Defense and service officials have made some improvements to address health and safety issues in military housing, but many problems still exist with mold and radon remediation, comprehensive inspections and timely repairs, according to a new report from the Pentagon’s watchdog.
“If DoD management does not address previous recommendations that were made to improve military housing, the DoD will continue to expose military families to health and safety hazards at installations around the world,” auditors stated in the DoD Office of Inspector General audit report released Tuesday.
These issues were first identified in eight inspection reports by the DoD IG between 2014 and 2017 — years before news reports and family accounts highlighted the mold, pest infestations, water leaks and other problems in military family housing in 2018 and 2019. Of 16 previous recommendations that auditors examined for this report, they found that DoD and the services didn’t fully implement previously agreed-upon actions to address 10 of those recommendations needed to improve housing.
One of those recommendations was guidance from defense officials about the control and remediation of mold and for radon evaluation and mitigation. Military families dealing with mold problems have complained about lack of clear policies for privatized housing companies to address mold.
According to the DoD IG findings, the delay in this guidance is because of confusion over which office was responsible for the action, “and because issuing or updating guidance was not a high priority” due to reductions in manpower.
In 2014, the DoD IG recommended that DoD issue guidance for the control and remediation of mold, to be included within the Overseas Environmental Baseline Guidance Document. Defense officials identified inconsistencies in the services’ guidance for mold assessment, remediation, and prevention and for radon evaluation and mitigation.
So officials began writing guidance to resolve the inconsistencies, with plans to complete mold guidance by October 2016 and radon guidance in February 2017. In May 2019, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for facilities management stated that the guidance wasn’t finished because staffing reductions shifted the work to a lower priority.
There was also confusion about whose responsibility it was, after a realignment of health and safety functions within DoD. Now, DoD’s office of personnel and readiness is crafting the guidance for mold assessment, remediation, and prevention, and for radon evaluation and mitigation, according to the IG report.
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To conduct their audit, the auditors identified 110 recommendations they had made in the eight reports they issued between 2014 and 2017, addressing environmental health and safety policies and standards for military housing. DoD has taken action on 91 of those. Auditors selected 16 recommendations to review, and found that DoD and the services hadn’t implemented 10 of the recommendations needed to improve military housing.
Among other findings:
• Although the Army had agreed to perform comprehensive and independent annual inspections of housing at two installation, per a previous IG recommendation, the Army didn’t perform those inspections in either 2017 or 2018. In response to this report, Army officials stated for calendar year 2020 and each year afterward, they will identify two installations for these inspections.
• The Air Force didn’t perform two comprehensive annual inspections because it reallocated money intended for issuing the contract for those inspections to repair hurricane damage at Tyndall Air Force, Florida, in October 2018. A contractor has now performed inspections at the Air Force Academy, Colorado, and at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. Those reports are expected to be available this summer.
• Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling didn’t correct properly label electrical panels in a barracks because the commander ranked the work as a low priority to get funding to fix all electrical panel problems in government-owned, government-controlled buildings. And while the base made repairs to brighten a hallway and room lighting in the barracks, the repairs didn’t resolve the lighting deficiencies. As a result of the audit, the base has developed a project to fix the lighting.
Auditors recognized that DoD has taken several corrective actions to improve health and safety policies for military housing, such as developing or revising DoD or service level housing policies and procedures; and completing repairs.
DoD has also formed a joint service working group to identify improvements in facility inspection and maintenance programs across DoD, which has been meeting for about a year.
About Karen Jowers
Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book “A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families.” She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.