GLOBAL SECURITY NEWSWIRE. JANUARY 26, 2010. By Rachel Oswald
WASHINGTON -- Funding for preparation of the last two U.S. installations set to begin destruction of their chemical weapon stockpiles received a significant boost in the fiscal 2010 budget -- roughly 30 percent over last year's allowance (see GSN, July 22, 2009).
The major appropriations hike comes as Washington looks to demonstrate to the international community that it is maintaining a good faith effort to finish destroying its chemical arsenal soon as possible, even if there is no chance of meeting the Chemical Weapons Convention deadline of April 2012.
The Defense Department’s Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives program received $550 million in fiscal 2010, which began on Oct. 1 of last year. Funding was fully set only last month.
The ACWA program is in charge of munitions destruction operations at the Pueblo Chemical Depot in Colorado and the Blue Grass Army Depot in Kentucky. The U.S. Army Chemical Materials Agency has conducted disposal work at the remaining seven other stockpile sites.
To date, the Pentagon has destroyed more than 70 percent of the country's original declared arsenal of 31,500 tons of chemical warfare materials. Stockpiles at Pueblo and Blue Grass represent 10 percent of the stockpile and are respectively expected to be destroyed by 2017 and 2021-- meaning both would miss the already-extended international disposal deadline and the Kentucky site would continue operations past the congressionally mandated end date of 2017.
After five or six years of being "grossly underfunded" during the Bush administration "to the real credit of the Obama administration, they came in for the FY 10 defense request and agreed to plus up the [ACWA] construction moneys by a couple hundred million dollars," said Paul Walker, director of the Security and Sustainability program at the environmental organization Global Green USA (see GSN, April 29, 2009).
It remains to be seen whether the higher funding level will be maintained. ACWA officials said it would not be appropriate to disclose the fiscal 2011 budget request until it is advertised in President Barack Obama's spending proposal to Congress at the beginning of February.
"We're guardedly optimistic but certainly pleased with finally realizing full funding of the ACWA project at least in fiscal 2010," said Craig Williams, co-chairman of the Kentucky Chemical Demilitarization Citizens' Advisory Commission.
Lawmakers in Colorado and Kentucky have pressed for more money for chemical agent neutralization sites, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates requested $545 million to cover construction, administrative and research and development costs, officials and observers said. Congress added another $5 million.
No amount of funding is expected to allow disposal work to accelerate to the point of meeting the Chemical Weapons Convention schedule or even Congress' 2017 mandate.
"We clearly cannot make 2012," said ACWA Program Manager Kevin Flamm. "As much as we would love to be in that situation, that just is not in the realm of possibility."
The program has been constrained by funding levels and setbacks in development of the disposal facilities, along with legal restrictions that would make it impossible to transfer the Colorado and Kentucky stockpiles to states with operating disarmament facilities.
The latest funding does, though, allow the Pentagon to push ahead with awarding some major construction contracts. That will support its aim to finish work at Pueblo in 2017 rather than the earlier anticipated date of 2020 and at Blue Grass in 2021 rather than 2023.
"It'll be very important for the Obama administration to continue this [ACWA] funding so that the construction does get done in a timely way and the facilities get fully systematized," Walker said. "Hopefully in less than a decade from now we can declare the whole U.S chemical weapons stockpile completely gone."