April 15, 2019

Senator Warren, Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Reed Call on GAO to Review Threats to National Security from Climate Change Impacts on Pentagon Contractors and Defense Supply Chain

Text of the Letter (PDF)

Washington, DC - United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Committee Ranking Member Jack Reed (D-R.I.) sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) late last week calling for a review of potential threats to national security resulting from the impacts of climate change on defense contractors and the defense supply chain, and to review the extent to which the Department of Defense (DoD) addresses climate change and other environmental risks during the contracting process.

The DoD has long acknowledged the national security threats posed by climate change. The 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review Report summarized that climate change will pose threats to the nation's coastal infrastructure and necessitate adjustments to DoD facilities and operations, and a report issued earlier this year reaffirmed this assessment. In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Pentagon officials have repeatedly confirmed to Senator Warren the threat climate change already poses to U.S. national security and strategic interests around the world.

Military installations in North Carolina and Florida sustained over $8 billion dollars in damage related to extreme weather events exacerbated by climate change in 2018 alone.

While DoD has conducted initial analyses of the impact of climate change on military facilities, there has been no comprehensive analysis of the risks of climate change on the network of military contractors that provide billions of dollars of goods, services, and research and development to DoD, in the United States and around the world. This is a significant gap: DoD spends over $300 billion on federal contracts, "more ... than all other government agencies combined," and analysts have indicated that "without contractor support, the United States would be currently unable to arm and field an effective fighting force."

Several of the largest defense contractors have voluntarily disclosed certain climate risks and threats, such as drought, extreme temperature change, cyclones and floods, but a staff review of the five largest military contractors' annual financial disclosures revealed no comprehensive reporting on climate threats to operations, and the potential downstream impacts on military readiness.

"Climate change is a threat to national security," said Senator Warren. "Defense contractors receive hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars each year. We need to ensure that their vulnerabilities to climate change do not threaten military readiness, and that defense contractors are doing their part to fight climate change and mitigate climate change-related risks."

Senator Warren and Ranking Member Reed asked the GAO to address the following questions:

1. To what extent does climate change pose a threat to the facilities and operations of key private sector DoD contractors, and how do contractors' climate change vulnerabilities affect military operations and readiness?

2. To what extent are contractors required to disclose, either to the public, to financial regulators, or to DoD, any potential threats to their facilities or operations as a result of climate change?

3. To what extent do DoD contracting officials, during the procurement process, take into consideration (1) the actions taken by contractors to improve energy efficiency and reduce carbon emissions and their history of compliance with the nation's environmental laws; (2) the potential threats to contractors' facilities and operations as a result of climate change.

The senators requested that GAO brief their staffs not later than February 1, 2020 on their preliminary findings.