Defending military housing’s bureaucracy

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Defending military housing's bureaucracy

Black mold in Korea

By now the extent of mil­i­tary hous­ing prob­lems are mak­ing their way on Face­book, and peo­ple are out­raged. Black mold, untreated sewage, rats, bats, and the like have plagued mil­i­tary hous­ing for years, and now the prob­lems are in full media view. The CNO recently charged all com­mands with talk­ing to their Sailors about their hous­ing. That’s a good start, since it will help ensure peo­ple aren’t suf­fer­ing in silence.

But the recent Con­gres­sional hear­ings with the per­son­nel chiefs of each ser­vice were a joke.

Three-​star per­son­nel chiefs and senior non-​commissioned offi­cers of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps tes­ti­fied Wednes­day that unsafe and some­times scan­dalous con­di­tions of base hous­ing units, which has sparked waves of com­plaints from mil­i­tary fam­i­lies, can largely be blamed on lead­er­ship failures.”

From Stars and Stripes

Read­ing fur­ther, the chiefs blame local lead­er­ship for the hous­ing prob­lems. As in, the com­mand­ing offi­cers of destroy­ers, cruis­ers, shore facil­i­ties and the like are to blame.

It feels like the mil­i­tary lead­er­ship sort of washed their hands of any over­sight of the pri­vate con­trac­tors that built and man­aged these fam­ily hous­ing units,” she said. “They essen­tially left it to the pri­vate con­trac­tors com­pletely with no over­sight. That’s not what Con­gress would have intended.”

Con­gres­sional com­ment, from Mil­i­tary Times

The mil­i­tary places a lot of trust in Com­mand­ing Offi­cers and holds them account­able for the safety and well-​being of their assigned per­son­nel. The Navy in par­tic­u­lar has no prob­lem fir­ing COs that fail at the job. But hous­ing isn’t some­thing in a COs wheel house, and by say­ing it is “a lead­er­ship fail­ure,” the per­son­nel chiefs and the ser­vices in gen­eral are shirk­ing all their responsibility.

Mil­i­tary hous­ing was declin­ing in the 1990s, so pri­va­tiz­ing hous­ing gave an ini­tial fix that was pretty decent. I’ve stayed at hous­ing in both Army and Navy bases, and over­all it was pretty good. As old hous­ing was scrapped, new hous­ing was built, and it was sig­nif­i­cantly bet­ter than when the mil­i­tary ran housing.

Dur­ing this time, there was a mas­sive surge in housing-​related employ­ment. More and more local civil­ians were hired to help man­age hous­ing. Unfor­tu­nately, this bureau­cracy began to care more about itself than its cus­tomers. Because mil­i­tary mem­bers tend to move every 24 years, local civil­ians could sim­ply wait out any problems.

I noticed this in Hawaii. The locals that ran the hous­ing office attempted to change the rules on how elec­tric­ity was charged. When I did the math and noticed it was a sham, I called them on it, as did oth­ers. They didn’t exe­cute, but sim­ply waited until I left. Again, they have the long term view, while I’m just pass­ing through. Com­bined with bla­tant racism (I got called my share of deroga­tory names by hous­ing per­son­nel), mil­i­tary mem­bers in Hawaii don’t stand a chance against the bureaucracy.

This is how you can get peo­ple that don’t care about black mold and rats. They know mil­i­tary mem­bers will move on. For junior per­son­nel, they can some­times scare them into shut­ting up. For oth­ers, they sim­ply use long, bureau­cratic processes to wear you down. How much time does a ship’s CO have to sit and wait to see a hous­ing per­son (heck, how much time do you have)? Even if you do wait in line, and you get a “promise” to change, you’ll have to wait. By then, you might deploy, or leave. The bureau­cracy waits you out, even if you do care.

So let’s chalk this up to lead­er­ship fail­ure, but in a dif­fer­ent way. It was a fail­ure by our regional instal­la­tion com­mands to check up and ensure hous­ing con­tracts were being exe­cuted cor­rectly. It’s a fail­ure that these com­mands wrote bad con­tracts that allowed these con­di­tions to per­sist. It’s a fail­ure by these same com­mands to con­tinue employ­ing per­son­nel that don’t care and were con­tent to cover up prob­lems. The fact that none of these peo­ple are being fired is a sham, and the per­son­nel chiefs and local Con­gres­sional rep­re­sen­ta­tives should be ashamed of themselves.

Just like the Veteran’s Admin­is­tra­tion, there are a lot of peo­ple say­ing strong words right now, but there is a cow­ardly lack of an appetite to fire peo­ple that are actu­ally respon­si­ble. Right now our lead­er­ship is con­tent to piss all over the mil­i­tary mem­bers below them. Whether it is allow­ing remains to rot in a morgue or tol­er­at­ing black mold that kills our chil­dren, mil­i­tary and Con­gres­sional lead­er­ship at the high­est level remain con­tent to blame those below them while fail­ing to hold cor­rupt orga­ni­za­tions to task. That is sick­en­ing. If we don’t start root­ing out the sys­temic rot in the hous­ing orga­ni­za­tion, those same cor­rupt bureau­cra­cies will sim­ply wait our mil­i­tary mem­bers out again.

This post rep­re­sents the views and anger of the author, and not those of the Depart­ment of Defense, Depart­ment of the Navy, or any other gov­ern­ment agency.

Black mold in Korea

By now the extent of military housing problems are making their way on Facebook, and people are outraged. Black mold, untreated sewage, rats, bats, and the like have plagued military housing for years, and now the problems are in full media view. The CNO recently charged all commands with talking to their Sailors about their housing. That’s a good start, since it will help ensure people aren’t suffering in silence.

But the recent Congressional hearings with the personnel chiefs of each service were a joke.

“Three-star personnel chiefs and senior non-commissioned officers of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps testified Wednesday that unsafe and sometimes scandalous conditions of base housing units, which has sparked waves of complaints from military families, can largely be blamed on leadership failures.”

From Stars and Stripes

Reading further, the chiefs blame local leadership for the housing problems. As in, the commanding officers of destroyers, cruisers, shore facilities and the like are to blame.

“It feels like the military leadership sort of washed their hands of any oversight of the private contractors that built and managed these family housing units,” she said. “They essentially left it to the private contractors completely with no oversight. That’s not what Congress would have intended.”

Congressional comment, from Military Times

The military places a lot of trust in Commanding Officers and holds them accountable for the safety and well-being of their assigned personnel. The Navy in particular has no problem firing COs that fail at the job. But housing isn’t something in a COs wheel house, and by saying it is “a leadership failure,” the personnel chiefs and the services in general are shirking all their responsibility.

Military housing was declining in the 1990s, so privatizing housing gave an initial fix that was pretty decent. I’ve stayed at housing in both Army and Navy bases, and overall it was pretty good. As old housing was scrapped, new housing was built, and it was significantly better than when the military ran housing.

During this time, there was a massive surge in housing-related employment. More and more local civilians were hired to help manage housing. Unfortunately, this bureaucracy began to care more about itself than its customers. Because military members tend to move every 2-4 years, local civilians could simply wait out any problems.

I noticed this in Hawaii. The locals that ran the housing office attempted to change the rules on how electricity was charged. When I did the math and noticed it was a sham, I called them on it, as did others. They didn’t execute, but simply waited until I left. Again, they have the long term view, while I’m just passing through. Combined with blatant racism (I got called my share of derogatory names by housing personnel), military members in Hawaii don’t stand a chance against the bureaucracy.

This is how you can get people that don’t care about black mold and rats. They know military members will move on. For junior personnel, they can sometimes scare them into shutting up. For others, they simply use long, bureaucratic processes to wear you down. How much time does a ship’s CO have to sit and wait to see a housing person (heck, how much time do you have)? Even if you do wait in line, and you get a “promise” to change, you’ll have to wait. By then, you might deploy, or leave. The bureaucracy waits you out, even if you do care.

So let’s chalk this up to leadership failure, but in a different way. It was a failure by our regional installation commands to check up and ensure housing contracts were being executed correctly. It’s a failure that these commands wrote bad contracts that allowed these conditions to persist. It’s a failure by these same commands to continue employing personnel that don’t care and were content to cover up problems. The fact that none of these people are being fired is a sham, and the personnel chiefs and local Congressional representatives should be ashamed of themselves.

Just like the Veteran’s Administration, there are a lot of people saying strong words right now, but there is a cowardly lack of an appetite to fire people that are actually responsible. Right now our leadership is content to piss all over the military members below them. Whether it is allowing remains to rot in a morgue or tolerating black mold that kills our children, military and Congressional leadership at the highest level remain content to blame those below them while failing to hold corrupt organizations to task. That is sickening. If we don’t start rooting out the systemic rot in the housing organization, those same corrupt bureaucracies will simply wait our military members out again.

This post represents the views and anger of the author, and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.