Defense officials were grilled by lawmakers in the House on Wednesday following a damning report that was issued by a watchdog group regarding the state of housing for members of the military.
Earlier this month, the Government Accountability Office issued a report that found that there were single members of the military services who were being forced to live in housing facilities that have mold and water that’s contaminated, as well as no air conditioning and other major safety hazards.
The GAO report found that some barracks that are home to service members who live by themselves aren’t livable at all. In addition, there are other facilities that score well on scales that determine the condition of military housing that still demonstrate serious problems.
Once the report was issued, House members asked officials who are in charge of these facilities to tell them how it came about that the facilities fell into such disrepair and how the standards could be maintained.
At the hearing, Republican Representative Don Bacon from Nebraska, who serves as the chair of the Quality of Life panel on the House Armed Services Committee, said:
“The report from the GAO was appalling. … 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.”
The Army for Installations, Housing & Partnerships’ deputy assistant secretary, Carla Coulson, said that the Army is aware of these systemic problems that exist at dorms, but they haven’t been able to adequately fund or plan for sustainment.
She said at the hearing that the Army has “done a lot of work already,” citing an annual $1 billion that’s devoted specifically to military housing for unaccompanied service members. Yet, there are still roughly 300 permanent barracks in the Army that are in either failing or poor shape. The current budget doesn’t even address half of the barracks, either, which then allows other ones that are actually acceptable to eventually fall into disrepair as well.
Republican Representative Mark Alford from Missouri questioned whether there was a standard for the barracks in place. He also noted that having better housing conditions could actually boost military pride and improve recruiting numbers.
As the GAO wrote in its report:
“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.”
Coulson put her own two cents into the matter by saying:
“Left to our own devices, we’ll do what we feel is best for our military department.”
Of the 9,000 barracks that exist for all military departments, the Army maintains about 6,700 of them. For that allotment, 23% are described as being in “poor and failing” condition, with 18% of them being below part.
Coulson even questioned whether those facilities were “livable and habitable.”
After being pressed, Coulson said that the Army would need roughly $6.5 billion to be able to bring their dorms up to par.