House lawmakers grilled officials on the state of military housing Wednesday after a damning watchdog report found that single service members are living with mold, contaminated water, no air conditioning and other major safety hazards on military housing facilities.
Some barracks that house unaccompanied service members are not livable, and even facilities that score well on military housing condition scales demonstrate serious facilities problems, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found in a report released earlier in September. Following up on that report, lawmakers asked officials in charge of DOD facilities to explain how barracks had fallen into major disrepair and how to maintain standards in the future at a subcommittee hearing.
“The report from the GAO was appalling,” Republican Nebraska Rep. Don Bacon, who chairs the House Armed Services Committee’s Quality of Life panel, said at the hearing. (RELATED: ‘Wasn’t Well Thought Out’: Soldiers Disappointed After Army Quietly Unveils Suicide Prevention Guidance)
“When I was commander of these installations, I had four-stars walking around our dorms. If I would’ve had it this way, I would’ve gotten fired,” he said later.
Carla Coulson, deputy assistant secretary of the Army for Installations, Housing, & Partnerships, acknowledged GAO’s findings that the Army is largely aware of systemic problems with dorm conditions but had failed to adequately plan for and fund sustainment.
“The report frankly is not news to the Army,” she said.
“We’ve done a lot of work already,” she added, citing the $1 billion or more each year devoted to unaccompanied military housing. However, abbout 300 Army permanent barracks are in poor or failing shape, and the existing budget will only address less than half of those while allowing others in good shape to fall into disrepair.
“Is there not a standard for barracks right now?” Republican Rep. Mark Alford of Missouri asked, noting that better housing could boost pride in the military and improve the Department of Defense’s (DOD) declining recruitment numbers.
“Left to our own devices, we’ll do what we feel is best for our military department,” Coulson said.
“How many of those barracks are not in a standard you would like to live in?” Alford asked.
The Army maintains 6,700 barracks out of the 9,000 existing across the military departments. Of those, 23% are in “poor and failing” condition, and 18% of those that are permanently inhabited are below par.
“I don’t know that they are livable and habitable,” Coulson said.
“How long will it take to right the ship?”
The Army needs about $6.5 billion to bring dorms to livable status, she said.
Tune in as our House Armed Services Committee Quality of Life Panel gets answers on the current state of our unaccompanied military housing and efforts to improve it through privatization… you can watch here: https://t.co/MTs7b7Dn4L pic.twitter.com/QfGeR7gt3A
— Congresswoman Jen Kiggans (@RepJenKiggans) September 27, 2023
Lawmakers voiced concerns about consequences of decrepit housing for single service members in the areas of physical and mental health. Defense officials defended ongoing efforts to improve housing but acknowledged they had fallen short.
“Enlisted service members from all military services told us poor living conditions negatively affect work performance, training, and DOD’s ability to recruit qualified personnel,” GAO wrote.
“The reality is introduction of a sailor, single service member, into a facility makes it by definition mission critical,” Robert Thompson, the Navy’s installation secretary, said. He agreed with the GAO’s assessment that the DOD did not have consistent, reliable ways to make sure dorms are livable.
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