WASHINGTON — Images of overflowing sewage and mold were put on display during a House subcommittee hearing to demonstrate the unsafe living conditions for some service members living on military barracks.
“This is disgusting,” said Rep. Mike Waltz (R-FL). “This is unsatisfactory… Would any of you want your children in these kinds of conditions with mold, with feces?”
Waltz is the Chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness, which questioned officials from the Defense Department last week about the state of DoD Housing and its aging infrastructure.
“We’ve been banging this drum for a long time, and we’ll have to continue to do so,” said Ranking Member Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA). “It is a definite recruiting problem.”
The latest hearing stems from a U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report we told you about late last year that exposed pest infestations, mold, and other problems at the barracks.
The findings from the report cautioned that poor conditions are affecting the readiness and mental health of service members.
“Who was fired? Who was held accountable?” Waltz asked Brendan Owens, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Energy, Installations, and Environment.
“Chairman Waltz, I’m not aware of anyone who was,” responded Owens.
“No one from the Secretary down to your level, down to the services, down to the base Commander. Nobody has actually been held accountable,” said Waltz. “I would submit to you that may be a critical part of the problem because that sends a signal that this is unacceptable.”
The DoD officials pointed to changes underway from the 2024 defense policy bill, including increased oversight of privatized military housing.
“Our oversight of housing providers has increased significantly, and we are now preparing to institute a standardized quality assurance/quality control maintenance program, that will be applicable at all installations,” said Rachel Jacobson, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Energy, Installations, and Environment.
“Our home, it has mold everywhere and as a mom that broke me,” military spouse Breanna Bragg told us in November 2022 about her former home on a military base run by a privatized housing company.
In the testimony last week, the DoD warned a lot of the infrastructure on bases is old.
“Over 79% of our installations were established before 1970 and nearly 33% of built assets are more than 50 years old,” said Owens. “These assets reflect the needs and policies of the time they were constructed, requiring not just regular upkeep, but potentially significant upgrades or outright replacements to meet evolving requirements and preferences.”
The DoD said it is updating its design plan for housing with the goal of reducing maintenance problems, and said it’s improving the day-to-day management of things like repairs and inspections.
“The DoD has in too many instances failed to live up to our role in making sure the housing we provide honors the commitment of the service members and their families,” said Owens.
Owens testified that over the past five years, the DoD has invested an average of $14.6 billion a year to build new facilities and $15.3 billion a year to maintain and repair infrastructure.
But Owens warned despite these investments, the estimated deferred maintenance log for addressing infrastructure problems on bases stands at $134 billion, and continues to grow faster than the pace of investment.
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