'This super-centralization may cause dramatic decreases in flexibility, accountability and quality that will more than wipe out any envisioned cost savings,' says Jeff Ruch, executive director of PEER, a national organization of public sector workers in natural resources agencies.
The U.S. Army Environment Command, USAEC, is now preparing acquisition plans that are due September 31, 2007 for three 'enterprise-wide' mega-contracts worth $840 million over their five-year terms.
Under the plan, called 'Strategic Sourcing,' the USAEC proposes to award an Advisory and Assistance Services contract worth $400 million, an Environmental Compliance contract worth $240 million and a Cultural and Natural Resources contract worth $200 million.
The figures are contained in 2007 Strategic Sourcing slide presentation by Deborah Potter and Randall Cerar of the U.S. Army Environmental Command.
These national contracts would cover all environmental compliance, natural and cultural conservation work on each major base. The first master contract is scheduled to be awarded during the fourth quarter of 2008.
The Army says in a planning document made available by PEER that benefits of such mega-contracts include best-in-class vendors, improved performance, improved task order award time and a decrease in contracting costs.
The Army says 'costs due to competition (15-20%)' will be lower, and so will contract administration fees.
The mega-contracts will 'ensure consistent identification of requirements using performance based Performance Work Statement and improve spend visibility,' the Army says.
The Army says it will save some $20 million that it can then spend on reducing a 'backlog of projects.'
Ruch says the contracting plan has sparked opposition from base commanders and their environmental specialists who will lose control over contract work now performed at their installations.
Concerns include loss of responsiveness and accountability in dealing with a central mega-contractor to address uniquely local and fast changing conditions on bases across the country.
Critics say a significant drop in the quality of work will occur due to rapid turnover and uneven performance. An Army Environment Command presentation of the plan concedes, the 'pool of skilled labor in the environmental services industry has been fast dwindling.'
Another concern is a larger legal and financial liability due to botched clean-ups, mishandled pollution problems and missed legal deadlines, Ruch says. 'The last thing the Army and its Corps of Engineers need is to become even more contract-dependent.'
Ruch points to the controversial role of contractors doing military environmental work. Under current law, the Sikes Act, resource and environmental management may not be contracted out to private firms. Still, the number of contractors now outnumbers the civilian staff assigned to perform environmental work and this imbalance is growing.
'While most of the public views the Army as having a clear chain-of-command, in reality, competing command structures leave many in the ranks confused as to who is really in charge - a confusion that will only grow when every simple task may require multiple approvals all the way back to DC,' said Ruch.
He called on Congress to step in and 'force re-examination of what is happening to the millions of environmental dollars that the Army is supposed to be putting on the ground at our domestic bases.'
In addition, in August the Army repealed the federal regulations governing its air and water pollution, toxic waste, resource protection and noise abatement practices. This repeal leaves in its place only internal guidelines, which cannot be enforced and which Ruch says are in the midst of a 'secretive' redrafting.