Senate investigation finds 'grave' health risks in housing on military bases

The houses in question are under the care of Balfour Beatty, a company that previously pleaded guilty to defrauding the government.

Updated: April 27, 2022 - 3:07pm

A Senate panel report indicates that Balfour Beatty Communities LLC, one of the largest providers of military housing in the country, has not responded adequately to mold and other health and safety issues that threaten the well-being of service members.

The company oversees about 1,700 homes at Fort Gordon Army Base in Georgia and Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas on which the allegations center. 

Late last year, the company pleaded guilty to committing fraud against the United States from 2013 to 2019 and was subsequently ordered to pay $65.4 million in fines and restitution. 

The new report, released by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, details the "grave risks to the health and safety of service members and their families," said Georgia Democratic Sen. Jon Ossoff, one of the lawmakers who leads the panel.

Ossoff said the panel's eight-month investigation was the result of military families reporting that their maintenance requests were being ignored. 

At a hearing on Tuesday, Army Capt. Samuel Choe testified that his daughter developed a severe allergy as a result of exposure to black mold and mildew, which his family had reported multiple times to Balfour Beatty.

Their requests, however, were "ignored, disappointed or disregarded at every juncture," he said. 

His daughter's allergy, which causes her to break out in rashes that, on her worst days, cause her to resemble a burn victim, continues to impact her life and the lives of her loved ones. 

Richard Taylor, a Balfour Beatty president, told the panel that he had made a commitment to lawmakers in 2019 that the company would improve its practice of monitoring repairs and responding to issues. He told the panel the company receives more than 280,000 annually and that most residents are happy with their homes. The company operates more than 43,000 homes across 55 military bases. 

"Things go wrong," said Taylor, who also said he he rejects suggestion of a "systemic failure." 

"We don't always get it right the first time," Taylor continued. "We're not perfect. What's important for us is that we understand where our shortcomings are and we take action to correct those deficiencies."

Ossoff asked why the panel should believe that a company previously engaged in major fraud had changed.

The report ultimately concludes that federal agencies must perform "more robust oversight" of Balfour Beatty, though some at the hearing questioned whether that would be enough.

"How many more cases of negligence, fraud and civil rights violations must we present in this building before Balfour Beatty is properly held accountable and banned from receiving further government contracts?" asked Rachel Christian, chief legislative officer for Armed Forces Housing Advocates.