DOD relies on four types of policies to identify and respond to many but not all aspects of environmental exposures: (1) environmental restoration policies address hazardous releases at military Installations; (2) occupational and environmental health policies address workplace exposures; (3) deployment health policies address the collection of occupational and environmental health data for deployed individuals; and (4) public health emergency management policies. Nonetheless, there are some limitations in the policies’ coverage. For example, DOD’s environmental restoration policies do not specify when to conduct public health assessments at its sites beyond the initial assessment of certain priority sites required by the Superfund law. In addition, DOD has not fully documented its responses to recommendations that result from the assessments. DOD officials responsible for oversight reported that they did not know what actions, if any, installations had taken on about 80 percent of the recommendations. Without a comprehensive tracking system, DOD has no assurance that it is addressing recommendations appropriately and could be missing opportunities to identify and resolve concerns about some health threats. Further, DOD has no policy guiding services and their installations on appropriate actions to address health risks from past exposures, which DOD attributes to the Superfund law not specifically requiring responsible parties to address such risks.
Public Law 111-383, §314(2011) directed GAO to assess Department of Defense (DOD) policies regarding environmental exposures. GAO’s objectives were to determine (1) the extent to which DOD has policies that identify and respond to environmental exposures, (2) what programs exist to provide health care or compensation to individuals for environmental exposures, and (3) which features of other federal programs may provide options in designing future compensation programs. GAO briefed the Armed Services Committees in December 2011, to satisfy the mandate.