More than 300 deficiencies in military housing at two bases in the Washington, D.C., area, including some that are potentially dangerous, were found during inspections earlier this year, according to a report by the Defense Department Inspector General's Office.
Most of the problems were in electrical systems and fire protection systems of family and unaccompanied housing that IG teams inspected at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, and Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, Washington, D.C. Because installation officials didn't ensure that the systems were properly installed, periodically inspected and maintained according to housing codes and standards, inspectors found, there are multiple deficiencies "that pose a risk of injury or death."
The report, released Thursday, also cited some instances of lead-based paint in older family housing.
The DoD Inspector General's Office conducted inspections of military family housing and unaccompanied personnel housing at Fort Belvoir and Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling earlier this year. Of the 316 deficiencies they found that could affect the health, safety and well-being of service members and their families, 132 were at Fort Belvoir and 184 were at the joint base.
Inspectors recommended that officials at these installations create and execute plans for inspections and maintenance of housing units to ensure they are in compliance with electrical, fire protection and environmental health and safety codes and standards. They also recommended that installation officials analyze the cause of the deficiencies, and come up with a plan to correct them.
Unaccompanied housing at these installations is owned and operated by the government; family housing is privately owned and operated. Inspectors found that family housing units at all the areas inspected were in better overall condition and better maintained than the government-owned unaccompanied personnel housing. Recently renovated or newly constructed houses were more compliant with building codes and standards. The unaccompanied housing was built or renovated, on average, 33 years ago, while the family housing was built or renovated, on average, 10 years ago.
At Fort Belvoir, inspectors examined 16 barracks units in five buildings and 25 family housing units in January. At Anacostia, teams inspected 17 family housing units in eight housing communities and 33 unaccompanied housing units in four buildings.
The majority of the deficiencies were caused by improper installation, insufficient inspection or inadequate maintenance, the report stated. Most of those deficiencies related to housing electrical systems (168) and fire protection systems (131).
Electrical problems included ungrounded light switches and electrical receptacles, missing electrical box panel covers, unrated ceiling fan boxes, blocked electrical panel access and improperly installed electrical panels.
Among the issues with fire protection systems were fire extinguishers that were not periodically inspected or maintained, and issues related to fast exits from buildings. At Fort Belvoir's McRee Barracks, fire extinguishers were locked in unbreakable and thus, inaccessible, cabinets. In some family housing, there were no smoke alarms outside bedrooms.
Inspectors found nine problems related to environmental health and safety at Fort Belvoir and eight at Anacostia.
Four of the five environmental deficiencies in barracks at Fort Belvoir were related to the heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems not being maintained. Inspectors said the base didn't adequately maintain exhaust ventilation systems. The remaining environmental problems, found in older family housing, were related to deteriorating lead-based paint in the older Gerber and Belvoir village neighborhoods. Inspectors noted that the privatized housing operations and maintenance plan states that lead-based paint is present in housing built before 1978 in the Gerber, Belvoir, Jadwin and River villages. Inspectors found deteriorated lead-based paint on window components, exterior columns and interior door surfaces. Damaged lead-based paint increases the risk of exposure to lead compounds.
Fort Belvoir officials responded to the IG that the privatized partner follows an Army-approved plan for monitoring and repairing of lead-based paint. The DoD IG asked for more information on the lead-based paint abatement plan.
Six of the environmental health and safety issues at the joint base were related to HVAC issues in unaccompanied housing, and were expected to be corrected at the beginning of August through contracting actions, according to base officials' response. At Anacostia's Blanchard Hall, inspectors found evidence of insufficient ventilation and humidity control that affected HVAC and fire suppression system metal components. Mold growth was not seen during the inspection.
Of the remaining two issues, which are in family housing, one has been corrected and another will be addressed by an upcoming renovation for the home. One of those problems was damaged lead-based paint on the exterior of a home in the older family housing community of Westover Estates.
Inspectors found no problems with radon, water quality or pest management, according to the report.
The services agreed with some of the recommendations, and disagreed with others. For example, Fort Belvoir officials contended that refrigerators in the unaccompanied personnel housing are in accordance with the National Electrical Code and are installed and used in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions.
Fort Belvoir officials noted that Army policy states that garrison commanders can't authorize Army personnel to conduct health and welfare inspections of privatized housing.
And, they stated, "Lack of available resources and projected future reductions in resources do not adequately provide for or allow additional oversight of housing facilities."
Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.