The Navy and the Marine Corps have started conducting health and safety inspections of more than 62,000 base houses, a move that will allow the services to meet requirements in the 2020 defense policy law.
The inspections, to be conducted by an independent contractor, began last October for the Navy and Jan. 18 for the Marine Corps. They will be completed by October, according to the services.
Until now, both the Marine Corps and the Navy had been conducting inspections of housing by request, while the Army and Air Force pledged to examine 100% of their public-private venture, or PPV, housing stock, in the wake of a 2019 scandal over the health and safety conditions in military homes highlighted by Reuters.
As part of the Navy and Marine Corps review, third-party inspectors will examine home interiors and exteriors, heating and cooling systems, drainage, landscaping and more. If a health or safety concern is spotted, the inspector must report it to the military housing office, which will notify the homes' private management company to fix the problem, according to a Marine Corps press release issued Jan. 14.
The independent inspections of more than 200,000 military houses managed by private companies was required by the fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act.
The Reuters series, "Ambushed at Home," revealed problems such as lead contamination in older homes and shoddy construction and maintenance of new homes, including faulty wiring and moisture intrusion, mold and vermin infestations.
In response, the Defense Department developed a tenant bill of rights for service members who live in military housing, while the services pledged varying degrees of oversight and inspections.
The Navy and Marine Corps pledged to contact their members and ask about their housing but emphasized that inspectors would enter homes only on request, out of respect for sailors, Marines and their families.
"We can't invade the privacy of their property without their permission," then-Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller told the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 7, 2019.
"If [Marines] refuse, which is their prerogative, we would ask that we could interview them over the phone about the condition of their property. If they refuse that, then we'll try to provide information like, 'Do you have these phone numbers. Here's the process,'" Neller said.
The 2020 defense bill overrode that guidance. Under the legislation, all services were to have a third party -- not a federal employee or worker for the private management companies -- inspecting homes beginning Feb. 1, 2021, with a report filed to Congress by March 1, 2021, according to the law’s language. Whether the deadline was intended to be March 2022 is unclear.
Under the effort, housing management offices will notify tenants two to three weeks before the scheduled inspection and then will remind them again 48 hours beforehand.
The inspections are being conducted by Jacobs/HDR JV and will be signed off by a certified inspector, with information shared with the command, the respective services and, eventually, Congress, according to the services
"The Marine Corps understands that your home is your refuge. ... This is one way we can better support our warfighters. ... With the information collected from these home inspections, we can make decisions that will better support you, your family and your community moving forward," said Lt. Col. Kenric Stevenson, deputy director for housing at Marine Corps Installations Command, in a video message to Marines.
The Army initiated its third-party inspections of housing in January 2021, intending to complete its reviews by September 2021. The Air Force did not provide an update on its program by publication.
The Army announced Tuesday that it plans to increase the professionalism of its housing management personnel by offering two new certification programs. Training to earn the professional credentials will address budgeting and contracting, customer service, conflict resolution, fair housing, housing inspections and more, according to an Army press release.
-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Military.com. Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.