Military Housing:

DOD Needs to Strengthen Oversight and Clarify Its Role in the Management of Privatized Housing

GAO-20-281: Published: Mar 26, 2020. Publicly Released: Mar 26, 2020.

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Elizabeth A. Field
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fielde1@gao.gov

 

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Private-sector companies build, renovate, and maintain about 99% of family housing at military bases in the United States. However, with reports of hazards like mold and pest infestations, there are concerns about how well DOD monitors the condition of this housing.

Military departments have increased their monitoring of privatized housing conditions, but we found they don’t have reliable data on housing maintenance or resident satisfaction.

We made 12 recommendations, including that DOD ensure it is collecting information that accurately reflects housing conditions and is clearly communicating the role of military housing offices to residents.

Camp Pendelton

Camp Pendelton

Multimedia:

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Elizabeth A. Field
(202) 512-2775
fielde1@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

What GAO Found

The Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) and the military departments conduct a range of oversight activities, but some of these activities have been more extensive than others. Specifically, GAO found that:

  • The military departments conduct some oversight of the physical condition of housing, but some efforts have been limited in scope. Military departments have authority to conduct oversight of the condition of privatized housing. That oversight generally consists of reviewing a sample of work order requests, visually inspecting housing during change-of-occupancy, and conducting other point-in-time assessments. However, GAO found that these efforts are limited in scope. For example, annual interior walk-throughs are limited to just a few homes at some installations, which may not comprehensively reflect the condition of the housing units at those installations.
     
  • The military departments use performance metrics to monitor private partners, but the metrics do not provide meaningful information on the condition of housing. OSD has recently issued guidance to the military departments to ensure consistency in the framework used to measure project performance. However, the specific indicators used to determine if the metrics are being met may not accurately reflect performance related to the condition of the home. For example, a common indicator is how quickly the private partner responded to a work order, not whether the issue was actually addressed.
     
  • The military departments and private partners collect maintenance data on homes, but these data are not captured reliably or consistently. The Department of Defense (DOD) is expanding its use of work order data to monitor and track the condition of privatized housing. However, based on GAO's analysis of data provided by all 14 private partners, these data cannot reliably be used for ongoing monitoring of privatized housing because of data anomalies and inconsistent business practices in how these data are collected.
     
  • DOD provides reports to Congress on the status of privatized housing, but some data in these reports are unreliable, leading to misleading results. DOD provides periodic reports to Congress on the status of privatized housing, but reported results on resident satisfaction are unreliable due to variances in the data provided to OSD by the military departments and in how OSD has calculated and reported these data.

OSD has made progress in developing and implementing a series of initiatives aimed at improving privatized housing. In addition, Congress established several requirements addressing privatization housing reform. However, DOD officials and private partner representatives have identified challenges that could affect implementation of these various initiatives. These include concerns that implementation could have unintended negative impacts on the financial viability of the privatized housing projects. However, DOD has not assessed the risk of the initiatives on project finances.

Why GAO Did This Study

Congress enacted the Military Housing Privatization Initiative in 1996 to improve the quality of housing for servicemembers. DOD is responsible for general oversight of privatized housing projects. However, private-sector developers are responsible for the construction, renovation, maintenance, and repair of about 99 percent of military housing in the United States. Recent reports of hazards, such as mold and pest infestation, have raised questions about DOD's oversight of privatized military housing.

Conference Report 115-952 included a provision for GAO to review ongoing issues within privatized housing. This report assesses, among other things, the extent to which OSD and the military departments (1) conduct oversight of privatized housing and (2) have developed and implemented initiatives to improve privatized housing. GAO reviewed policies and guidance; visited a non-generalizable sample of 10 installations; analyzed work order data; and interviewed DOD officials and private partner representatives.

What GAO Recommends

GAO is making 12 recommendations, including that DOD take steps to improve housing condition oversight, performance indicators, maintenance data, and resident satisfaction reporting as well as to assess the risk of the initiatives on project finances. DOD generally concurred with the recommendations and identified actions it plans to take to implement them.

For more information, contact Elizabeth A. Field at (202) 512-2775 or fielde1@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Sustainment, in collaboration with the military departments, provide updated guidance for the oversight of privatized military housing, to include oversight objectives for each service to monitor the physical condition of privatized homes over the remaining duration of the ground leases. (Recommendation 1)

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Office of the Secretary of Defense

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Army should take steps, in collaboration with the Army's private housing partners, to review the indicators underlying the privatized housing project performance metrics to ensure they provide an accurate reflection of the condition and quality of the homes. (Recommendation 2

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Army: Office of the Secretary

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Air Force should take steps, in collaboration with the Air Force's private housing partners, to review the indicators underlying the privatized housing project performance metrics to ensure they provide an accurate reflection of the condition and quality of the homes. (Recommendation 3)

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Air Force: Office of the Secretary of the Air Force

  4. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Navy should take steps, in collaboration with the Navy and Marine Corps' private housing partners, to review the indicators underlying the privatized housing project performance metrics to ensure they provide an accurate reflection of the condition and quality of the homes. (Recommendation 4)

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Navy: Office of the Secretary

  5. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Sustainment, in collaboration with the military departments and private housing partners, establish minimum data requirements and consistent terminology and practices for work order data collection for comparability across installations and projects and to track trends over time. (Recommendation 5)

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Office of the Secretary of Defense

  6. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Sustainment require the military departments to establish a process to validate data collected by the private housing partners to better ensure the reliability and validity of work order data and to allow for more effective use of these data for monitoring and tracking purposes. (Recommendation 6)

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Office of the Secretary of Defense

  7. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should ensure the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Sustainment, in collaboration with the military departments, develop a process for collecting and calculating resident satisfaction data from the military departments to ensure that the data are compiled and calculated in a standardized and accurate way. (Recommendation 7)

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Office of the Secretary of Defense

  8. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should ensure the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Sustainment provides additional explanation of the data collected and reported in future reports to Congress, such as explaining the limitations of available survey data, how resident satisfaction was calculated, and reasons for any missing data, among other things. (Recommendation 8)

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Office of the Secretary of Defense

  9. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Army should develop and implement a plan to clearly and systematically communicate to residents the difference between the military housing office and the private partner. At a minimum, these plans should include the Army housing office's roles, responsibilities, locations, and contact information and should ensure that all residents are aware that they can directly contact Army housing office officials. (Recommendation 9)

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Army: Office of the Secretary

  10. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Air Force should develop and implement a plan to clearly and systematically communicate to residents the difference between the military housing office and the private partner. At a minimum, these plans should include the Air Force housing office's roles, responsibilities, locations, and contact information and should ensure that all residents are aware that they can directly contact Air Force housing office officials. (Recommendation 10)

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Air Force: Office of the Secretary of the Air Force

  11. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Navy should develop and implement a plan to clearly and systematically communicate to residents the difference between the military housing office and the private partner. At a minimum, these plans should include the Navy housing office's roles, responsibilities, locations, and contact information and should ensure that all residents are aware that they can directly contact Navy housing office officials. (Recommendation 11)

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Navy: Office of the Secretary

  12. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Sustainment, in collaboration with the military departments, assess the risks of proposed initiatives aimed at improving the privatized military housing program on the financial viability of the projects. (Recommendation 12)

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Office of the Secretary of Defense

 

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