Fort Gordon housing investigation could bring consequences
WASHINGTON, D.C. (WRDW/WAGT) - Now that a decade-long I-Team investigation into housing at Fort Gordon is getting national attention, what’s next?
Long-running problems with family housing on post – ranging from leaks and mold infestations to collapsed ceilings and general disrepair – were at the center of a Senate hearing Tuesday on Capitol Hill.
Now housing contractor Balfour Beatty could face a number of consequences. Congress or the U.S. Department of Justice could take action, for instance.
“We’ve established these facts, and that gives us a basis now as Congress to move forward with reform,” Democratic Sen. Jon Ossoff told News 12.
He chaired the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations’ hearing. It took place hours after the release of an eight-month investigation that found problems with family housing continued even after Balfour Beatty pledged two years ago to change its ways.
Like other contractors that run family housing operations at installations across the country, Balfour manages about 1,000 houses at Fort Gordon, most of them built in the 1950s and 1960s.
The housing was privatized in the mid-1990s under complex business arrangements that critics say are open to exploitation.
Balfour Beatty pleaded guilty in December to fraudulently manipulating its work-order database to boost performance-based financial incentive payments. The company agreed to pay $65 million for lying and manipulating data from 2013 through 2019.
The company had already pledged before Congress to behave better. The guilty plea That vow came in 2019 from company executive Richard C. Taylor, who also testified before the committee Tuesday.
The company remained defensive after the hearing.
“We are disappointed that the PSI’s report does not accurately reflect the company’s level of commitment to its military residents and their families or acknowledge the significant steps that have been taken to address the small number of complaints that were discussed,” the company said in a statement.
The company said the report “includes multiple inaccuracies and mischaracterizations, which the company tried to correct before it was issued and will address again.”
While Taylor admitted the company isn’t perfect, he said the number of complaints is small compared to the number of people the company serves.
The company’s statement also reflected that position.
“While we continually seek to improve, as an operator of 43,000 residences we are inevitably going to have to deal with challenges,” it said.
Taylor indicated in his testimony that better oversight from the start could have avoided mistakes, he denied there’s a systemic problem with the business arrangement.
He also disputed the claims of one of the families testifying before the committee Tuesday.
Capt. Samuel Choe described a nightmare with mold at one of the homes on post – a problem that was denied by Balfour Beatty and that Taylor stood by on Tuesday.
Choe says exposure to mold and mildew at the house has led to lifelong and life-threatening health problems for his daughter.
Choe is now stationed in South Korea but his family lived in a Balfour-managed home at Fort Gordon from Augusta of 2019 to February of 2021. He was so upset about what happened to his family at Fort Gordon that he got on a plane and flew 7,000 miles to testify.
WATCH THE HEARING:
Half an hour before the hearing, Choe told News 12 he spoke to his daughter by phone.
He said, “This is for you today,” and then she said with gusto, “Avenge me, Daddy.”
It was people like Choe who got the Senate investigation launched.
They told Ossoff of the problems while he was visiting the post in August.
“Honesty and the emotion with which the military families in the Augusta area asked me to take action are what led us to this moment where we have now some of the highest-profile attention at the federal level shining on this issue,” Ossoff told News 12.
Ossoff says he plans to visit Augusta in the near future to meet again with service members and their families.
During the investigation, subcommittee officials conducted interviews and looked over 10,000 pages of data focusing on Fort Gordon in Georgia and Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas.
The problems listed in the report mirror what News 12′s I-Team started learning about and reporting on 10 years ago. In fact, News 12′s investigations were cited in the report.
Rachel Christian with Armed Forces Housing Advocates testified before the subcommittee and said she wants the military to show Balfour Beatty Communities the door.
“The only way forward for military families to feel safe in their homes is for the contracts to be ended with Balfour Beatty,” she said.
She also noted the military housing problems stretch far beyond one single company.
The blame is twofold,” said Christian. “It is the housing companies who are choosing profits over people repeatedly, and it’s the DOD for failing to contribute to any form of oversight that would stop them from committing such heinous acts against their own service members.”
Ossoff says his subcommittee’s investigation not only reveals neglect but also misconduct and abuse. He called the results of the investigation alarming and disturbing.
“I think the evidence of ongoing mistreatment of military families at Fort Gordon and across the country is overwhelming,” he told News 12.
“This was an eight-month-long investigation that I led. We reviewed tens of thousands of documents. We interviewed dozens of witnesses to find the facts and find the truth. That’s what my job has been. We confronted the Balfour executives with those facts and for them to deny there’s a systemic issue is totally unpersuasive. Every day that they don’t take this seriously, service members and their families remain at risk.”
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