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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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: The Department of Defense (DOD) concurred with this recommendation. In its August 2020 response, DOD noted that the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Sustainment (ASD (S)), as the Chief Housing Officer, issued guidance requiring the military departments to monitor work order completion for housing privatized under the Military Housing Privatization Initiative based on a combination of resident input, timeliness of work order completion, and number of repeat work orders for the same repair. The guidance also required increased tracking of MHPI project work orders by installation staff. Moving forward, the ASD(S) plans to issue quarterly program review guidance that establishes oversight objectives for the military departments to monitor the physical condition of MHPI housing over the duration of their project ground leases, formalizing the requirement that the data be monitored by the Chief Housing Officer. DOD expects this to be completed by December 2020. We will continue to monitor the status of this recommendation.

    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: The Department of Defense (DOD) concurred with this recommendation. In its August 2020 response, DOD noted that the Secretary of the Army has taken several steps toward addressing this recommendation. For example, the Army published the Portfolio and Asset Management Handbook creating a multi-tiered assessment approach of performance metrics to measure the health of each privatized home through inspection, assessment, satisfaction, and feedback. The Army and the private housing partners revised the Incentive Fee Performance Management Plan, placing increased emphasis on resident satisfaction and work order/maintenance management. The Army also put Commanders in charge, ensuring Army leadership at every Army installation is tracking housing quality and safety. In late 2020, the Army plans to review and evaluate these actions and make a determination by 31 Jan 2021 if any changes or revisions are needed to best implement the recommendation. As such, we will continue to monitor the status of this recommendation.

    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: The Department of Defense (DOD) concurred with this recommendation. In its August 2020 response, DOD noted that the Air Force is engaging in several steps to address this recommendation. Specifically, in March 2020, the Air Force tasked each of the Military Housing Offices to inspect all move-in, move-out, and change of occupancy maintenance events and all emergency, urgent, and life, health, and safety work orders, which is outlined in Air Force guidance. The Air Force is also engaging in several ongoing actions. In response to a memo to the military departments to provide consistency of performance incentive fees, the Air Force was negotiating with the privatized housing project owners to update performance incentive fee metrics in accordance with ASD directed categories and weightings. As of August 2020, agreements had been finalized with 2 partners and work was ongoing with the remaining partners. In addition, the Air Force was working with the project owners to deploy Satisfacts, a survey tool to independently measure resident satisfaction with projects' work order performance, across all Air Force projects with an expected completion by December 2020. We will continue to monitor the status of these recommendations.

    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: The Department of Defense (DOD) concurred with this recommendation. In its August 2020 response, DOD noted that the Navy and Marine Corps are engaging in several steps to address this recommendation. Specifically, the Navy and Marine Corps have developed a centralized electronic data warehouse, which receives data from privatized housing partner maintenance systems to display work order and survey performance dashboards. By February 2021, the Navy expects to complete the development of metrics displayed by the data warehouse to include key service call performance metrics and resident feedback data. The Navy and Marine Corps are also developing a web-based monitoring matrix tool housing officials can use to evaluate the performance of privatized housing partners. The tool is intended to provide improved tracking capabilities and improved accessibility to information, thus providing more consistent oversight and improved advocacy service members and their families. The Navy is also working to hire 247 additional Navy and Marine Corps housing staff to review and analyze private partner provided recurring maintenance and customer satisfaction reports in an effort to strengthen oversight and monitoring, with an estimated completion of September 2020. Moving forward, we will continue to monitor the status of these and other efforts.

    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: e Department of Defense (DOD) partially concurred with this recommendation. In its August 2020 response, DOD stated that the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Sustainment (ASD(S)), as the Chief Housing Officer, plans to issue a policy directing the military departments to establish, to the maximum extent practical, minimum data requirements and consistent terminology and practices for MHPI housing unit work order collection to aid in comparability across installations and projects, and for tracking trends over time. However, DOD noted that the department cannot mandate changes to existing MHPI project legal documents. DOD estimates that this effort will be completed by December 2021. We will continue to monitor the status of this recommendation.

    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: The Department of Defense (DOD) concurred with this recommendation. In its August 2020 response, DOD noted that the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Sustainment (ASD(S)), as the Chief Housing Officer, issued guidance directing the military departments to exercise proper oversight to ensure Military Housing Privatization Initiative (MHPI) projects perform in accordance with legal agreements, to include due diligence in monitoring and auditing project maintenance records and other project performance data. The guidance also required military departments to review their entire portfolios of MHPI projects to ensure accurate and appropriate work order management processes. In response to the new guidance, DOD noted that the military departments put in place appropriate oversight measures and undertook the required reviews, though the investigations of project business practices were ongoing in some cases. As another step, the ASD(S) plans to issue guidance directing the military departments to establish a process to validate data collected by their respective MHPI Project Owners 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. DOD expects this to be completed by the end of September 2020. We will continue to monitor the status of this recommendation.

    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: The Department of Defense (DOD) partially concurred with this recommendation based on the fact that the draft report listed the incorrect office as the source for addressing the deficiency, but subsequently changed its response to concur after the recommendation was directed to the appropriate office in the final report. In its August 2020 response, DOD noted that the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Sustainment (ASD(S)) plans to issue guidance establishing a department-wide process for collecting and calculating resident satisfaction data to ensure that the data are compiled and calculated in a standardized and accurate way effective with the survey collection effort in Fiscal Year 2021. The department expects this effort to be completed by October 2020. We will continue to monitor the status of this recommendation.

    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: The Department of Defense (DOD) partially concurred with this recommendation. In its August 2020 response, DOD noted that the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Sustainment (ASD(S)) would provide additional explanation of the MHPI resident satisfaction data collected and reported in future annual Military Housing Privatization Initiative (MHPI) reports to Congress, effective with the annual report covering fiscal year 2019. DOD noted that the additional information will include, among other things, an explanation of the limitations of available survey data, how resident satisfaction was calculated, and reasons for any missing data. As of August 2020, the annual MHPI report covering fiscal year 2018 was in final coordination and the department noted that the report would addresses a vast majority, but not all, of the requirements identified in our recommendation. DOD noted that the additional information would be provided in the next annual MHPI report. We will continue to monitor the status of this recommendation.

    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: The Department of Defense (DOD) concurred with this recommendation. In its response, DOD noted that the Army developed a "Plain Language" briefing as required by the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act that included the Army Housing Office's roles, responsibilities, location, and contact information at each privatized housing project site. DOD noted that the intent of the briefing was to ensure that all residents were aware of their ability to directly contact Army Housing Office and/or the Garrison Commanders. DOD stated that the briefing was disseminated to all of the Military Housing Offices, who are using it in newcomer briefings, and stated that the briefing would be provided to all current residents of privatized military housing, but that measure would not be tracked due to attrition. In addition, DOD noted that Headquarters, Department of the Army was tasking Army Materiel Command to develop a more detailed plan to communicate to residents the difference between the Army Housing Office and the private housing partner. The Army's intent is to not only capture residents upon their arrival at an installation, but making the services of the MHO known over the duration of a resident's time on at installation. We will continue to monitor the status of this recommendation.

    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: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Defense (DOD) concurred with this recommendation. In its August 2020 response, DOD noted that the Air Force has taken steps to address this recommendation. Specifically, the Air Force published updated guidance in March 2020 directing all Military Housing Offices (MHO) to clearly distinguish themselves from project owner personnel through signage, appearance, and by clearly designating space for residents to meet with MHO personnel to discuss any issues. DOD noted that all Air Force bases' MHOs reported they are compliant and that the Air Force will confirm compliance during annual site visits. In addition, the Air Force has provided materials communicating the MHOs' roles, responsibilities, locations, and contact information and ensures all residents are aware that they can directly contact Air Force housing office officials. Specifically, the Air Force developed and provided a briefing and move-in checklist for the MHOs and discussed the information in a virtual mass briefing to provide implementation guidance and sent the information to the MHOs in April 2020 with a May 1, 2020 implementation. The briefing and checklist emphasizes information specific to the MHO and confirms that residents are aware of their rights and responsibilities and that they have copies of the Tenant's Bill of Rights recently signed by the Secretary of Defense and the military departments. In addition, the Air Force provided a mass training session for the MHOs on this information in April 2020 and has been conducting checks at sites and confirming that Air Force installations are using the materials to brief residents of privatized housing . We consider these actions responsive to the recommendation.

    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: The Department of Defense (DOD) concurred with this recommendation. In its August 2020 response, DOD noted that the Navy has taken various steps to address this recommendation, with additional steps planned. For example, the Navy has ensured that each installation has a specific issue resolution process description marketing flyer available, both in hard copy and on the public housing websites, with a reminder that residents can contact both the privatized housing property manager and the Navy housing office with any issues. Moreover, every housing unit has been provided with a refrigerator magnet reminding residents that they can and should contact the Navy housing office if they have any issues with their home. In addition, the Navy and Marine Corps have established a requirement to contact each privatized housing resident not later than 15 days after move-in and again 60 days after move-in to provide an opportunity to request assistance and remind them of available support. Moving forward, the Navy has an ongoing effort to require private housing companies to market the same messaging as the service issue resolution processes for the MHOs that they support, for consistent advocacy messaging to the tenants. The information will be added to PPV partner websites, printed material and resident handbooks. The Navy also plans to use its annual survey to tracks resident satisfaction and awareness of the Navy's issue resolution process, with expected completion by October 2020. In addition, the Marine Corps has identified a near-term initiative to procure name tags for all MHO employees to wear, identifying themselves as distinct and separate from privatized housing property management company, which will be standardized across all USMC installations. The Marine Corps also plans to develop a standard welcome aboard package to include magnets and other items with key point of contact information. The Marine Corps expects these efforts to be completed by the end of September 2020.

    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: The Department of Defense (DOD) concurred with this recommendation. In its August 2020 response, DOD noted that the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Sustainment, as the Chief Housing Officer, planned to issue a policy establishing the assessment of Military Housing Privatization Initiative (MHPI) project financial viability as part of quarterly program reviews as a long-term requirement. The department noted that the program review data would be augmented by input from the MHPI companies, who are assessing the likely impact of proposed initiatives in conjunction with their third party lenders. The department expected this effort to be completed by December 2020. We will continue to monitor the status of this recommendation.

    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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