Millions in Earmarks Purchase Little of Use
Robert O'Harrow Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 29, 2007; A01
The National Defense
Center for Environmental Excellence opened its doors in 1991
with a $5 million earmark from a powerful lawmaker. Operating in
Johnstown, Pa., the privately run center has received at least $671
million worth of federal contracts and earmarks since then to
research and develop pollution-abatement technology and other
systems for the Defense Department.
researchers have examined scores of software systems and other gear,
including groundwater monitoring equipment, gun cleaners and
ultrasonic devices, according to its managers. They said the center
had delivered nearly 500 technology products and tools to protect
the environment, improve safety and cut Pentagon costs.
But a months-long
examination by The Washington Post, including a review of documents
and interviews with Pentagon officials, found that little of the
center's work has been widely used or deployed by the Defense
Only nine systems
developed by the center since 2001 have been put into use at more
than one installation, one standard auditors use for measuring the
success of technology transfer, Army officials said. That includes
such equipment as compost-monitoring technology, bullet-trap
technology and hand-held computers for collecting information in the
field about unexploded ordnance. Just one system made the leap from
the center's labs to multiple locations in the 1990s, Pentagon
responsible for overseeing the center, known as the NDCEE,
acknowledged the shortcomings. In interviews and statements,
officials said they are working hard to do a better job to identify
Defense Department needs and translate the center's research into
"Merely showing that a
technology works and is cost-effective, and placing the results in a
report has not been sufficient," an Army statement said.
program illustrates the gaps in oversight that have often
accompanied the government's surging use of private contractors. It
also shows how politically connected programs can thrive over many
years in the face of questions about performance and cost.
A key congressional
supporter of the center is
Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), chairman of the Appropriations
Committee's defense subcommittee. Murtha arranged the center's
original $5 million budget and used his sway to place it in his
Murtha also helped
start Concurrent Technologies, the tax-exempt charity that manages
the center. Established in an old high school in 1988, Concurrent
has grown into a contracting powerhouse. Its annual revenue is now
nearly $250 million, most of it from an eclectic array of Defense
Investigations by The
Post this year have shown that in the last four years Concurrent has
received $226 million in congressionally directed funding, known as
earmarks, from Murtha and other lawmakers, including those who
represent districts where Concurrent has opened offices.
Murtha declined through
a spokesman to comment for this article.
relationship with the Pentagon has come under scrutiny by lawmakers
and the Pentagon's inspector general since the publication of
articles by The Post. The most recent inquiry began this month by
Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the
Finance Committee, who wants to know why Concurrent is a tax-exempt
"It's fair to ask
whether this company is serving a legitimate charitable purpose, and
whether the taxpayers are getting a fair return on their
investment," Grassley said in a statement.
The Post review also
found that lawmakers and Pentagon officials continued allocating
hundreds of millions of dollars to the center in recent years,
despite publicly available reports from auditors and others raising
questions about its effectiveness.
Among the problems
cited: Managers of the center sometimes duplicated the work of
private industry, and the Defense Department was not doing enough to
oversee the program or promote its research. A National Research
Council committee convened to examine the center's approach to
transferring technology said in a 2002 report that "this model has
not been successfully demonstrated."
One year later, the
Army awarded Concurrent a five-year contract worth up to $350
million to continue running the center.
Mary Bevan said she had no comment about the center and referred a
reporter to the Army. Bevan defended Concurrent's non-profit status,
saying "we perform scientific research and development."
"We don't claim to be a
charity," she said. "We're not the United Way."
Documents filed by
Concurrent with the Internal Revenue Service show it is registered
as a tax-exempt charitable organization.
"Something is very
wrong here. Why is the government pouring hundreds of millions of
dollars into a contractor whose work it isn't using?" said Danielle
Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, a
nonprofit watchdog group in the District that has examined defense
spending over the years.
The NDCEE came about as
a result of federal environmental legislation in 1990 that mandated
wide-ranging pollution prevention efforts by the government.
In response, the
Defense Department created pollution prevention programs and pledged
to cut hazardous waste by half by the end of the 1990s. The center
was to be a key player in those efforts.
With Murtha leading the
way, Congress set aside the $5 million to start the center as a
subsidiary of the nonprofit organization that would become
Concurrent Technologies. The center set out to be "a national
resource" for demonstrating and transferring environmental
technologies to the Defense Department, other government agencies
and industry, company documents show.
The center has no
employees of its own, Army officials said. It is run by Concurrent,
with oversight provided by at least two Army program officials. It
does work with the Army, Air Force, Navy, federal and state
agencies, universities and private companies, according to company
documents. Booz Allen Hamilton, Parsons and Battelle Memorial
Institute are members of its "contracting team," company documents
In the first 12 years
after the center was formed, Concurrent did not have to compete for
contracts. It received at least three sole-source contracts, one of
them worth $150 million.
The money added up --
and so did questions about the center.
Operating under Army
oversight, the program received as much as $271 million in
congressional appropriations and contract work from fiscal 1990 to
fiscal 2000, according to Pentagon auditors.
studied or developed by the center were demonstrated at the
Johnstown facility. In some cases, the center made presentations at
Defense facilities or promoted the technologies in reports or on the
One technology that was
demonstrated and transferred was an ultra high-pressure water jet
system for cleaning aircraft engines, according to a 2001 report by
the Pentagon inspector general's office. Auditors said the
technology had the potential to save $8.7 million over 15 years.
Pentagon auditors found that most military people working with the
center were satisfied with its services.
But that apparent
enthusiasm didn't prompt them to embrace the center's work very
Of the five dozen
technologies demonstrated by the center in the 1990s, only 20 were
put into use at Defense facilities, auditors said. Just one was used
at multiple locations, auditors said.
The reasons for the
failure included a lack of funding by the Defense Department, and
the fact that in more than half the cases the technologies did not
save money as promised. The inspector general's report said
technologies were "not being effectively disseminated to many
potential DoD customers."
Questions about the
center's effectiveness prompted the Defense Department to ask the
National Research Council to identify major barriers and remedies to
the transfer of pollution-prevention technologies. The council's
2002 report took aim at the center's approach, saying it needed to
do a better job reaching out to the Defense Department and
"selecting and completing relevant projects with significant and
Despite the criticism,
spending on the center continued. It received at least $9.5 million
in 2002 and $11.3 million in 2003, according to the Army. In 2003,
Concurrent won its first competitive award to run the center. The
contract was worth up to $350 million over five years and called on
its researchers to find solutions for hazardous waste, groundwater
pollution, nuclear waste, corrosion prevention and other problems,
according to the statement of work. It was Concurrent's largest
contract ever, contracting documents show.
Army officials defended
the contract award, saying it was competitively bid and an important
step in making the operation more effective.
"The all important
first step in revitalizing the role of the NDCEE was to issue the
new contract via a competitive process," the Army said in a
statement. "Further, significant efforts were made to enhance the
efficiency and effectiveness of NDCEE."
The center has received
$130 million under that contract, Army officials said. One success
cited by Army officials is a system for helping Defense Department
installations enter a federal workplace health and safety program.
The center has also developed a plan for helping a Defense
Department ammunition plant reduce contamination from the process of
Tad Davis, the Army's
deputy assistant secretary for the environment, safety and
occupational health, declined to discuss the center's activity
before he took on his job in October 2005. But he said the Army is
doing a better job getting the center to focus on research that is
germane to the Army and Defense Department.
"There's a certain
amount of marketing that has to take place," Davis said. "It's not
as easy as driving up to someone's installation and knocking on the
Davis said he sees the
center's issues not as problems, but as challenges that can be
overcome. "It's going to require effort," he said. "I think it's