Defense Department oversight of military privatized housing remains too limited to ensure that troops and their families aren’t living in substandard conditions, according to a new report into ongoing efforts to improve the system.

Among the problems listed in the report, released by the Government Accountability Office on Thursday, are too few physical walk-throughs of housing units by military officials to ensure they are in good condition, problems with collecting feedback from military families on their concerns about housing, and an overall “lack of reliable or consistent data on the condition of privatized housing.”

“The military departments each use a range of project-specific performance metrics to monitor private (housing) partner performance,” the report states. “However, the indicators underlying the metrics … may not provide meaningful information or reflect the actual condition of the housing units.”

The report comes after more than a year of scrutiny into privatized military housing units, prompted by a series of news reports showing families dealing with black mold, rodent infestations, water leaks and other persistent problems.

In December, lawmakers passed a new law mandating expanded rights for military housing tenants, in addition to new oversight rules for military leaders and more funding to monitor potential problems.

The GAO report acknowledged progress has been made in addressing the problems, but said many of the ways defense officials collect data on housing issues could lead to incomplete or “misleading” analysis of the current state housing issues.

Researchers offered 12 recommendations to improve the system, all of which defense officials agreed to in some form. Improvements to surveys of family concerns, for example, are already underway, according to the department’s official response to the GAO report.

Military leaders are working on a tenant bill of rights for military families that officials have promised will be finalized by May 1.

Private-sector companies manage about 99 percent of current military housing in the United States, an arrangement that service officials have insisted provides better housing conditions and more flexible living spaces than the previous military-managed system.

But the report says Pentagon leadership must make the issue a higher priority because of its potential to undermine military morale. In focus groups conducted by the GAO, numerous individuals said they will no longer live in privatized military housing because of bad past experiences, and some said they may cut their military careers short because of those problems.

The full report is available on the GAO web site.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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