September 25, 2023

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‘Health and safety of military families at risk,’ bipartisan Senate report finds

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Mismanagement at one of the country’s largest military housing companies has “put the health and safety of military families at risk,” according to a scathing Senate report published Tuesday.

An eight month investigation by the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations found that executives and managers at Balfour Beatty Communities LLC “failed to properly respond to both repairs and environmental hazards such as mold in homes on two military bases,” Fort Gordon Army Base in Georgia and Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas.

That left “medically vulnerable spouses and children of U.S. service members” facing “significant health risks,” the report said.

Balfour operates more than 43,000 on-base homes around the country, including 1,000 homes at Fort Gordon and 700 homes at Sheppard, according to the report.

The subcommittee’s chair, Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., said at a hearing Tuesday that the “alarming and disturbing” report showed the “neglect, misconduct and abuse that persisted even after Balfour Beatty pleaded guilty to a scheme to defraud the United States.”

The report focused on the time frame between 2019 and 2022 — a period that included an investigation into Balfour by the Justice Department for fraud that included employees filing false repair reports to obtain performance incentive fees. The company pleaded guilty in December of 2021 for the scam, which prosecutors said lasted from 2013 to 2019, and was ordered to pay $65.4 million in fines and restitution.

Richard Taylor, Balfour’s co-president, pushed back on the report’s findings, and testified that the company has made “amazing strides” over the past three years.

“I reject the suggestion this is a systemic failure,” Taylor said, adding that while “there will always be challenges,” the company has taken steps to improve the repair process and that the cases highlighted in the report aren’t representative of the company’s overall work.

The panel’s ranking member, GOP Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, said Tuesday the report “uncovered troubling practices by Balfour in which prolonged delays in repairs put the health and safety of service members and their families at risk and potentially wasted taxpayer dollars. These practices went on at multiple homes for several months and senior leaders at the company failed to take action to prevent harm.”

A former resident at Fort Gordon, Army Capt. Samuel Choe, testified that he and his family struggled to get help from Balfour for a toxic mold condition in their home.

“The ramifications of living at our former on-post home are still felt keenly due to the adverse impact that it has had on my daughter,” he said during Tuesday’s hearing. Choe said his 11-year-old daughter “developed a potentially fatal mold allergy” during their year-and-a-half in the home.

“Her skin has been devastated by the severity of the rashes that ail her,” Choe said, adding that the skin condition has persisted since they moved.

“Despite frequent medical attention, from both the Army, and outside care, her condition remains the same,” said Choe, who went on to say that her “quality of life has been profoundly changed by her condition. Words, deeds, nor my testimony will never be able to fully convey the physiological, psychological, and emotional anguish that she has had to endure, and may endure for the rest of her life.”

Balfour’s Taylor said that while he had “empathy” for the captain and his family, he questioned whether there was a correlation between conditions in the home and the daughter’s medical condition.

“It’s their perception of what transpired. We have a different perspective,” Taylor said, adding that his company’s inspectors did not find mold in Choe’s house.

The report said Balfour failed to document Choe’s repeated mold complaints, and then sent him a “collection notice” for several hundred dollars after the family moved out. The company said the charge was a clerical error.

The report concluded that, “At a minimum, the federal agencies with responsibility for overseeing Balfour’s military housing operations will need to conduct more robust oversight to ensure that military families receive the level of on-base housing services that they deserve.”

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