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Military Housing: DOD Can Further Strengthen Oversight of Its Privatized Housing Program [Reissued with Revisions Apr. 20, 2023]

GAO-23-105377 Published: Apr 06, 2023. Publicly Released: Apr 06, 2023.
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Fast Facts

Private-sector companies own and operate about 99% of homes at U.S. military installations.

Laws put in place since 2019 increased DOD's responsibilities to oversee this housing. DOD has taken steps to address requirements but could do more. For example, DOD:

  • Provided residents with a formal dispute resolution process and access to a tenant advocate, but should improve advocates' training, provide residents better information, and solicit residents' input on the process and the advocate's role
  • Increased home inspections but should develop uniform inspection standards and train inspectors

Our 19 recommendations help DOD address these issues.

A uniformed servicemember holding a miniature two-story house cupped in both hands with arms stretched out in front of him

Reissued with Revisions Apr 20, 2023
Revised April 19, 2023 to correct page 10 (Table 1). The corrected section should read: 'As of the end of March 2023, 11 of the 14 private housing companies have voluntarily agreed to fully implement all 18 rights, and the remaining three have voluntarily agreed to implement 16 of the 18 rights'.
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Highlights

What GAO Found

The Department of Defense (DOD) has taken steps to implement statutory requirements from the Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (2020 NDAA). These statutory requirements were designed to increase assistance to residents of privatized housing, ensure DOD has adequate personnel to conduct oversight activities, and improve DOD's oversight of the condition of private housing units. DOD has taken steps to implement these requirements, but gaps in guidance and training remain. For example, GAO found a need for

  • More detailed formal dispute resolution guidance. The 2020 NDAA required DOD to provide residents the right to enter into formal dispute resolution processes to resolve issues with private housing companies. The Office of the Secretary of Defense issued guidance establishing a formal dispute resolution process and directed the military departments to work with private housing companies to implement it. However, the guidance provided to residents on the process lacks detailed information, such as how and when they can file a formal dispute. Also, military housing officials have not received adequate guidance or training for assisting residents in the process.
  • Improved guidance on the role of the tenant advocate. The 2020 NDAA required DOD provide residents with access to a tenant advocate. Each military department has designated personnel to act in this capacity. However, the military departments have not clearly identified the roles and responsibilities for these personnel, or communicated useful information to residents about how they can and cannot use the tenant advocates.
  • Better oversight of the condition of private housing units. The 2020 NDAA required that DOD conduct inspections of privatized homes prior to resident occupancy. GAO found that, although each of the military departments is conducting these inspections as required, DOD has not developed clear or consistent inspection standards and the military departments have not provided adequate inspector training. This has contributed to inconsistencies in how inspectors rate homes, resulting in homes with similar issues receiving different ratings and, according to private housing company representatives, has increased project costs.

By addressing these implementation weaknesses, DOD could enable personnel to more effectively perform their duties, reduce residents' confusion and frustration, and more fully meet the congressional intent of improving the privatized housing program.

DOD has authorities and processes in place to hold private housing companies accountable for poor performance or misconduct, including fraud. Specifically, according to DOD officials, it can place companies on performance improvement plans, withhold performance incentive fees, or terminate and replace specific project stakeholders. DOD can also fully terminate a project, but has never identified the need to do so. Officials stated that such need would be unlikely, in part because the projects are structured to allow the military departments to address poor performance without disrupting the entire project. Moreover, private companies have typically shown a willingness to step out of projects due to poor performance when under pressure from DOD to do so.

Why GAO Did This Study

Private companies own and operate 99 percent of family housing at domestic military installations, totaling approximately 203,300 units. Since 2019, questions have been raised about assistance available to residents, poor housing conditions, and private company performance. Legislation has included requirements aimed at improving DOD's oversight of the privatized housing program.

GAO was asked to review DOD's oversight of the privatized housing program. This report evaluates the extent to which DOD has (1) implemented statutory requirements to improve assistance to residents, (2) improved oversight of privatized housing, and (3) the authorities and processes in place to hold private housing companies accountable for poor performance.

GAO analyzed DOD policies and guidance; and interviewed DOD housing officials and private company representatives at five installations selected for variation in service and experience with initiatives. GAO met with a nongeneralizable sample of residents currently living in privatized housing and solicited views from private housing companies.

Reissued with Revisions Apr. 20, 2023

Revised April 19, 2023 to correct page 10 (Table 1). The corrected section should read: 'As of the end of March 2023, 11 of the 14 private housing companies have voluntarily agreed to fully implement all 18 rights, and the remaining three have voluntarily agreed to implement 16 of the 18 rights'.

Recommendations

GAO is making 19 recommendations, including that DOD clarify guidance and training on efforts to increase assistance to residents and improve home inspection standards and training. DOD generally concurred with the recommendations and described some related actions.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of the Army The Secretary of the Army, in collaboration with the other military departments, should clarify guidance for residents explaining how and when they can enter into the formal dispute resolution process. (Recommendation 1)
Open
In its April 2024 response to GAO, the Department of the Army concurred with this recommendation. The Army stated that it intends to work with the other military departments to fully assess the current dispute resolution process gaps and develop clarifying guidance. The Army plans to initiate a Housing Program Review (HPR) that will will start later in fiscal year 2024 and will annually assess the effectiveness of the dispute resolution process and identify additional training needs for housing personnel to meet the statutory requirements and identify necessary updates to the plain language brief provided to to military residents. The Army plans to develop and distribute material(s) that clearly layout the dispute resolution process with focus on how and when residents can enter into the formal process by September 30, 2024.
Department of the Air Force The Secretary of the Air Force, in collaboration with the other military departments, should clarify guidance for residents explaining how and when they can enter into the formal dispute resolution process. (Recommendation 2)
Open
In its April 2024 response to GAO, the Department of the Air Force (DAF) partially concurred with this recommendation citing its existing robust guidance and products to educate and inform residents on how and when they can enter the formal Dispute Resolution Process (DRP). The Air Force explained that its military housing offices brief residents regarding the DRP during move-in, and provide the Tenant Bill of Rights and Tenant Resources for Resolving Disputes in Privatized Housing brochure to all new tenants. DAF will collaborate with the other military departments and will continue to incorporate lessons learned from past formal disputes to provide greater clarity. Air Force also noted that it plans to review and revise (1) work products to better explain the informal and formal DRP to incoming residents, and (2) Department of the Air Force Instruction (DAFI) 32-6000, Housing Management, to ensure military housing offices provide military residents in privatized housing details on how and when they can enter into the formal DRP. Air Force plans on completing these activities by the end of May 2024.
Department of the Navy The Secretary of the Navy, in collaboration with the other military departments, should clarify guidance for residents explaining how and when they can enter into the formal dispute resolution process. (Recommendation 3)
Open
In its April 2024 response to GAO, the Department of the Navy concurred with this recommendation and reported that it proactively provided residents dispute resolution process (DRP) information in multiple communications and documents including a new DRP flyer for distribution, the Housing Service Center's (HSC) plain language brief, the Universal Lease, social media links and the Tenant Bill of Rights. These are all provided to residents and available on the Navy Housing website. Additionally, the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) developed flyers as outreach materials to provide to tenants to inform them when they have the option to enter into the formal DRP. Additional instructions were included on the DRP Request Form to assist the tenant in completing the form. The USMC is actively working on a Tenant Guide (TG) to clearly identify how the process works and better communicate roles and responsibilities to residents. The Department of the Navy plans to collaborate with other military departments regarding formal DRP clarifying guidance by mid-April 2024, and develop and distribute material(s) that clearly layout the DRP with focus on how and when residents can enter into the formal DRP. The Navy cited competition of these activities in December 2023, and USMC plans completion by the end of May 2024.
Department of the Army The Secretary of the Army, in collaboration with the other military departments, should develop supplemental training and job aids to assist military housing office personnel in conducting dispute resolution processes. (Recommendation 4)
Open
In its April 2024 response to GAO, the Department of the Army concurred with this recommendation and reported that it has and will continue to work on and conduct conflict resolution and mediation training for military housing office (MHO) employees. While the training has been developed and implemented by the U.S. Army Installation Management Command (AMC), all MHO employees have not had the opportunity to attend the training nor have all received certification. The Department of the Army is in the process of implementing a Housing Program Review to conduct execution oversight of all housing programs, to assess the effectiveness of the current program guidance, to validate reports, to assess the effectiveness of housing training, and to identify gaps in all and a plan for corrective action against said gaps. The Army plans to develop and distribute supplemental training and job aids to assist MHO personnel in DRP conduction by the end of September 2024.
Department of the Air Force The Secretary of the Air Force, in collaboration with the other military departments, should develop supplemental training and job aids to assist military housing office personnel in conducting dispute resolution processes. (Recommendation 5)
Open
In its April 2024 response to GAO, the Department of the Air Force partially concurred with this recommendation due to its existing guidance and products to educate and inform military housing office (MHO) officials on conducting the Dispute Resolution Process (DRP). Specifically, Air Forced noted that it provides various training sessions throughout the year to MHO personnel. The DRP is one of the topics focused on in these virtual portfolio-wide training opportunities. The DAF's Global Housing Symposium, conducted bi-annually, includes in-depth training for MHO personnel with sessions dedicated to understanding the DRP. Supplementary training materials and job aids are available on the Air Force's housing privatization SharePoint site, Air Force Portfolio and Asset Control Evaluation System (AFPACES), including a playbook that outlines each step of the informal and formal DRP and the required level of involvement of the various stakeholders. The Air Force will collaborate with other military departments to develop additional or updates to existing supplemental training and/or job aids, by mid-April 2024. By the end of May 2024, Air Force plans to review and revise (1) training and job aids to assist MHO personnel in conducting the DRP, and (2) Department of the Air Force Instruction 32-6000, Housing Management, associated with MHOs roles and responsibilities conducting the DRP.
Department of the Navy The Secretary of the Navy, in collaboration with the other military departments, should develop supplemental training and job aids to assist military housing office personnel conducting dispute resolution processes. (Recommendation 6)
Open
In its April 2024 response, the Department of the Navy concurred with this recommendation and reported that a graphic depicting the timeline / steps of the formal dispute resolution process (DRP) for military housing offices (MHO) was distributed in May 2023. Navy is updating the Housing Learning Center's (HLC') privatized housing course to include the DRP and and updated course will be available to housing personnel beginning in April 2024. A job aid on the DRP will be included with the course and also distributed once the course updates are finalized. The U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) reported that it developed and held DRP training initially in November 2021 for over 150 personnel, where roles and responsibilities were clearly identified. The USMC is actively working to develop a job Aid to assist personnel in conducting and understanding the DRP through user-friendly documents, and plans to completed this action by the end of May 2024.
Department of the Army The Secretary of the Army, in collaboration with the other military departments, should update internal policy documents, as well as brochures provided to residents, to more clearly identify the specific roles and responsibilities of the military housing office officials designated as tenant advocates, including what they can and cannot do to support residents (Recommendation 7)
Open
In its April 2024 response to GAO, the Department of the Army concurred with this recommendation and noted that a plain language brief (PLB) is given to residents prior to signing the lease and again 30 days after moving in. The PLB provides points of contact within the MHO and the privatized housing company, as well as identifies the roles and responsibilities for those two entities. Additional updates noted as needed to the PLB may include clarifying actions the MHO can take to assist tenants. The Army has initiated a Housing Program Review that will, among other things, identify necessary updates to the PLB, this review is anticipated to start later in fiscal year 2024.
Department of the Air Force The Secretary of the Air Force, in collaboration with the other military departments, should update internal policy documents, as well as brochures provided to residents, to more clearly identify the specific roles and responsibilities of designated resident advocates, including what they can and cannot do to support residents. (Recommendation 8)
Open
In its April 2024 response to GAO, the Air Force partially concurred with this recommendation due to its existing training and formal guidance; however, Air Force noted that given the establishment of the new role of the resident advocate, continued education is appropriate. Air Force reported that it has existing guidance in the Military Housing Office (MHO) new resident brief to explain Resident Advocate (RA) duties, RA support available, and RA contact information. In addition, for MHOs specifically, Department of the Air Force Instruction (DAFI) 32-6000, Housing Management, provides the roles and responsibilities of the privatized housing RA as well as the MHO as it relates to this topic. However, the Air Force will collaborate with the other military departments on specific RA roles and responsibilities by mid-April 2024 and will update internal documents and external products such as brochures to residents as needed. Further, by the end of May 2024, Air Force plans to review and revise (1) job aids to delineate the roles and responsibilities of the MHO and RA, and (2) DAFI 32-6000, Housing Management, to ensure RA roles and responsibilities are clearly identified and provided to service members in privatized housing.
Department of the Navy The Secretary of the Navy, in collaboration with the other military departments, should update internal policy documents, as well as brochures provided to residents, to more clearly identify the specific roles and responsibilities of the military housing office officials designated as tenant advocates, including what they can and cannot do to support residents. (Recommendation 9)
Open
In its April 2024 response to GAO, the Department of the Navy concurred with this recommendation and reported that the Navy completed activities addressing this recommendation in December 2023. Specifically, its Housing Service Center roles, responsibilities, and limitations are outlined in the Commander, Navy Installations Command (CNIC) Referral Manual and the privatized housing tenant advocacy is further outlined in the Department of the Navy Public-Private Ventures Handbook, most recently updated in June 2023. The Navy updated the Navy Housing web site with information on services provided by housing advocates. A social media post and graphic with a link to the Navy Housing web site was created and added to the social media post rotation, in addition to the new dispute resolution posts. Additionally, the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) corrective action is ongoing. The USMC understands the importance of the tenant advocate at the installation level and will be developing a framework to address this recommendation. USMC plans to complete its activities related to this recommendation by the end of November 2024.
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Housing, in collaboration with the military departments, develops a mechanism to collect and incorporate resident feedback on the formal dispute resolution process and the tenant advocate position. This mechanism could be included as part of the department's ongoing effort to develop metrics to evaluate the effectiveness of statutory requirements related to the privatized military housing program. (Recommendation 10)
Open
The Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Housing (DASD(H)) concurred with this recommendation. An office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Housing (ODASD(H)) official reported to GAO that as of May 2024 that this office is collaborating with the military departments to develop a mechanism for collecting and incorporating tenant feedback on the formal dispute resolution process and the tenant advocate. Once this collaboration is complete, the ODASD(H) plans to publish the new mechanism via appropriate means, such as a policy or survey, by September 30, 2024.
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Housing completes OSD's study of military housing personnel needs, and establishes deadlines for submitting a report to Congress evaluating the shortage of civilian personnel performing oversight functions at DOD's military housing offices. (Recommendation 11)
Open
The Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Housing (DASD(H)) concurred with this recommendation. An official from the DASD(H) office acknowledged in May 2024 the importance of completing a housing manpower analysis and reporting the department wide findings to Congress in response to a requirement set out in section 3041 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020. Therefore, DASD(H) tasked the military departments to complete their housing manpower analysis by June 28, 2024, and estimates completing and transmitting the final report to Congress by October 31, 2024.
Department of the Army The Secretary of the Army should establish deadlines for assessing personnel needs and completing needs-based workforce studies related to the number of positions the Army needs to oversee privatized military housing. (Recommendation 12)
Open
In its April 2024 response to GAO, the Department of the Army concurred with this recommendation and reported that it utilized its official manpower determination process through the U.S. Army Manpower Analysis Agency (USAMAA) to address this recommendation. The USAMAA-led required manpower studies at echelon and installation model are complete; USAMAA is currently validating the study/model and plans to completed these efforts and release its results to the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Housing by the end of June 2024.
Department of the Air Force The Secretary of the Air Force should establish deadlines for assessing personnel needs and completing needs-based workforce studies related to the number of positions the Air Force needs to oversee privatized military housing. (Recommendation 13)
Open
In its April 2024 response to GAO, the Department of the Air Force reported it is utilizing the Air Force Manpower Analysis Agency to finalize the Housing Manpower Determinant and determine the standard. Once complete, the standard will be applied at all installations with privatized family housing to establish their final military housing office staff requirements. The Air Force plans to provide the results of its assessment to the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Housing by the end of June 2024.
Department of the Navy The Secretary of the Navy should establish deadlines for assessing personnel needs and completing needs-based workforce studies related to the number of positions the Navy needs to oversee privatized military housing. (Recommendation 14)
Open
In its April 2024 response to GAO, the Department of the Navy concurred with this recommendation and reported that it is utilizing its established internal processes to complete the assessment; corrective action is still ongoing. Specifically Commander, Navy Installations Command (CNIC) is working to get approval of the updated Housing Manpower Model from the Navy Manpower Analysis Center (NAVMAC). Once approved, CNIC Housing plans to use the model to further analyze the housing staffing requirement. Navy plans to provide its results to the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Housing by the end of June 2024.
Department of the Navy The Secretary of the Navy should establish deadlines for assessing personnel needs and completing needs-based workforce studies related to the number of positions the Marine Corps needs to oversee privatized military housing. (Recommendation 15)
Open
In its April 2024 response to GAO, the Department of the Navy, to include the U.S. Marine Corps, concurred with this recommendation and reported that it is utilizing its established internal processes to complete the assessment; corrective action is still ongoing. Specifically Commander, Navy Installations Command (CNIC) is working to get approval of the updated Housing Manpower Model from the Navy Manpower Analysis Center (NAVMAC). Once approved, U.S. Marine Corps housing plans to use the model to further analyze the housing staffing requirement. The Department of the Navy plans to provide its results to the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Housing by the end of June 2024.
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Housing establishes a department wide turnover inspection guidance that includes clear and consistent inspection standards for assigning ratings to each of the components evaluated in the turnover maintenance checklist. (Recommendation 16)
Open
The Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Housing (DASD(H)) concurred with this recommendation. An official from the DASD(H) office reported as of May 2024 that this office is collaborating with the military departments to update department-wide turnover inspection guidance that includes clear and consistent inspection standards for assignment of ratings by component. Afterwards, DASD(H) plans to publish this updated guidance by July 31, 2024.
Department of the Army The Secretary of the Army, in coordination with the other military departments, should establish detailed training for military housing office inspectors based on the inspection standards once established. (Recommendation 17)
Open
In its April 2024 response to GAO, the Department of the Army concurred with this recommendation and reported that it proactively created a housing inspector course in December 2020 that provided detailed training for Military Housing Office inspectors based on then-current standards. The Army believes that a standardized inspection course, used by all services, would be a more complete approach going forward and will fully participate in the collaboration and development of updated and detailed training once the Chief Housing Officer signed guidance is disseminated. Army anticipates completing this action by the end of October 2024.
Department of the Air Force The Secretary of the Air Force, in coordination with the other military departments, should establish detailed training for military housing office inspectors based on the inspection standards once established. (Recommendation 18)
Open
In its April 2024 response to GAO, the Department of the Air Force partially concurred with this recommendation based on its existing training and formal guidance for conducting turnover inspections; however, the Air Force will adjust training as needed to comply with the latest policies and procedures. The Air Force requires military housing office (MHO) personnel who conduct home inspections to attend the Air Force Institute of Technology, "Certified Housing Inspector Course". The Air Force also requires MHO staff performing inspections of privatized housing to complete the Military Housing and Lodging Institute, "Certified Military Housing Inspection" course, initially and every 3 years thereafter. Air Force plans to incorporate Chief Housing Officer published inspection standards into Department of the Air Force Instruction 32-6000, Housing Management and training courses as required by the end of October 2024.
Department of the Navy The Secretary of the Navy, in coordination with the other military departments, should establish detailed training for military housing office inspectors based on the inspection standards once established. (Recommendation 19)
Open
In its April 2024 response to GAO, the Department of the Navy concurred with this recommendation and reported that the Navy proactively updated the "Conducting Navy Housing Inspections" training course and classes are on-going In addition, the Navy published 22 new job aids on various inspection topics. New or updated inspection standards published by the Chief Housing Officer (CHO) will be incorporated into the training and job aids, as needed. Additionally, the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) is in the process of updating all Housing position descriptions to included mandatory training elements and certification requirements for each position. Further, under the mandatory training element, USMC is utilizing a recognized, military-contracted "Certified Military Housing Inspector" course to train over 90 military housing office personnel. The Department of the Navy plans to incorporate CHO-published inspection standards into "Conducting Navy Housing Inspections" training course by the end of October 2024.

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