By Thomas Brading, Army News ServiceDecember 3, 2019
FORT BELVOIR, Va. -- Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy invited a top lawmaker to Fort Belvoir Monday to hear military families' concerns and observe housing issues in person, ahead of Tuesday's senate hearing on privatized housing.
Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, joined McCarthy for a first-hand look at living conditions on the Virginia installation. The duo's visit came amid reports of mold, vermin, and lead paint in military housing, and complaints of minimal response from privatized housing companies.
Beyond Virginia, more than 23,000 homes across the entire Army need to be recapitalized, McCarthy said.
The Army is "a people business," he added. "Our people deserve a quality of life commensurate with their service, and we're not going to stop until we get it right."
Over the last 10 months, the Army has reorganized itself to complete that mission and "get it right," McCarthy said.
First, the Army has made housing its top quality of life priority, he said. The service has identified flaws, held commander-driven town halls, created a 24-hour help line to better gain feedback from families affected, and worked to regain the trust of Soldiers and their families.
In addition, the Army has charged its chain of command -- from the top-down -- to help resolve housing concerns, he said.
For example, a four-star general from Army Material Command, Gen. Gus Perna, was tasked earlier this year to oversee housing operations, and was given authority to withhold incentive fees.
The general is also conducting an overall analysis of the Army's privatized housing requirements, expected to be released in the spring, McCarthy said.
By re-inserting levels of leadership, he said, commanders can "be responsible and help manage the health and welfare of their Soldiers and their families."
Although they were on opposite sides of the hearing room on Capitol Hill, the secretary and senator said they have the same objective in mind, and visited Fort Belvoir in solidarity.
"A lot of the legislation to empower our Soldiers and their families --- as well as helping the Army manage our privatized housing initiative better and much more closely" has come from working with the Senate Armed Services Committee, McCarthy said.
Working together "is how we're getting an informed customer so they know what their rights are," McCarthy said. "Putting [the Bill of Rights] into law will empower [families.]"
The partnership between the lawmakers and senior leaders is "an exchange of ideas," McCarthy said, adding, "we're most effective as the Department of the Army when we work with Congress."
One example of their cohesion was identified through the tri-service Tenant Bill of Rights, currently being finalized and designed to give residents an active voice and avenue for recourse in military housing, McCarthy said.
The Tenant Bill of Rights, according to an Army release, is designed to ensure service members and their families have safe, quality homes and communities, and clear rights while living in them, and it's intended to increase the accountability of privatized housing companies by putting more oversight authority in the hands of local military leaders.
"Praise to the Army for the Tenant Bill of Rights," Kaine said. "The Army was the branch that moved out first on that, and the other branches are using the Army's work."
The mission to fix the housing concerns is ongoing, McCarthy said, but it's a mission he's confident will be completed.
"There's nothing more important than taking care of Soldiers and their families as they're the lifeblood of our institution," he said.