December 03, 2019
U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, gave opening remarks this morning at a SASC hearing on reports of ongoing substandard conditions in privatized military housing. Witnesses included: Elizabeth A. Field, Director, Defense Capabilities and Management, Government Accountability Office; Ryan D. McCarthy, Secretary of the Army; Thomas B. Modly, Acting Secretary of the Navy; Barbara M. Barrett, Secretary of the Air Force; General James C. McConville, Chief of Staff of the Army; Admiral Michael M. Gilday, Chief of Naval Operations; General David H. Berger, Commandant of the Marine Corps; and General David L. Goldfein, Chief of Staff of the Air Force.
As Prepared for Delivery:
The committee meets today to receive testimony from the Government Accountability Office, the service secretaries and the service chiefs on the current condition of privatized military housing.
Almost a year ago, I first heard from military families about the dismal conditions they faced in privatized housing in Oklahoma. As I have said before, I thought this was an isolated case of a single contractor at a single installation.
But we’ve come to learn this problem isn’t unique to Tinker. It’s something that’s all over Oklahoma. It’s all over America. And it’s unacceptable.
This is a national crisis of proportions not seen since the scandal at Walter Reed more than a decade ago.
Members of this committee, our staff, and myself, we’ve all traveled and seen these problems firsthand. We’ve been holding your feet to the fire, and it appears we must to continue to do so.
This is the third hearing this committee has had on this issue, and I will say upfront this will not be the last.
We hoped that since our first two hearings in February and March, we would see marked differences by now, and be able to use this hearing to discuss the progress made and promises kept to our families.
Unfortunately, that is not the case. We continue to hear regularly from families across the country about questionable practices, poor workmanship, and frankly, in some places, about housing contractors just not caring about the families they are serving.
Additionally, as reported in the press, some of these contractors are now under investigation for defrauding the federal government. I’m really worried — What else is going to come out of the woodwork? What else don’t we know?
To our witnesses from the Department, I have to ask, “When is enough enough?”
Regardless of any potential criminal wrongdoing, we are still receiving complaints on a daily basis showing that you are still failing to fix this problem.
The time for talk is over. If these companies cannot get the job done, you owe it to our military families to find a company who will.
I say this because this housing problem is a readiness problem.
We have heard directly from those in the chain of command that they have had to bring service members home from deployment so that they can handle issues with these housing contractors.
Service members must focus on the mission when they are deployed, and trust that their service will take care of their families.
The secondary impacts to mission readiness are countless.
Let me be clear on one very important element. These hearings are not meant to be an indictment on the privatized housing system as a whole because in some instances, it is working very well.
It is meant to be an indictment of the bad actors that we know are out there. To those who lead our men and women in uniform, I ask, “What are you going to do about it — since almost a year later, we are still hearing about the same problems?”
As I mentioned earlier, this will not be the last hearing on this issue. I am putting our witnesses on notice that we will have another hearing early next year to discuss the implementation of our housing reform efforts, and the contractors will be back to answer the hard questions.
In their findings, GAO states that: Despite the military departments’ efforts to identify and implement initiatives to improve their oversight of the condition of privatized housing, each military department is working independently and with limited guidance from DOD; neither DOD nor the private partners maintain reliable data that can be used to consistently monitor the condition of privatized homes over the course of a project’s 50-year ground lease; and residents often cannot differentiate between military officials and private partner employees.
To remediate these and dozens of other problems, we have more than 30 housing-related legislative provisions in the NDAA this year. And because we are still hearing about problems from families, and I have seen them firsthand, we may need to go even further.
We cannot afford to ignore this readiness problem.
Issues like military housing are why it is so crucial we continue to pass an NDAA every year. The NDAA supports the bipartisan national security of this country and should not be held hostage by issues outside this committee’s purview.
Unfortunately, because of issues that are not in Senate Armed Services Committee’s jurisdiction, this year’s NDAA is not yet resolved, which means only leadership can clear this logjam.
I hope that we can move past these issues so we can remain focused on the promises we made to those who serve our country and get an NDAA signed into law. That should be our priority.
With that, I would like to recognize the military families who have traveled here today to seek answers from you, their chain of command. Would any military families please rise.
To our DOD witnesses, as I have said before, these are the people whose trust you must regain.