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Powerful Example: Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives--A Different Approach

It’s ironic—figuring out how to safely destroy a tool designed to inflict incomprehensible destruction. That’s why Department of Defense created the Program Executive Office, Assembled Chemical…

Powerful Example: Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives--A Different Approach

Powerful Example: Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives--A Different Approach
Kendell Penington, DAU Staff Writer
It’s ironic—figuring out how to safely destroy a tool designed to inflict incomprehensible destruction.

That’s why Department of Defense created the Program Executive Office, Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives (PEO ACWA). This program, headquartered at Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD, is an alternative approach to the traditional method of incinerating chemical weapons stockpiles and is responsible for the “safe and environmentally compliant destruction of the remaining 10 percent of the original U.S. chemical weapons stockpile” left over from World War II. ACWA was established in response to the Chemical Weapons Convention, which prohibits the development, production, stockpiling, and use of chemical weapons of destruction.


ACWA Program Executive Officer Michael Abai spoke with Lois Harper, a former DAU dean, about the challenges he’s faced in managing such an extraordinary, yet delicate, undertaking, the important lessons he’s gained from the experience, and the impact destroying these weapons quickly has on Defense initiatives.

“The sooner we can decrease the cost associated in eliminating these chemical weapons, [the sooner] we can use those dollars in better areas in supporting our warfighter,” Abai said, stressing that he is also looking at ways to reduce the cost of the program going forward.

Since the 1980s, the price tag of the program has ballooned to more than $30 billion.

While nobody wants chemical weapons in their backyard, there is another reason for the sense of urgency in destroying the stockpile – the deadline to fulfill our obligations outlined in the Chemical Weapons Convention is 2023.

“We’re working very diligently to make sure that we put the right tools in place, right incentives in place, to make sure that our contractors are focused in getting to that end date that we need,” Abai said.

Upon his initial assessment of the sites, Abai stated, “Decisions weren’t being made at those facilities at the place where it needs to be.”

His first order of business, before he could get the facilities functioning and operating, was establishing a solid support network. A task force was put in place to help compare contracting options, while subject matter expert teams were consulted to evaluate four crucial areas: contracting, risk, technology and safety.

To meet their rapidly approaching deadline, ACWA contracted the Bechtel Pueblo Team (PCAPP) at the U.S. Army Pueblo Chemical Depot (PCD) and the Bechtel Parsons Blue Grass team (BGCAPP) at the Blue Grass Army Depot (BGAD) to determine how to safely destroy the 900,00 mustard munitions and 100,000 nerve and mustard rounds located at the respective facilities.

Additionally, Abai recognized a key area where the government and contractors were not on the same page.

“One of the things that became very apparent to me early on was that the government was tracking risks differently than the contractor,” said Abai.

The key factor to mitigating these risks boiled down to being proactive. Abai’s solution was to restructure operations to place decision making at the appropriate level. He determined that plant managers needed to be the ones managing the plants’ and day-to-day operations rather than the project managers.

Under Abai’s guidance, the BGCAPP has since managed to become a fully functioning facility, while the PCD tripled the amount of munitions they destroy daily, going from 100 to 300 a day.

When asked about the secret to his program’s success, Abai responded: “It’s not a team of one, it’s a team of many.”


[RELATED CONTENT: DAU Powerful Examples Homepage]
[RELATED CONTENT: Audio interview with ACWA program management team]

For more information about this story, or to submit your own Powerful Example, send an email to the DAU Powerful Examples Team at [email protected].

Key Words: ACWA, Chemical Weapons, Lessons Learned, Best Practices