Top senators looking into issues of fraud by privatized military housing companies want to know if the military services will further investigate Balfour Beatty Communities after new reports surfaced of the company ignoring reports of mold, pests and other issues.
The Army told lawmakers during a hearing earlier this month that it is opening an inquiry into Balfour Beatty Communities (BBC) in response to an April 26 report by the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.
“I take very seriously any report of substandard conditions that compromise the life, health and safety of soldiers and families,” Rachel Jacobson, assistant secretary of the Army for installations, energy and environment, said. “The day after the report was released, I wrote to Balfour Beatty indicating that I directed an immediate investigation at Fort Gordon to be overseen by the commanding general of the Army Materiel Command.”
The Army is suspending performance bonuses for BBC at Ft. Gordon in Georgia.
However, Sens. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) want to know what the other services are doing too. The duo wrote a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin asking if further investigations would take place and if the services needed any further legal authorities to improve oversight of housing companies.
BBC has already pleaded guilty to defrauding the military. The company was ordered to pay $33.6 million in criminal fines and entered into a $31.8 million restitution civil settlement. That fraud took place prior to 2019.
The Senate investigation found that BBC continues to be derelict in its duties to report repair requests.
“The inquiry found numerous examples since late 2019 of poor conditions in Balfour’s military housing and disregard of safety concerns and environmental hazards that put military families at risk,” the report states. “These poor conditions persisted well after Richard Taylor, one of Balfour’s two co-presidents, publicly pledged in testimony before Congress on December 5, 2019, to improve Balfour’s ability to monitor repairs and responses to conditions such as mold, to prioritize the health and safety of residents, and to prepare homes for move-ins.”
However, families are the ones feeling the biggest brunt of the issues.
Families are becoming increasingly frustrated. Repeated investigations and inquiries find the privatized housing companies to be bad actors, yet families are not seeing substantial positive changes on their level,” Armed Forces Housing Advocates (AFHA) co-founder Sarah Kline told Federal News Network. “AFHA believes that until the housing contracts are renegotiated that allow true third party oversight and the levying of fines on the installation level, no true changes will occur.”
Kline said AFHA supports a public-facing housing tool proposed by the Veterans of Foreign Wars and legislation that would support international code council training for maintenance personnel.
Lawmakers have not tipped their hands on what new legislation they might introduce to further mitigate the issue. Congress and DoD already implemented a tenant bill of rights and pledged more inspectors for properties.