JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas –
The Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Installations, Environment, and Energy recently toured Joint Base San Antonio and met with leadership to discuss upcoming plans and initiatives for installation infrastructure including privatized housing and dorms.
The Honorable John W. Henderson, a professional engineer with 23 years of service in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, had a first-hand look at the issues members who work and live here are facing and to see the actions base leaders are taking to mitigate those concerns.
Focus on privatized housing on JBSA
Base leadership and civil engineering professionals explained to Henderson the challenges associated with privatized military housing specifically at JBSA, including air quality and mold issues, quality of repairs, lack of preventive maintenance and qualified privatized maintenance staff, change of occupancy inspections conducted by the project owners, project owners’ lack of funds for recapitalization, and finally, the perception that the military can’t hold privatized owners accountable.
“Our first phase was to identify and fix the immediate problems up front,” Henderson said.
Last year, the Secretary of the Air Force and the Chief of Staff of the Air Force directed commanders to conduct a 100 percent review of all housing, which generated nearly 5,300 housing work orders from 11,000 residents who allowed in-home visits. All of these work orders have since been successfully closed.
“The second phase was essentially going back and making sure that we had systems in place to address problems when they come up, so some of that is plainly the Air Force holding ourselves accountable for providing good oversight,” he added.
In many cases, Henderson said, privatized housing management did not have enough qualified staff to do the necessary maintenance, and the Air Force lacked the ability to provide the increased oversight required to address the resulting challenges. Thanks to the funding recently approved by Congress, Henderson says they will be adding 219 government personnel back into the housing management function across the Air Force this year.
“Another way we held ourselves accountable was through an Inspector General inspection that highlighted necessary process and management improvement actions,” Henderson said. “We combined the feedback from the commanders’ inspections with the recommendations from the IG to establish 51 actions across five lines of effort to improve overall management of privatized housing at the Air Force level.
“We’re also holding our project owners accountable for meeting the terms and conditions of the agreements they have entered in to,” Henderson said. “We still have a lot of work to do with our project owners, but we can’t do this without them.”
The Air Force is working with Congress, the other services, and privatized housing project owners on a number of programmatic efforts to improve privatized housing.
These efforts include the establishment of a Resident Bill of Rights, a common lease, dedicated resident advocates at each base, a formalized dispute resolution process, and renegotiation of performance incentive fees to give commanders and residents significantly increased say in this process.
The Air Force also recently approved nearly $5 million to repair 300 historic units at JBSA-Randolph that were built before air conditioning and lacked adequate dehumidification and building envelope features of modern homes.
In addition to headquarters-led initiatives to improve privatized housing, JBSA leadership is also making changes based on recommendations from the Air Force Civil Engineer Center, including:
- Reviewing and disseminating moisture guidance provided by the Air Force surgeon general to all occupants
- Providing legal assistance with help from the Wing JA offices
- Establishing a resident council and providing training to council members
- Increasing oversight and inspections
- Wing leadership attending the ongoing Management Review Committees, or MRCs
- Participating in the annual budget review to focus on resident concerns
- Quarterly Commander evaluations
- Implementing a new system to track health and safety issues
- Identifying Military Housing Office needs and supporting key vacancies
- Monitoring Project Owner staff levels
- Completing monthly compliance checklists.
Henderson encouraged all Airmen and their families to utilize all available resources to report any issues they may be having.
“I think we should give the project owner a chance to know about the problems and fix the problems,” Henderson said. “They’re the ones who have the manning for this; they’re the ones who have the resources for this. The first way to report an issue is in-person at the project owner’s housing office or through their online maintenance management site.”
JBSA leadership urges residents to use the Satisfacts work order survey tool. Personnel who submit scores of 3.5 or less are contacted to discuss the reasons for the lower scores and corrective action taken.
If there is still no remedy, residents can turn to the Military Housing Office, the First Sergeant and chain of command.
“We also have a 1-800 number at AFCEC, a 24/7 hotline that goes right into the people at the Air Force Civil Engineer Center who oversee these partnerships,” Henderson said.
“I don’t think our residents feel like things are improving, which leads me to believe that we’ve got a long ways to go. I can give you our commitment, on behalf of the Secretary and senior leadership of the Air Force, that fixing this is a top priority and that we will keep working to hold our partners accountable until we get it right,” Henderson added.
Dorms as a weapon system
During a candid meeting with Henderson and other mission partner leadership, Brig. Gen. Laura L. Lenderman, 502d Air Base Wing and JBSA commander, also discussed the state of government-owned dorms at JBSA, including resources, quality of life, mission readiness and the financial perspective for the installation’s Barracks, Ships and Dorms, or BSDs.
JBSA has the largest dormitory program in the Air Force, totaling 72 BSDs with more than 25,000 beds spanning permanent party dorms, basic military training dorms, technical training dorms and warrior transition barracks.
The long-term goal of Air Education and Training Command and base leadership is to align all BSD assets as a weapon system to influence the resources allocated. This direction also supports the 502d ABW Dorm and Training Campus Plan, a three-year effort to secure the funding from Congress needed to ensure base facilities, to include dorms and dining facilities, are safe and have the capacity to produce a lethal and ready force.
“The Air Force charged us with getting the BSDs in order, and this is what all students and residents of JBSA deserve,” Lenderman said. “Part of that order is maintaining them like a weapon system. When we treat our Barracks, Ships and Dorms as a weapon system, it allows the Air Force and base to better prioritize where we apply our resources.”
The plan begins with making sure that preventive maintenance and sustainment actions are effectively implemented, and currently, within JBSA, the staff has reached more than 95 percent compliance.
To compliment this effort, the wing has ramped up room inspections by BSD managers, and is working with unit leadership across JBSA to increase their monthly visits to BSD residents. Additionally, the wing is encouraging BSD residents to promptly identify facility issues to facility managers in order to expedite repairs. Leadership is also working to enforce responsive customer service and communicating those expectations to the staff.
In addition to preventative maintenance and increased room inspections, additional resources are being focused on the BSDs. Starting in June 2019, the Civil Engineer in-house team undertook an effort to provide renovations to several dorms on JBSA-Lackland.
These renovations included replacing carpet with hard surfaced flooring, removing/replacing wallpaper, installing ceiling fans, and providing room dehumidifiers. All of these actions were focused on eliminating the potential for mold growth.
The Civil Engineer team also funded dormitory repairs across the Medical Education Training Campus at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston focusing on (1) Heating, Ventilation, and Cooling, or HVAC, upgrades, (2) fire protection repairs, (3) domestic water upgrades, (4) shower plan replacements and (5) flooring upgrade replacing carpet to vinyl.
In addition, through the Joint Base San Antonio Facility Board process, the 502d Air Base Wing has identified and implemented a JBSA-wide, multi-year BSD major recapitalization program. This effort is essential to ensuring that JBSA recapitalizes BSDs on a scheduled basis to ensure they operate more effectively and efficiently for many years into the future.
Keeping a safe and healthy living and working environment at JBSA requires everyone to be active participants and base leadership is committed to improving the quality of life here. That means finding ways to communicate challenges as well as highlighting the good being done.
“My general impression is the team is working hard with limited resources and under difficult conditions here at JBSA,” Henderson said. “Conditions aren’t the best here and across the Air Force… we have taken on risk to infrastructure over the years through under-investment. Though we still have a lot more work, JBSA is headed in the right direction.”
These efforts at JBSA are directly aligned with the Air Force Infrastructure Investment Strategy (I2S) that was approved by the Secretary and Chief of Staff of the Air Force last year. The strategy calls for increased funding to sustain, maintain, repair, and modernize aging infrastructure while using powerful analytics to proactively target investments to ensure they are made at the lowest cost-point in the life cycle of any given facility.
Congressional support for this strategy was evident in the approval of the Fiscal Year 2020 Defense Appropriations Bill that appropriated nearly $2 billion in increased funding for Air Force facilities, a 40 percent increase over fiscal year 2019.
“This is a very positive sign for the condition of the facilities where we ask our Airmen to live and work, and an excellent first step in a long journey to address the challenges we face with our aging infrastructure,” Henderson added.