Rather than address military housing concerns ranging from moldy barracks to scandalous behavior from privatized housing companies to fuel-contaminated drinking water, DoD nominees at a recent Senate hearing instead deferred to a recently reestablished office set up to handle these problems.
And the Senate Armed Services Committee members asking questions at the Feb. 15 confirmation hearing gave the nominees a pass.
While the hearing provided few answers to the many problems plaguing military housing, it did make clear the office for the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Energy, Installations and Environment will carry the ball on such issues moving forward. Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks reestablished the office Feb. 10, and it was referenced on multiple occasions during the confirmation hearing of nominees to become assistant secretary of defense (ASD) for health affairs, ASD for sustainment, and general counsel of the Department of the Air Force.
MOAA looks forward to working with the reestablished office, which was folded under ASD Sustainment as part of a congressional requirement to reduce headquarters size by 20%, as part of efforts to monitor the housing and installation crisis. We will report on these efforts to ensure Congress maintains a watchful eye on important issues for the welfare of our servicemembers and their families.
The current continuing resolution (CR) complicates the effort to regenerate the new office. During a CR, civilian hiring actions are often frozen until a budget is approved.
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The regeneration of the office is an acknowledgement of the significance of the problem across military installation that have suffered from deferred maintenance and the privatization of military housing. But for some lawmakers seeking updates and paths forward on these issues, responses from the nominees pointing toward the reestablished office seemed like a “lateral pass.”
“No one should have to live with black mold, leaking roofs or exposed electrical outlets” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and she cited a DoD IG report last year that indicated “DoD was dragging its feet on two major reforms” to establish a complaint database and implement the “Tenant Bill of Rights.”
When asked if he would commit to establishing the database in 2022, Christopher Lowman, the nominee for the ASD Sustainment position, agreed families deserved clean and safe housing and committed to working with the new office.
“Is this also just a lateral pass to somebody else?” asked Warren, noting DoD already is three years behind in creating the database and fully implementing the Tenant Bill of Rights.
“Ma’am, I understand your question and commit to everything within my authority to get these two things done.” Lowman said.
While the two laterals were not impressive, it is now clear the new office has the ball.
Keep track of the progress made these key issues at MOAA’s Advocacy News page.
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