AF raids housing office in Oklahoma

A housing unit at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla. (Courtesy photograph)

Air Force agents raided the Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., offices of Balfour Beatty Jan. 14.

Balfour Beatty operates privatized military housing at U.S. bases, including housing units at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona. The raid was in connection with suspected EPA violations.

The raid, first reported by Reuters, is related to an EPA subpoena. The subpoena was related to the removal of asbestos flooring at Tinker last September.

Last June, a Reuters report detailed one family at the Oklahoma base who were dealing with deteriorating asbestos flooring. Balfour Beatty’s maintenance records indicated the problem had been fixed, despite evidence to the contrary.

Widespread problems with privatized housing have been reported by various media. The issues are such that military spouses have testified before Congress.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Air Force Office of Special Investigations have been investigating allegations of fraud at Tinker and two other Air Force bases where the company is landlord, John Henderson, the Air Force assistant secretary for installations, told Reuters last year. They are Travis AFB, Calif., and Fairchild AFB, Wash. Air Force agents are investigating additional fraud allegations at Mountain Home in Idaho and Lackland in Texas.

Balfour Beatty said it has hired an outside lawyer and auditor to examine the allegations. According to the company, they operated 43,000 housing units at 55 Army, navy and Air Force bases in the United States.

The privatization of military housing began in 1996 when Congress authorized DOD to enter long-term agreements with private companies to repair, renovate, construct and operate base housing. At that time, it was determined that two-thirds of military base housing needed significant repair or replacement. The Pentagon said it would cost about $20 billion, and take 40 years, to repair and update the houses it owned.

In the late 1990s, Defense budgets were dwindling thanks to the so-called ‘peace dividend’ following the end of the Cold War and the break-up of the Soviet Union. The new landlords based their business model on occupancy rates and the amount of Basic Allowance Housing service members were receiving (which would now go to the landlord).

Initially, the results seemed promising – military members saw new housing built, older housing renovated, and even older housing demolished and replaced.

However – with the reduction in the number of military personnel, and a recalculation in the way BAH was calculated, the companies who now owned military housing had lower occupancy rates, and less money coming in from those living in housing. As an example, the deactivation of a major unit at Fort Knox in Kentucky saw occupancy drop from 95 percent to 70 percent in just one year.

As we enter 2020, it seems the problems are ongoing – and the Pentagon and Congress are actively seeking ways to ‘fix’ the problems.