House Panel Questions Pentagon on Military Housing Problems

February 7, 2024 4:13 PM
NASA Photo

Discovery of a cockroach infestation on the heels of reports of black mold in a Camp Lejeune, N.C., barracks prompted the chairman of a key House panel to say, “I want Marines doing bad things to bad guys,” not fixing heating and air-conditioning problems.

Rep. Michael Waltz, (R-Fla.) chairman of the House Armed Services readiness subcommittee, said Wednesday, “common sense would tell you” that conditions like those have affected recruiting and retention, not just in the Marine Corps, but across all the armed services.

He said in his opening statement Gen. Christopher Mahoney, assistant commandant, has ordered the “wall-to-wall” worldwide inspection with reports due back by March 15. On Tuesday, the Marine Corps issued a message about unaccompanied housing, similar to a civilian tenant’s bill of rights, about what to expect while living in barracks.

Many of the pictures Waltz showed at the hearing’s start came from a September 2023 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on barracks conditions. Among the findings were: “DOD does not provide sufficient oversight of housing programs for barracks, such as through appropriate guidance or direction to the military services on tracking, assessing, and remediating deficiencies in barracks conditions.”

On fixing barracks living conditions, Meredith Berger, the Navy’s assistant secretary of installations, energy and environment, said, “we’re getting out there and owning it.” She added, “it will cost a lot to get it right” while also figuring in requirements for the future.

The Pentagon acknowledges $134 billion in deferred maintenance alone for its infrastructure – housing, base buildings, shipyards and laboratories.

At the hearing, ranking member Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.) said it was time for Congress to privatize barracks. “We can make it happen.” But in writing the legislation, members need to take into account the 30 years of lessons on privatizing family housing and not repeat the same mistakes.

Garamendi and other panel members noted the accounts used for infrastructure are regularly raided for other programs that need funds quickly. He noted 13 F-35s were paid for by reprogramming money from facilities, sustainment, restoration and modernization.

Also during the hearing, Rep. Jill Tokuda, (D-Hawaii) said contaminants such as jet fuel in tap water are affecting at least 50 households in her district. Berger said, for now, bottled water is being provided to the affected households and a “swarm team” from the state Department of Health, Environmental Protection Agency and the Navy are investigating.

Tokuda said there was a sheen on the water plus a distinct smell. ”Would you drink that water?”

The investigation follows the major contamination caused by jet fuel leaks from the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility into the aquifer feeding the Oahu water system. Fuel is being removed from the facility. Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro late last year issued letters of censure to three retired admirals in connection to the undiscovered leaks at Red Hill. He also sent letters of instruction to two other admirals and nonpunitive censure letters to seven captains.

At the hearing, Brendan Owens, the Pentagon’s assistant secretary for installations, energy and environment, said no commander or installations facilities manager to his knowledge had been removed over the condition of the services’ barracks.

On living conditions in Guam as Marines are being sent there from Japan, Berger said the Navy department is performing a housing assessment that should be completed by March. Rep. James Moylan (R-Guam) said “there is a critical need for housing [already] on Guam” to meet residents’ needs. Complicating matters on the island is Guam’s slow recovery from Super Typhoon Mawar in May. Struck by 145 miles-per-hour winds, 20 inches of rain and surging seas, all but 1,200 of Guam’s 52,000 electrical consumers lost power, and FEMA continues to offer emergency housing rental assistance to those who lost their homes in the storm.

The territory’s population is about 170,000.

Stateside, the Navy was lauded for using Morale, Welfare and Recreation [MWR] funds to make free wi-fi available to sailors and Marines living in barracks in Norfolk. The service plans to expand the program, and the Pentagon has told the other services they can use MWR money the same way.

“This is a foundational requirement for our sailors and Marines,” Rep. Jennifer Kiggans, (R-Va.), said.

Berger also reported positive reception of a pilot program in Norfolk and San Diego for privatized unaccompanied housing. The Army has five similar projects. Both are available to more senior enlisted, starting at E-4.


John Grady

John Grady

John Grady, a former managing editor of Navy Times, retired as director of communications for the Association of the United States Army. His reporting on national defense and national security has appeared on Breaking Defense,,,, Government Executive and USNI News.

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