- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 29, 2020

The Defense Department needs to take on a larger oversight role in the management of privatized housing for the troops to make sure complaints about substandard conditions like mold, leaks and rodents are dealt with, according to a new report by auditors from the Government Accountability Office.

The report comes amid lawsuits and mounting concern on Capitol Hill over the conditions for many service personnel and their families since the Pentagon increased its reliance on private contractors to provide housing.

In 1996, Congress enacted the Military Housing Privatization Initiative to bring in private sector developers and property management companies to take over virtually all military housing — more than 200,000 residences.

“Over the last few years, reports of the presence of lead-based paint and other hazards, such as mold and pest and rodent infestation, have raised questions about [the Defense Department’s] management and oversight of privatized military housing,” according to the report by the congressional watchdog group.

The GAO said individual service members said they would refuse to live in private housing and that the conditions were so poor in some instances that it influenced their decision on whether to reenlist.

While acknowledging the military services have increased their monitoring of base housing conditions, the GAO report issued late last week found that military officials lack reliable data on housing maintenance or resident satisfaction. Sen. Mark Warner, the Virginia Democrat who pushed for the report, said the conclusions support what military families have been telling him.

The Defense Department “has not done enough to protect service members and their families, who have been forced to put up with unacceptable living conditions in private military housing for far too long,” Mr. Warner said. “It’s about time to even out the power imbalance between our service members and privatized military housing companies.”

The GAO officials made several observations during a yearlong investigation of a number of military bases across the country.

While the services were using performance metrics to monitor the housing companies, those standards didn’t result in any meaningful information about the conditions the troops were living in. While maintenance data was being collected by the military and the housing companies, it wasn’t done in a reliable or consistent manner.

The GAO also found that information in some of the reports the Department of Defense sent to Congress over the years also was not reliable.

In their report to Congress, GAO investigators made 12 recommendations, including improving performance indicators, maintenance data and resident satisfaction reporting. The Department of Defense also should study what impact the initiatives might have on project finances.

The Defense Department “generally concurred with the recommendations and identified actions it plans to take to implement them,” GAO officials said in their report.

• Mike Glenn can be reached at mglenn@washingtontimes.com.

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