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Lawmaker offers to review repair bills for general, flag quarters

Jun. 28, 2013 - 10:48AM   |  
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A Virginia lawmaker says he has nothing against admirals and generals, but he’d really like to scrutinize the maintenance and repair bills on their government-provided quarters.

Rep. Morgan Griffith, a two-term Republican lawmaker representing a congressional district in Southwestern Virginia that includes no military bases but has two VA medical centers, persuaded the House of Representatives to lower the threshold on the cost of repairs to flag and general officer quarters that must be approved before they can be carried out.

The current threshold is $35,000, but Griffith’s amendment, now part of the House version of the 2014 military construction appropriations bill, would lower the reporting line to $15,000.

“It doesn’t mean they cannot do the work,” Griffith said. “It just means that if they are going to spend more than $15,000, the general has to fill out a report.”

He settled on that amount because it’s about how much he paid a couple of years ago to put a new roof on his family home in Salem, Va. Griffith said he isn’t sure of the exact amount because his wife, Hilary, arranged the repair. But he is sure that in times of tight federal budgets, there is a need for “greater transparency” of spending, and that includes reviewing every government expense, even $15,000 repair bills.

“In this day and age when we are trying to make sure that we are spending taxpayer money wisely, it seems to be appropriate,” he said. “If there’s something terribly wrong with the flooring and it costs more than $15,000, they can report it. But most repairs to a home can be done under $15,000.”

The law requires the services to report major expenses to Congress and then wait 21 days before launching the project, a restriction known as the “notice and wait requirement.” The law cuts the waiting time to 14 days if the cost estimate and justification are sent electronically rather than on paper. Advance notification requirements are waived in emergencies, such as environmental safety hazards.

A $15,000 threshold is likely to generate more reports, but Griffith said he’s willing to be the one to review the reports if no one else is interested. He said he already makes an effort to read every bill before voting on it, which he how he came across the provision regarding repair costs on general officer housing.

“I noticed it last year. This year, I decided to do something. I think it’s more than reasonable to report that you’re going to expend more than $15,000.”

The services have almost 700 flag and general officer quarters. More than half are considered historic buildings, where maintenance, repair and renovation costs typically are are high in order to preserve the character of the home. There have long been concerns about excessive costs.

The Senate Appropriations Committee also has raised questions on the issue, but it is only asking for a report detailing ways to cut costs after the 2014 budget revealed the services expected to have annual maintenance and repair costs exceeding $100,000 apiece on 54 flag and general officer quarters and major repair bills exceeding $100,000 on 19 other quarters.

The Senate bill does not include a lower threshold for reporting, but Griffith has high hopes his amendment will be in the final version of the spending bill, based on the support of Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas, chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on military construction, who will be the chief House negotiator in meetings with the Senate to draft a compromise bill.

“Certainly, we want to help make sure that our officers have everything that they need, but it would be nice to have them report it,” Culberson said.

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