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The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has called on the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) to strengthen its oversight of the private-sector companies that own and operate residential properties at U.S. military installations.

“Private companies own and operate 99% of family housing at domestic military installations, totaling approximately 203,300 units,” the GAO report stated. “Since 2019, questions have been raised about assistance available to residents, poor housing conditions, and private company performance. Legislation has included requirements aimed at improving DOD’s oversight of the privatized housing program.”

In a newly published report, the GAO noted what while the laws enacted in 2019 increased the DOD’s responsibility for overseeing this housing, the department needs to do more to fulfill these responsibilities.

“By addressing these implementation weaknesses, DOD could enable personnel to more effectively perform their duties, reduce residents’ confusion and frustration, and more fully meet the congressional intent of improving the privatized housing program,” said the GAO report, which included 19 recommendations for improvements.

In its findings, the GAO found that while the DOD provided residents with a formal dispute resolution process and access to a tenant advocate, it felt the department “should improve advocates’ training, provide residents better information, and solicit residents’ input on the process and the advocate’s role.” It also called for the development of uniform home inspection standards and training of inspectors, the creation of a more formal dispute resolution guidance, and a clearer identification of tenant advocates.

“DOD has authorities and processes in place to hold private housing companies accountable for poor performance or misconduct, including fraud,” the GAO added. “Specifically, according to DOD officials, it can place companies on performance improvement plans, withhold performance incentive fees, or terminate and replace specific project stakeholders. DOD can also fully terminate a project, but has never identified the need to do so. Officials stated that such need would be unlikely, in part because the projects are structured to allow the military departments to address poor performance without disrupting the entire project. Moreover, private companies have typically shown a willingness to step out of projects due to poor performance when under pressure from DOD to do so.”