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Fort Gordon Garrison Command leaders walk through the Georgia base’s family housing area earlier this month. Fort Gordon’s housing was the subject of a Senate report released Tuesday that found Balfour Beatty Communities, a private company that manages residences at the base, has mishandled maintenance requests and failed to properly clean homes between tenants.

Fort Gordon Garrison Command leaders walk through the Georgia base’s family housing area earlier this month. Fort Gordon’s housing was the subject of a Senate report released Tuesday that found Balfour Beatty Communities, a private company that manages residences at the base, has mishandled maintenance requests and failed to properly clean homes between tenants. (U.S. Army)

Balfour Beatty Communities, which manages and maintains military housing on bases across the country, has mishandled maintenance requests and threatened the health and safety of families at bases in Georgia and Texas, according to a Senate report released Tuesday.

The findings of the report are similar to those of a federal criminal investigation made public in December. Balfour Beatty pleaded guilty to fraud charges that followed a Justice Department investigation and the company paid $65 million in fines and restitution to the military.

The report, which was compiled by a subpanel of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, detailed how Balfour Beatty continues to submit family housing paperwork with inaccurate or omitted information. The paperwork is used by military officials to monitor how the company responds to maintenance requests. The report also found Balfour Beatty ignored or delayed urgent maintenance requests and failed to clean or make basic repairs to homes before leasing them to military tenants.

“These poor conditions persisted well after Richard Taylor, one of Balfour’s two copresidents, publicly pledged in testimony before Congress on Dec. 5, 2019, to improve Balfour’s ability to monitor repairs and responses to conditions such as mold, to prioritize the health and safety of residents, and to prepare homes for move-ins,” according to the report from the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which spent eight months investigating the company’s actions at Fort Gordon, Ga., and Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas.

Investigators matched internal documents with the company’s maintenance management system records to pinpoint instances where the company mislabeled requests, cut corners on repairs, or simply ignored military families’ calls for help.

Those actions put medically vulnerable residents and children at risk, caused damage to the personal items of military families and subjected families to allergens, hazards or filthy conditions, according to the report.

“These are issues that have been out there. I think we bring more specific focus to some of our findings,” said a subcommittee official speaking on the condition of anonymity. “We have real evidence of what Balfour did and did not do in the time period we’re looking at.”

The report is titled “Mistreatment of Military Families in Privatized Housing” and it focused on issues from 2019 to the present, which is after the time that the Justice Department investigated Balfour Beatty and charged the company with fraud. In December, Balfour Beatty pleaded guilty to fraud that occurred between 2013 and 2019 at some of the 55 bases at which the company manages housing. As part of the guilty plea, the company agreed to a three-year probationary period, which increases scrutiny to comply with regulations, according to the Justice Department.

The actions uncovered by the Justice Department involved altering maintenance records to appear as though Balfour Beatty was meeting goals required for financial bonuses from the military when the company was not.

A spokesperson for Balfour Beatty said the company is disappointed that the subcommittee’s report “does not accurately reflect the company’s level of commitment to its military residents and their families or acknowledge the significant steps that have been taken to address the small number of complaints that were discussed.”

“While we continually seek to improve, as an operator of 43,000 residences, we are inevitably going to have to deal with challenges. The company remains focused on the safety, health and wellbeing of its residents and on providing quality homes supported by prompt and effective customer service and maintenance support,” the spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

Richard Taylor, Balfour Beatty’s president of facility operations, renovation and construction, and Paula Cook, company vice president of military community management, will testify Tuesday and answer committee questions about the findings of the investigation. The company received excerpts of the 51-page report prior to the hearing, the subcommittee official said.

Two service members, a military spouse and the co-founder of a military housing advocacy group also will testify before the subcommittee. Army Capt. Samuel Choe, who will testify Tuesday, provided the subcommittee with medical records and photos of the skin rash that his then 8-year-old daughter developed while living in a Fort Gordon home from late 2019 to early 2021.

The girl’s physician linked the rashes to mold exposure and advised the family remedy the mold in the home or move, according to the report. The Choe family moved after becoming frustrated with Balfour Beatty’s lack of response, according to the report.

Congress began scrutinizing the military housing contracts, some of which span 50 years, between the service branches and private management companies following a 2018 Reuters investigation that exposed the dangerous conditions that some military families have faced in base housing, including mold growth, toxic exposure, lead-based paint and asbestos, pest and rodent infestations, and water and sewage issues. Many conditions were exacerbated by poor or slow response to maintenance requests.

Congress has since stepped in and issued reforms, but problems have persisted. Last month, executives from several housing companies, including Balfour Beatty, faced angry lawmakers during a hearing of the House Appropriations Committee subpanel on military construction, veterans affairs and related agencies. Some Defense Department officials also attended that hearing and said they do believe that despite the criminal fraud, it’s important to keep trying to make these contracts work.

Officials with the Senate subcommittee said they agreed that breaking ties with a company such as Balfour Beatty would be extremely difficult and costly, and that was not the focus of the investigation.

“We were much more focused on what is happening to military families. Are they getting the repairs and help they need, as well as the nature of the accuracy or inaccuracy of the data,” another subcommittee official said also speaking on the condition of anonymity.

The report highlights the stories of nine military families’ experiences living in Balfour Beatty homes – eight Army families at Fort Gordon, including the Choe family, and one Air Force family at Sheppard. Both bases are among the 55 bases at which Balfour Beatty manages housing for more than 150,000 residents. The company manages 1,000 homes at Fort Gordon and about 700 at Sheppard, according to the report.

The investigation included review of more than 11,000 pages of records from Balfour Beatty, additional documents from military families and former Balfour employees, and interviews with more than a dozen family members and former company employees. The subcommittee also interviewed 11 current employees, ranging from maintenance supervisors to the company’s co-president, and received information from the Defense Department, the Army, and the Government Accountability Office, which has done several of its own reviews into privatized military family housing.

The investigation found “numerous examples since late 2019 of poor conditions in Balfour’s military housing and disregard of safety concerns and environmental hazards that put military families at risk,” according to the report. Mold was a common problem among the stories, and Balfour Beatty was seen labeling requests for mold remediation as painting, carpentry or plumbing repairs in its computer maintenance files, according to the report.

Taylor said it’s important for the company’s maintenance system, known as Yardi, to be accurate because it is used by the military to provide oversight on the company, according to the report. Prospective tenants also receive information on a home’s history through the system before signing a lease as part of newly laid out congressional mandates.

Other conditions found included families being moved into homes with broken floor tiles held together with clear packing tape, clogged air conditioning vents, carpets filled with pet hair, rusting pipes and broken appliances, including a furnace leaking gas.

In one home at Fort Gordon, the family reported a leaking roof in May 2020, which went ignored for three months until the ceiling finally collapsed. Then it still took six weeks to get a response. The company blamed the delay on the coronavirus pandemic and difficulties getting contractors to complete multiple roof repairs.

Aside from families, one employee told investigators that a Fort Gordon facility manager described asbestos-related health concerns as “overblown or overstated.” The manager told the employee to just “glue down” broken floor tiles instead of following government-regulated testing and remediation.

“These are the men and women serving our country, putting it all on the line to serve others and our democracy,” said one subcommittee official. “It's pretty inexcusable that they face these conditions.”

The report and the hearing are just the first step in a process to hold the company accountable, according to a subcommittee official.

“We’re still evaluating what the next steps are after the hearing,” the official said.

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Rose L. Thayer is based in Austin, Texas, and she has been covering the western region of the continental U.S. for Stars and Stripes since 2018. Before that she was a reporter for Killeen Daily Herald and a freelance journalist for publications including The Alcalde, Texas Highways and the Austin American-Statesman. She is the spouse of an Army veteran and a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in journalism. Her awards include a 2021 Society of Professional Journalists Washington Dateline Award and an Honorable Mention from the Military Reporters and Editors Association for her coverage of crime at Fort Hood.
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