted for “industry and government comments” until August 9th with a final decision expected later this month.
The outcome at these two bases may set the policy at all other installations. Nationally, several thousand Army civilian environmental and resource jobs may be affected. At West Point, approximately 25 jobs were taken off the auction block. At White Sands, the fate of nearly 30 positions hangs in the balance.
Under earlier announced plans, all environmental functions at both West Point and White Sands 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.
“On this important policy, the Army should be speaking with one voice,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “The stance taken at West Point is correct and should become the Army-wide position.”
PEER and several of the Army’s own lawyers contend that that privatizing these functions violates the basic conservation law governing Defense Department operations. Previously, PEER settled a similar case blocking efforts by the Air Force to contract its natural resource functions at Edwards Air Force base in California. The organization is gearing up to mount lawsuits against any other contracting packages that include environmental and resource protection jobs.
This May, PEER asked Congress to intervene to stop the outsourcing plans and instead require the Pentagon to report on whether it is meeting current environmental mandates. In addition, new leadership in both the Congress and the Defense Department are evidencing more concern with environmental compliance and resource conservation on domestic bases. The House Energy and Commerce committee, for example, is embarking on a series of hearings on pollution and resource destruction at military bases.
“At this critical juncture, the Army cannot afford to discard its in-house environmental and resource expertise,” Ruch added. “The reason that Congress mandated these jobs be performed by civil servants is the policy judgment that this work is inherently governmental and may be seriously compromised if privatized.”