Sen. Ossoff releases new report of follow-up investigation into privatized military housing conditions on post at Ft. Gordon
Washington, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senator Jon Ossoff convened a military housing oversight session to continue his work to improve housing conditions for military families in Georgia and across the nation.
“Our follow-on investigation has identified a few clear areas of improvement. Balfour Beatty has stated that it has hired more maintenance staff at Fort Gordon, that it is putting new quality assurance measures for gas into place, and that it has expanded education and training for its technicians so they can fulfill work orders more promptly and more accurately. Balfour Beatty must sustain these efforts,” Sen. Ossoff said in his opening remarks. “At the same time, the present investigation has highlighted several persistent areas of concern. In particular, the investigation found that Balfour Beatty continues struggling to ensure the technical quality of maintenance work to consistently identify and remediate mold and tenant homes to ensure the accuracy and integrity of all work orders submitted and to adequately plan for the medium- and long-term sustainability of the housing project at Fort Gordon.”
One year after he led an 8-month bipartisan investigation into the mistreatment of military families in privatized housing — Sen. Ossoff is holding a Georgia Military Housing Oversight Session at the U.S. Senate today to hear directly from Ft. Gordon military families about the current state of privatized housing on-post and progress made in the last year to improve conditions.
At the Oversight Session, Sen. Ossoff will also hear testimony from Rachel Jacobson, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy, and Environment, and Lieutenant General Kevin Vereen, Deputy Chief of Staff of the Army, G-9, to hear what progress the Army has made in overseeing and improving privatized housing conditions on Ft. Gordon and across the country.
Please find a transcript of his opening statement below:
SEN. OSSOFF: “Good morning. Thank you all for joining us.
“And thank you, first of all, to our witnesses for your participation today as part of my office’s ongoing efforts to ensure the quality and safety of housing on Department of Defense installations in Georgia, and nationwide.
“Thank you also to my staff who have worked so diligently to sustain our oversight efforts for these last two years.
“One of the first official acts I took upon entering office was to meet with service members and their families at installations across Georgia, including at Fort Gordon, near Augusta, to hear about their experiences.
“I heard over and over again, the anger and frustration that residents on military installations felt about the substandard quality of housing on post.
“These issues aren’t new, and they’re not limited to Georgia.
“In the 1990s, concerns about substandard military housing operated by the Department of Defense prompted Congress to pass a law requiring that DOD outsource housing on post to private contractors.
“But in the intervening decades, Congress has continued to hear complaints from across the country about the condition of these homes — chronic problems with mold exposing servicemembers and their families to serious and potentially long-term health consequences.
“Housing companies that are slow to respond to work orders and perform shoddy and low-quality work.
“After hearing from these families at Fort Gordon, I launched a bipartisan investigation as Chair of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations into housing conditions on military installations in Georgia and across the country.
“That bipartisan investigation, which culminated in a hearing in April of last year, found that Balfour Beatty staff and executives failed to evaluate whether mold was present in homes; failed to properly address positive mold findings; and failed to otherwise accurately document and report the status of work orders to the Army and to residents.
“That bipartisan investigation has already spurred positive changes.
“The Army immediately suspended incentive fees for Balfour Beatty at Fort Gordon, limiting the company’s profits from those operations.
“And following pressure from my office, the Army also committed to conducting unit-by-unit — that is home-by-home — inspections of all living quarters, including privatized homes at Fort Gordon.
“Last week, I personally observed the beginning of these inspections, and I’ll have more to say on that process when it concludes.
“Finally, the Army launched its own investigations into housing conditions at Fort Gordon. And my staff have closely studied the results and findings of those investigations as we make further recommendations for Balfour Beatty and for the Army.
“A year has passed since we unveiled our findings in April of 2022.
“A year during which Balfour Beatty has had the opportunity to address the concerns raised in that investigation and in subsequent reports.
“My team has spent the last several months conducting a follow up investigation focused specifically on Fort Gordon to determine whether and to what extent these deficiencies have been addressed.
“The present investigation involved dozens of interviews and a review of thousands of pages of documents and reports, many of which were commissioned by the Army, to scrutinize Balfour Beatty’s practices at Fort Gordon.
“Our follow-on investigation has identified a few clear areas of improvement:
“Balfour Beatty has stated that it has hired more maintenance staff at Fort Gordon; that it has put new quality assurance measures for gas into place.
“And that it has expanded education and training for its technicians so they can fulfill work orders more promptly and more accurately.
“Balfour Beatty must sustain these efforts.
“At the same time, the present investigation has highlighted several persistent areas of concern.
“In particular, the investigation found that Balfour Beatty continues struggling to ensure the technical quality of maintenance work; to consistently identify and remediate mold and tenant homes; to ensure the accuracy and integrity of all work orders submitted; and to adequately plan for the medium- and long-term sustainability of the housing project at Fort Gordon.
“Over the past five months, my staff have compiled these findings and recommendations into a report, which can be found through the congressional record that was compiled for yesterday, April 17.
“Before we begin, I note that an invitation was extended to Balfour Beatty to participate in today’s event.
“Officials from the company declined to come and answer questions, though they have met with my team and provided documents in response to our requests.
“But given that this same company pled guilty to DOJ charges for defrauding the U.S. Military, and says they take seriously the need to improve their operations, their unwillingness to answer questions in a public setting calls into question their commitment to transparency, and their commitment to improvement.
“I will sustain my oversight to hold Balfour Beatty accountable and ensure they provide only safe, healthy housing for servicemembers and their families.
“Today, we will hear from the families who have joined us to share their personal stories living in Balfour Beatty housing at Fort Gordon.
“We will also hear from the Director of Operations at the Safe Military Housing Initiative, who will share her perspective on the major concerns of tenants who live in Balfour Beatty homes.
“I again thank the witnesses for joining us today and for speaking up not only on behalf of their own families, but on behalf of all others living in privatized military housing.
“Fundamentally, this is about the health and welfare of military service members, their spouses, and their kids. It’s a basic issue of health, safety and justice as well as core to military readiness.
“We will also hear today from senior officials from the U.S. Army, who will update us on their ongoing efforts to ensure safe, quality housing for military families, as well as their efforts to improve oversight of Balfour Beatty and other military housing providers.
“I want to make one last point before we begin.
“I understand that someone in a leadership position at one of our witnesses’ home installations called her last night as she was preparing to testify here today, asked her about the substance of her testimony, and inquired whether she’ll be testifying about them or their colleagues.
“I find that deeply disturbing. service members and their families must be able to speak up without fear of retaliation. And I will continue to monitor the situation carefully to ensure that remains the case.
“I will now introduce each of our witnesses and ask each to provide a brief opening statement. We are joined this morning by Ashley Porras, a former Balfour Beatty tenant at Fort Gordon, by Joy Viera, a former Balfour Beatty tenant at Fort Gordon, by Erin Greer a current Balfour Beatty tenant at Fort Gordon, and by Brianna Barnhart, Director of Operations at the Safe Military Housing Initiative.
“In the second panel we will hear from Rachel Jacobson, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations Energy and the Environment, and Lieutenant General Kevin Vereen, Army Deputy Chief of Staff for the G-9 Directorate.
“Ms. Porras, you may begin with your opening statement.”