GAO: Pentagon not considering climate change risks to contractors

GAO: Pentagon not considering climate change risks to contractors
© Greg Nash

The Pentagon has not regularly assessed risks posed to contractors by climate change, potentially jeopardizing the department’s ability to carry out its mission, a government watchdog said in a report released Monday.

The Department of Defense (DOD) “has not systematically incorporated consideration of climate change into its acquisition and supply processes, consequently limiting the military departments’ ability to best consider the potential effects on their own operations from climate-related risks faced by their contractors as part of these processes,” the Government Accountability Office (GAO) wrote in the report.

“Excluding climate change and extreme weather considerations will limit DOD’s ability to anticipate and manage climate-related risks so as to build resilience into its processes, and could jeopardize its ability to carry out its missions,” the GAO added.


The GAO report was first released by Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenOn The Money: Biden .5T budget proposes major hike in social programs | GOP bashes border, policing provisions Overnight Defense: Biden proposes 3B defense budget | Criticism comes in from left and right | Pentagon moves toward new screening for extremists POW/MIA flag moved back atop White House MORE (D-Mass.), a Senate Armed Services Committee member, and Sen. Jack ReedJack ReedOn The Money: CDC extends coronavirus eviction ban through June 30 | Biden to detail infrastructure proposal Wednesday | US won't quickly lift Trump tariffs on China Senate panel ties on embattled Pentagon nominee Battle heats up over Pentagon spending plans MORE (D-R.I.), the committee’s ranking member. The pair requested the GAO study the effects of climate change on defense contractors and the defense supply chain last year.

The Pentagon has recognized climate change as a threat to its operations since 2010, and in as recently as a 2019 report, called “the effects of a changing climate ... a national security issue with potential impacts to Department of Defense missions, operational plans, and installations.”

But Pentagon officials during the Trump administration have also had to tiptoe around the issue of climate change as President TrumpDonald TrumpGaetz was denied meeting with Trump: CNN Federal Reserve chair: Economy would have been 'so much worse' without COVID-19 relief bills Police in California city declare unlawful assembly amid 'white lives matter' protest MORE has routinely dismissed the scientific consensus that climate change is real and caused by human activity.

In Monday’s GAO report, officials with the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment told the watchdog that while the Pentagon is working to identify vulnerabilities to climate change at its own facilities, they do not right now “envision adapting that work for use on DOD’s supply chain, to include those goods and services provided by its contractors.”

A 2016 Pentagon directive calls for the military departments to assess and manage vulnerabilities associated with climate change to acquisition and supply, but officials told the GAO they have not implemented the directive as it relates to acquisition and supply “in part due to the directive being ambiguous and identifying only high-level requirements,” according to the report.


The GAO also met with representatives from four of the top five defense contractors, as well as several other industry groups, and got written responses from the fifth contractor. Contractors told the watchdog they have taken steps internally to track climate change and extreme weather risks, meaning that information is potentially available to the Pentagon, according to the report.

The GAO recommended the Pentagon and each of the military departments implement the 2016 directive by updating guidance on acquisition and supply.

In a written response included in the report, the Pentagon agreed or partially agreed with the recommendations. The under secretary for acquisition and sustainment will oversee updates to relevant guidance to implement the directive with updates expected to be done by May 31, 2021, the Pentagon wrote in its response.

In a letter to Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperThe paradox of US-India relations Overnight Defense: Trump-era land mine policy unchanged amid review | Biden spending outline coming Friday | First lady sets priorities for relaunched military families initiative Biden to keep Trump-era land mine policy in place during review MORE released Monday, Warren and Reed urged him to implement the GAO’s recommendations.

“We recognize that incorporating climate risk analysis into the DoD’s contracting processes in a systematic way is a challenging task, but the potential risks to DoD operations and mission critical assets are significant,” they wrote. “If DoD fails to identify and address the impacts of climate change to its contracts and supply chains, it could jeopardize DoD’s ability to carry out its missions.”