I-TEAM: U.S. Army kept in the dark about issues at many private military housing complexes, employee says

Published: Sep. 18, 2019 at 3:01 PM EDT
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Wednesday, September 18, 2019

News 12 at 6 O’Clock/NBC at 7

AUGUSTA, GA (WRDW/WAGT) – Our I-Team is continuing to look into problem with military housing on Fort Gordon.

That’s because the Army isn’t in charge of housing on Fort Gordon. A private company known as Balfour Beatty I, and a former employee says she was told to keep the Army in the dark as much as possible.

The woman, who only wished to be referred to as Dorothy, contacted our I-Team after seeing our report exposing problem with military housing on post.

“I would not – personally – move on Fort Gordon,” Dorothy said. “I would not solicit no one to live on Fort Gordon.”

Some problems on the fort are so serious that the Army calls them “life-health safety” issues.

“What happens in Balfour Beatty stays in Balfour Beatty,” Dorothy said. “So it's not the Army that's neglecting, it's the contract."

She's talking about the 50-year agreement Balfour Beatty has to manage the eight neighborhoods on Fort Gordon. The Army can only get involved when it appears Balfour Beatty has dropped the ball.

"In order for them to know, someone would have to talk,” Dorothy said. “You can't talk if you're -- you're being told that these are our enemies."

That's why she believes there could be higher numbers of problems than the Army is aware of.

The Garrison Commander recently confirmed 122 electrical issues, 130 pest problems, 73 mold moisture complaints, and seven gas issues in Balfour Beatty homes on Fort Gordon.

Dorothy claims the issues that make it to the Balfour Beatty office never make to the Army Housing office.

"In order for us to help someone, we really can't, you know? We have to leave it amongst each other, and if it doesn't get fixed, it just doesn't,” Dorothy said.

In the end, there’s just no oversight, according to Dorothy. There’s also not a lot of satisfaction.

There's also not a lot of satisfaction. The Military Family Advisory Network recently surveyed almost 16,000 of those living in privatized military housing. That includes all private contractors – not just Balfour Beatty.

That data showed almost 20 percent of respondents called housing “very negative.”

Almost 800 people “described specific deteriorating health they attribute to issues inside their homes.”

Specifically looking at Fort Gordon, which only uses Balfour Beatty, the top complaint by far was maintenance, repairs, or remediation at 51 percent. Mold came in at No. 2 with 28 percent citing it as a problem. Rounding out the top 5 was structural concerns at 23 percent, filth in homes at 20 percent, and plumbing and leak at 20 percent.

As for Fort Gordon’s satisfaction number, housing was given a cumulative rating of 2.338 out of 5. Simply put, Fort Gordon is halfway between neutral and negative.

"The maintenance really doesn't do their part, the contractors definitely do not do their part, so if you have a circle full of people that are not doing their part and are not held accountable, then this is what you get,” Dorothy said.

Just this past March, Mark Esper, the former Secretary of the Army and now Secretary of Defense, told the Senate Armed Services Committee he had concerns about maintenance Army-wide.

“Chief of Staff and I heard of instances where a employee would come in to fix a -- fix something in a home, and he'd have to pull out his iPhone and watch a YouTube video to learn how to repair the work,” Esper testified.

With Esper’s recent appointment to Defense Secretary, it’s safe to say the issue has made it up the ranks.

Esper’s testimony continued with an exchange with Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD).

“There's clear evidence of negligence, perhaps fraud, breach of contract, with regard to the contractors and the way that they have, in some cases, managed their responsibilities,” Rounds said. “I think this list may very well continue to grow as you inspect these facilities. Why have we not taken these contractors to court, suing them on behalf of our families and our government? And is the government too cozy with these contractors to show them what they have done wrong, perhaps immoral, and, in some cases, outright illegal?

“Senator, I think you're asking many of the same questions we are asking internally. I think we need to look at the accountability aspects of this. They're -- I have walked through some homes where I've seen work done, where I don't know whether it is just simple, pure incompetence or some type of fraudulent -- fraudulence or negligence,” Esper said.

Meanwhile Dorothy believes the best thing you can do if you have problems on Fort Gordon is go to the top there, too.

"In the cases where commanders have had to reach out to us, they have jumped on it,” Dorothy said. “They've expedited whatever it was that they've needed to fix, they've done it."

But she recommends not letting it get that far in the first place. Time and time again, Dorothy says she's seen a family accept a home just to get settled with plans to deal with any issues they noticed later.

But then later never comes.

We reached out to Balfour Beatty, but received a reply from a public relations firm on the company’s behalf.

“Our primary focus is the safety and well-being of our residents. In this, we are completely uncompromising. We have a regular dialogue with local base commanders and Army partners and we are committed to partnering with them to ensure we are operating in the best interests of the military families we serve. Our Army partners have access to our work order systems and, as a result, can track work in progress.

It is concerning that you would rely on information from a former employee who, for whatever reason, would only speak with you if they remained anonymous. Nothing that you’ve been told by this individual reflects the culture or the work ethic of our company or our employees.”

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