Chairwoman Wasserman Schultz Statement at Hearing on Military Privatized Housing
Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), Chair of the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, delivered the following remarks at the Subcommittee's oversight hearing on military privatized housing:
Today we welcome three panels to testify on the conditions of Military Privatized Housing.
The first panel will be two family representatives telling their personal stories. The second panel will be representatives from five of the 14 of the private companies: Balfour Beatty Communities, Corvias, LendLease Americas, Hunt Military Communities and Lincoln Military Housing. The third panel will be a representative from the Office of Secretary of Defense, Mr. Pete Potochney, and Ms. Elizabeth Fields from GAO.
The focus of this hearing is to hear from family housing tenants, DOD and the private companies on the corrective actions being taken to improve privatized housing and the way forward to sustain the corrective actions.
In August 2018, Reuters published the first in a series of articles chronicling health and safety issues experienced by military families living in privatized military family housing. These articles prompted an ever-increasing number of military families from across the country to come forward with their experiences. The large geographically diverse group of families indicated that there were systemic failures in the privatized military family housing program. Families of all services, ranks, and paygrades have reported health problems related to lead and mold exposure, rodent infestations, rude and dismissive housing management, and ineffective oversight of the program by the services.
The following February, Pentagon officials directed the leaders in their respective services to take immediate action to assess the scale and scope of installation housing issues to include outreach to military families with the offer of housing inspections to help document health and safety concerns.
Soon after, the military services began weekly meetings to analyze the data coming back from the field and began to address the systemic issues that were causing the problems being encountered by families.
Many of the problems experienced by military families appear to be products of poor management by private partners and insufficient or ineffective oversight by military services. Many military families have complained about the maintenance support they have received from the partners.
Family member complaints include the following: general unresponsiveness, long response times, failure to communicate, failure to keep appointments, and failure to adequately address issues which raise health concerns. While the Services continue to maintain housing offices, they have reduced the number of personnel that work at these offices. This understaffing is often exacerbated by co-locating the few remaining service housing personnel with the private partner management team, leading to families often feeling uncomfortable about making complaints about the private partner to their service liaisons.
Another systemic issue is a lack of involvement and oversight by senior installation leadership and the service member tenant’s chain of command. Failure to understand or execute their role in ensuring that service members and their families have adequate housing has contributed to family members believing they have no place to turn for help with housing concerns.
The services report that a lack of visibility on work order processing has contributed to the overall lack of oversight. In addition, the current system incentivizes work order completion without respect to the quality of maintenance performed, which has led to poor workmanship and unqualified personnel performing the work. An over-emphasis on occupancy rates incentivizes quick turnover of homes, which in turn can lead to a lack of preventive maintenance of homes between tenants.
Finally, I recognize that some of our witnesses are parties in ongoing litigation. I want to remind Members to ask their questions while keeping in mind that witnesses might have to limit their responses due to this ongoing litigation. At the same time, this is an important issue and expect that they will endeavor to answer Members questions so we can continue to conduct the essential oversight that is our responsibility.