The Air Force is intensifying its investigations into private military housing contractor Balfour Beatty Communities after new allegations that the company falsified work orders at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas.
“We are concerned by this new information provided to the Air Force about Balfour Beatty Communities’ (BBCs) practices involving Lackland Air Force Base,” John Henderson, Air Force assistant secretary for installations, environment and energy, told Federal News Network in a Nov. 25 statement. “As with previous reports of this type, we have referred all new reports of falsified work orders to the Air Force office of special investigations.”
The allegations come from a Nov. 20 report from Reuters in which BBCs employees described pressure to manipulate logs to look like the company met its maintenance goals.
“You either make these numbers match so we can get the incentive fees, or you may not have a job tomorrow,” one employee told Reuters. “We fudged the numbers, and even now it’s not easy to say that. I hate to admit it.”
BBCs is only one of a handful of housing companies that came under fire earlier this year for lead paint, mice, mold and other substandard living conditions in privatized military housing across all the services.
The Air Force told Federal News Network there is “no room on the Air Force team for anyone who does not share our core values of integrity, service and excellence.”
However, BBCs is already under review from the Air Force after similar tactics and substandard living conditions were found at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma.
“The Air Force recently discovered an issue at Tinker caused by a flooring subcontractor failing to test for asbestos as required prior to disturbing floor tiles in occupied homes,” Henderson wrote to BBCs on Sept. 30. “This follows upon the earlier discovery in July of 2019 that BBCs failed to construct firewalls as required in certain duplex housing units at Tinker AFB. While we appreciate BBCs is now taking action to address these deficiencies, they represent a growing list of serious construction, maintenance, repair, management and oversight performance failures across BBCs’ portfolio of Air Force housing projects.”
Henderson asked BBCs to submit a comprehensive improvement plan for approval by the end of the year. The plan must be comprehensive and integrated, with milestones and schedules to remedy all of the issues.
Henderson said unless the Air Force sees prompt and substantial improvement, then the service will initiate formal action under the dispute provisions of the contract with BBCs.
The recent allegations caught the attention of Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Ranking Member Jack Reed (D-R.I.).
“This is not the first time allegations have been raised that Balfour Beatty has used fraudulent work order practices at Air Force bases. This isn’t even the second time. It is the third time — and it is completely unacceptable and disturbing,” they said in a joint statement. “How much more should we ask military families to endure? We urge the Air Force and appropriate federal law enforcement agencies to investigate this fully so we can truly understand what is going on and how pervasive this problem is. If the Air Force substantiates allegations that Balfour Beatty perpetrated widespread, illegal fraud, the Air Force must take every action appropriate to hold Balfour Beatty accountable and recoup every last dollar stolen from the taxpayers.”
The senators stated that if BBCs isn’t able to clean up its act, then they will find someone who will.
Congress is currently hammering out their differences of the 2020 defense authorization bill. That piece of legislation holds a tenant bill of rights for service members, as well as other initiatives to improve housing.
The Air Force also put new actions in place to mitigate the housing issue.
“The Air Force is currently pursuing 51 separate actions to standardize our policies, improve oversight of privatized housing, increase communications with all stakeholders, empower our residents, and further integrate leadership into privatized housing management,” Henderson said. “We are adding funds for additional staff to ensure compliance, check quality, and enhance advocacy for our residents. Additionally, we are upgrading maintenance management practices at every base as part of a broader improvement program.”
The Air Force also withheld more than $4 million in incentive funds from BBCs in July.