Madison County

Group: Documents confirm five-year financing of chemical weapons disposal

Newly released documents confirm that the government's commitment to fully fund the disposal of chemical weapons in Madison County is real, the executive director of a Berea-based watchdog group said.

Documents released Thursday by the Chemical Weapons Working Group reflect a five-year funding plan that was unseen before now, said Craig Williams, executive director of the group.

"I received them from Capitol Hill, let me just put it that way," Williams said.

In late 2008, Sen. Mitch McConnell sought and received a commitment from Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to finance the disposal program at accelerated levels at Kentucky's Blue Grass Army Depot and Colorado. Gates responded with a pledge to do so in early 2009, but until now there had been no documentation reflecting that five-year commitment.

The commitment pays for the program at $517 million a year, according to correspondence between McConnell and Gates.

"We have been told that we had this commitment to adequately fully fund the program, but every time we would ask for the funding guidance that contains the actual numbers, we were told 'Well, there is no final decision been made' or 'There's not been the proper protocol associated with the decision, so we can't give it to you,'" Williams said. "Over a series of a month or two, we've been asking for this.'

"The importance of this is that they have never projected out beyond any single fiscal year how much money they intended to put toward this program. Every year has been a fight to increase the budget request in order to keep the program breathing. What we've got now is, 'This is what we're going to ask for in 2012, '13, '14, '15.' To the contractor that's critical. The contractor cannot award contracts for which they don't have a funding profile adequate to fulfill the contract."

During the past six years, the budget for the disposal program has ranged from $51 million in 2005 to $467 million in 2009.

In a statement Thursday, McConnell said he was pleased with the long-term funding plan.

"It demonstrates that the Department of Defense is prepared to devote sufficient resources over the long run to carry out disposal as quickly and safely as possible," McConnell said. "That said, I will remain vigilant in the years ahead to hold the department to its commitment."

Construction continues on the pilot plant in Madison County that will destroy 523 tons of nerve and mustard agents. Under current timetables, the destruction will begin in 2018 and be finished in 2021.