Army Pledges to Continue Fixing On-Post Housing
The Army is withholding incentive payments from privatized housing companies and creating 24-hour complaint hotlines in its efforts to improve on-post housing, but a lot more work remains to be done, the service’s senior leaders said.
“It is our responsibility to provide housing, not simply to code but also to quality,” Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said, adding, “we owe it to the 45% of our force who live on-post.”
McCarthy and Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville testified Dec. 3 alongside the other service secretaries and chiefs before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The hearing took place 10 months after a similar event before the committee in February that highlighted widespread reports of poor maintenance, black mold, pest infestations and other issues in privatized military housing.
The issue remains a priority for committee members, and senators continue to receive complaints daily, said Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, the committee chairman.
“This housing problem is a readiness problem,” he said. “We can’t afford to ignore this readiness problem.”
The Army has more than 86,000 privatized homes on its installations, with one-third in poor condition, one-third in fair condition and one-third in good condition, McCarthy said.
Since February, more than 2,100 families have been displaced while their homes are being repaired, with almost 200 of them still in temporary housing as of Dec. 3, he said. “To displaced families, days can feel like weeks and weeks can feel like months,” McCarthy said. “These aren’t simply numbers; these are lives.”
One way the Army has held privatized housing companies accountable is by withholding incentive fees, which are typically awarded for good performance.
The Army recently withheld “substantial fees” back from the contractor on Fort Benning, Georgia, and Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, “because of poor performance, work order response time as well as quality,” McCarthy said.
The average incentive fee awarded “right now is about 77%,” with some getting as little as 11%, McConville said. “We see that making a difference in the performance of the contractors in executing their mission,” he said.
The Army also has held town hall meetings with soldiers and families, created 24-hour help lines, sent surveys to family members, empowered the chain of command, and created transparency in the work order process, McCarthy said.
Senior leaders also made housing their top quality of life priority and assigned housing operations to Gen. Gus Perna, commander of the U.S. Army Materiel Command. A resident bill of rights is also being worked on by all the services, McCarthy said.
The Army will continue to work to improve on-post housing, but the process will take time, McCarthy and McConville told the senators.
The work also will require money, McCarthy said, when asked about how a continuing resolution, which funds the Army at fiscal year 2019 levels, is affecting the Army’s efforts.
The Army has requested about $1.1 billion for housing restoration and modernization, plus millions in barracks improvements, and that money is being held up without a fiscal 2020 budget, McCarthy said.
“We can’t initiate the projects, we don’t have the funding,” he said. “And existing ones are being funded at the previous levels, so the buying power is reduced.”