WASHINGTON — Military commanders and service secretaries pledged to actively address issues with privatized military housing in Tuesday morning's Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.
"I want all of the soldiers out there to know that the chain of command is now fully engaged, and it’s our personal responsibility, and we will be held personally accountable for the conditions of their living quarters or their houses," said General Mark Milley, Chief of Staff of the US Army.
One component of this reform initiative is a Tenant Bill of Rights.
All four military services of the U.S. Department of Defense released a draft of the bill Wednesday, which includes rights such as:
- Safe and healthy homes and communities
- Prompt repairs
- Responsive communications
- No reprisal
Service secretaries admit the bill needs teeth before it's finalized.
“Almost every single case I looked at, each item in the bill of rights was backed by a code. That’s what we have to do in that light is to put the teeth in the agreement that references the terms that we’re giving them," said U.S. Secretary of the Navy, Richard Spencer.
They plan to work with the SASC and lawyers to develop an official bill to include in re-negotiated leases with privatized housing companies.
Army Service Secretary Mark Esper pledged to get through this process in 90 days.
Senator Elizabeth Warren urged commanders to focus on enforcing standards and rules after they're developed.
She said she's working on a bill to protect oversight for military leaders on housing complexes.
Service leaders agreed that they need to make sure they first uphold the standards already in place and hope working with the committee will help put some force behind their resolve in negotiations with housing companies.
Air Force General Dave Goldfein paused pledges to Senators to address parents of service members directly at the end of the hearing.
"We own this, and we will take care of their children," he said.
Senator Richard Blumenthal suggested that each service refers allegations of fraud to the Department of Justice to investigate, calling these private military housing complexes "risk free cash cows" for landlords.
Sen. Blumenthal told commanders he will be sending them an official letter with that recommendation within the coming weeks.