Congress established the National Defense Center for Environmental Excellence (NDCEE) in 1990.
Its mission was to "serve as a national leadership organization to address high priority environmental problems for the Department of Defense (DoD), other government organizations, and the industrial community." Located in Johnstown, Pennsylvania and run by Concurrent Technologies Corporation, NDCEE was always viewed as a pet project of the late Chair of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, John Murtha. In 2008 it was renamed the National Defense Center for Energy and Environment, in recognition of its broadening scope but perhaps also acknowledging its lackluster performance.
In 1999, the Army asked the National Research Council (of the National Academies of Sciences) to review the NDCEE's technology transfer activities. In a scathing 2002 report, the NRC questioned the NDCEE model. It concluded:
"Technology transfer is widely accepted as a difficult and costly challenge. The mission of the NDCEE toward this end is commendable, and the concept of establishing an intermediary organization to introduce and transfer new technologies for pollution prevention is certainly worthwhile. In practice at the NDCEE, unfortunately, this model has not been successfully demonstrated. The demonstration factory capabilities at the NDCEE investigated in this study are not a necessary or cost-effective means of demonstrating environmental technologies. Reliance on industrial facilities commonly used by the commercial users ... would be cost-effective and could lead to further collaboration with manufacturers.
NDCEE reports, "Over 340 tasks have either been accomplished or are underway," but its clients within the Defense Department are not satisfied with its output. Its Johnstown facility is not well utilized. Key staff have left.
In response, office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army (Environment, Safety, and Occupational Health) is considering a new approach, changing NDCEE into a contracting mechanism with multiple awards but no central management or integrator. I appreciate that the Army is finally taking needed action, but I think it’s going too far.
The Defense Department needs a Center like NDCEE, but as the NRC suggested in 2002, it need not be shackled to Rep. Murtha's Johnstown facility. There is an alternative proposal, from people with extensive experience with Defense environmental research and development, to create a single-award Center of Excellence with no testing or laboratory facilities of its own.
That's worth considering before throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Executive Director, Center for Public Environmental Oversight
a project of the Pacific Studies Center
278-A Hope St., Mountain View, CA 94041
Voice: 650/961-8918 or 650/969-1545
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