MCIEAST officials say steps have been taken to address concerns made in a recent report that found a need for improved oversight by the Department of Defense over the condition of privatized base housing.


The Government Accountability Office released a series of 12 recommendations on March 26 focused on strengthening the DOD’s oversight and monitoring of the condition of privatized housing, which accounts for about 99% of the family housing at military bases in the United States.


The year-long study comes as Congressional hearings and surveys of military families have raised concerns such as mold, pest infestations, and lack of maintenance at privatized base housing.


"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," the report summary states. "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."


Marine Corps officials say efforts have been made to improve oversight of housing aboard Camp Lejeune and other installations.


Navy Capt. Miguel Dieguez, assistant chief of staff of Facilities and Environment, Marine Corps Installations East-Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, said there have been several steps taken to better understand maintenance needs and to ensure those needs are met.


Among them: the establishment of monthly meetings between base leadership and the two housing partners to review performance metrics and discuss opportunities for improvement, discussion of maintenance issues with Resident Advisory Board meetings, and monitoring of resident satisfaction by the Military Housing Office.


Dieguez said one means of monitoring maintenance and residence satisfaction is through SATISFACTS, a customer service survey tool both housing partners use that is emailed to residents after their leasing, after move-in and after each maintenance ticket. Low-rated SATISFACTS are marked for follow-up with housing partners to evaluate trends and address any recurring issues.


There has also been authorization to increase staffing at Military Housing Offices to help address oversight issues, which Dieguez said should help provide better advocacy while expanding monitoring of workmanship quality and responsiveness, resident satisfaction, and the physical condition of properties.


"We are committed to ensuring our Navy and Marine Corps families have quality, safe housing at our installations," Dieguez said. "Feedback is provided regularly to our partners to address timeliness and quality concerns as well as to ensure homes are ready for families reporting to Camp Lejeune."


One issue mentioned in the report is the process for reporting problems is not always clear to residents.


Dieguez said they are working to increase awareness about the three-step issue resolution process in place for any issue, concern or complaint. The process is posted on the base website and provided to families applying for base housing and available in the lobby of the Military Housing Office.


"We make it clear to residents that if this process fails to reach resolution on any issue, the Installation Commander is informed and engages directly with our (housing) partners as required to reach resolution," he said.


While there have been improvements made while the study has been underway, the study’s findings indicate that the information being used for performance of the housing partners doesn’t always reflect the condition of the housing.


For instance, in the case of maintenance management, one of the performance metrics used is the timeliness of work orders. However, the quick turnaround of a work order doesn’t necessarily indicate the problem was fixed.


According to the study, residents who spoke in 13 of its 15 focus groups noted they typically have had to submit multiple work order requests before an individual maintenance issue has been fully addressed.


"Some of the metrics being used (in considering performance) we found were not necessarily good indicators of the condition of housing," said Elizabeth Field, director GAO Defense Capabilities and Management.


GAO officials said there remains a lack of uniformity among oversight efforts between branches and among the 14 private companies that manage the 79 different housing projects across U.S. bases, including 13 for the Navy and Marine Corps.


Field said the specifics may vary but there needs to be clear direction from the Department of Defense for oversight of military housing.


"There needs to be some commonality of expectations," Field said.


Field said many of the agreements in place between the military and housing partners are as long as 50 years.


The GAO also wants to be sure that the oversight efforts will continue long-term even as attention to the issue of the condition of privatized base housing wanes.


"We want to make sure oversight is sustained over the life of the program," Field said.


Reporter Jannette Pippin can be reached at 910-382-2557 or Jannette.Pippin@JDNews.com.