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May 3, 2023

GAO Recommends Actions to Improve DOD’s Ability to Prevent the Procurement of Items Containing PFAS

Lynn L. Bergeson Carla N. Hutton

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report on April 26, 2023, entitled “Persistent Chemicals: Actions Needed to Improve DOD’s Ability to Prevent the Procurement of Items Containing PFAS.” GAO notes that starting April 2023, the Department of Defense (DOD) was prohibited from procuring items in four categories if they contain certain per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2022 includes a provision for GAO to review DOD’s procurement of items containing PFAS. GAO evaluated the information available to DOD regarding PFAS in items and the extent to which the April 2023 prohibition aligns with this information; it also evaluated the extent to which DOD has developed an approach to implement the April 2023 prohibition on items containing PFAS.
GAO states that it reviewed PFAS detection methods, labeling standards, and statutes; assessed DOD procurement practices and guidelines; and interviewed officials from DOD, other federal agencies, labeling organizations, industry associations, and environmental advocacy groups. It found that there is limited information on PFAS in items “because there is no federal law requiring items to be labeled as containing PFAS and there are no Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-validated methods to detect PFAS in products.” GAO notes that EPA has created a list of recommended third-party standards and ecolabels that addresses the presence of PFAS in some items. According to GAO, its analysis of 11 item categories found that EPA information on PFAS exists for four, two of which relate to the statutory prohibition for DOD. For the seven other item categories, there are no EPA-recommended third-party standards or ecolabels. GAO provides a summary of the information available from EPA on the presence of PFAS in item categories:

PFAS ProhibitionItem CategoryInformation on Presence of PFAS
Beginning April 2023Non-stick cookwareNo
Beginning April 2023Non-stick cooking utensilsNo
Beginning April 2023Upholstered furnitureYes
Beginning April 2023Carpets and RugsYes
 Furniture waxesNo
 Car window treatmentsNo
 Cleaning productsYes
 Floor waxesYes
 Car waxNo

GAO notes that, in addition, the April 2023 prohibition does not allow two PFAS to be present at any level. According to EPA officials, several of the third-party standards or ecolabels allow for PFAS to be present at low levels, however, such as through exposure to environmental sources of PFAS during the manufacturing process. GAO states that as a result, DOD does not have all the information needed to implement the prohibitions fully.
According to GAO, DOD has taken steps to implement the April 2023 prohibition, including updating procurement policy for contracting officers and guidance for procurement of goods by government purchase cards. GAO notes that DOD has not assessed how to prevent military exchanges from procuring and reselling certain goods that could contain PFAS, however. Further, DOD has not updated its sustainable procurement guidance to reflect statutory prohibitions. GAO states that as a result, DOD is at risk of continuing to procure items that contain certain statutorily prohibited PFAS.
GAO states that it is making it a matter for Congressional consideration to align the item categories specified in the April 2023 prohibition with EPA information. GAO is also making two recommendations to DOD to develop an approach for applying the April 2023 prohibition to the military exchanges and to update its sustainable procurement guidance. According to GAO, DOD concurred with the recommendations.