Military officials have been taking an "unnecessary safety and security risk to military personnel, their dependents ... and assets" by not properly screening civilian tenants who apply to live in privatized housing on base, the Defense Department Inspector General has found.
In some cases, that included failing to conduct criminal background checks at one of the Defense Department's most highly classified sensitive installations, Fort Detrick, Maryland, home to the military's chemical and biological research programs.
"The consequences of unauthorized access to these types of facilities could be catastrophic," the Inspector General auditors wrote.
According to the report, some of the tenants also received access badges that expired after their lease is ended, including some that exceeded the lease termination date by six months or more.
In addition to Fort Detrick, IG auditors reviewed the records at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana; and Naval Station Mayport, Florida.
They found that of the 128 general public tenants they reviewed, 120 received unescorted access to their base without the required background checks, and 61 received access badges that expired after the lease termination dates.
At Fort Detrick, none of the 26 tenants reviewed had undergone complete background checks; and at Barksdale, 93 of 95 tenants had incomplete or no background checks. At Mayport, almost all had completed background checks – six out of seven tenants reviewed.
The auditors recommended that the Army, Navy and Air Force conduct a review of all general public tenants who are leasing privatized housing anywhere, to make sure they received complete and adequate background checks.
The services should also instruct security officials to conduct a badge review to ensure that general public tenants' badges are aligned with their lease terms.
Service members assigned to military installations have priority to live in privatized family housing on that installation. But if a certain number of housing units are vacant for a certain period, the private company can start to lease the units to other eligible tenants, depending on the installation.
At these facilities, the order of priority includes: service members not assigned to the installation, National Guard and reserve members, federal government civilians, retired military, retired federal government civilians, contractors, and last, the general public.
DoD IG spokeswoman Kathie Scarrah said that military officials have since completed background checks on all individuals in the audit who still living at the installations.
According to the report, Fort Detrick officials took immediate action in October, 2015, after being made aware of the issue, and re-screened the general public tenants living at their base, a spokeswoman said.
"All general public tenants passed that vetting without any issues," said Fort Detrick spokeswoman Lanessa Hill.
They also reissued badges with expiration dates that matched the tenants' lease terms, she said.
Information was not immediately available about whether any of the civilian tenants were required to leave Barksdale AFB.
A DoD directive from March, 2015, requires installation representatives to query the National Crime Information Center and the Terrorist Screening Database to determine fitness and eligibility for access to military installations. They must require proof of identity, and use the person's name, date of birth and Social Security number to perform the background checks. Installations can deny access to prospective tenants based on the information received in that screening. The NCIC database contains 14 different files of information, such as suspected terrorist, wanted person, national sex offender registry, missing persons, foreign fugitive, identity theft, immigration violator, violent person, gang, and others.
The auditors said the Navy has adequate guidance for these background checks and for establishing badge expiration dates for general public tenants; but the Army and Air Force lacked guidance.
In response, Army and Air Force officials said guidance was in the works reflecting the requirements to use specific queries within the National Crime Information Center and the Interstate Identification Index files.
Karen Jowers covers military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times. She can be reached at kjowe