Thursday, October 28, 2010

Nearly 10 months of waiting...for this?

Granted, the Laurelwood housing matter is evidently a buyout and teardown agreement (between the Department of Navy and Laurelwood Homes, LLC) away, putting to an end nearly 3 years of hard work by the NOPE grassroots contingency, but the GAO's exhaustive research on the pitfalls of Section 801 on-base housing contracts yielded little numeric fruit in terms of corrective action or data that the U.S. Congress can use to help fix obvious and unforeseen flaws in privatized military housing deals.

GAO Study 11-60, "Military Housing: Installations Need to Share Information on Their Section 801 On-Base Housing Contract", released today, may indeed prove useful in some capacity to legislators, but really the report comes to the conclusion that the DOD should do a better job of sharing relevant info about on-base Section 801 housing contracts between U.S. Military branches. That's it?

In its brief response, the DOD agreed, hitting that grapefruit out of the ballpark!

No comment about the types of unfunded mandates that NOPE uncovered or how civilians at Laurelwood would have cost local towns X amount of dollars over a proposed 30-year civilian rental phase...(other than GAO would not do the calculations, since the Navy had terminated the contract)...

No mention of the Fort Hood massacre as part of its security discussion on 801 housing there, or at other DOD installations...

No citation, or admission from the NWS Earle, that, even after an Inspector General report from January 2009 pointing out stark pitfalls in outsource security monitoring of the base, that security could have been compromised with a 2-mile civilian access road running through its ordnance storage base...

...or (tongue firmly in cheek) that local loudmouths (i.e. NOPE) shed enough light on the Navy's clandestine unfunded mandate to scuttle the deal (instead, they cite difficulty in obtaining road permits from the state and conflicts with Laurelwood Homes, LLC, over the interpretation of the contract as the two reasons for backing out of the civilian-rental phase).

In short, nothing tangible to our case, really.

The GAO gave few data points for Congress to sink its teeth into, along the lines of analysis (whether on the money or off the mark) NOPE provided about the conversion of the military use phase of the Laurelwood contract into the civilian use phase and costs to the DOD and surrounding communities. Nor is there much discussion on the security ramifications of privatized housing, since the report focuses specifically on 7-8 Section 801 developments, half of which are on outpost bases (i.e., in Alaska and South Dakota).

In any event, the GAO was directed to review rental housing on DOD bases and reports on "the cost, potential security risks, and other impacts of transitioning use of Section 801 on-base military family housing to the general public's use," much as Congressman Smith requested a year ago in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010.  However, we found GAO-11-60 thin, unfortunately.

We appreciate the GAO briefing us for a few hours back in January (the officials could not have been nicer, more professional, more communicative or more understanding of our situation), but perhaps we were overambitious in expecting a revealing expose pertaining to Laurelwood housing.  Nonetheless, we would venture a guess that others may find this 42-page document disappointing in terms of hard data that shows that the DOD oftentimes neglects to understand, address or acknowledge local citizens' concerns pertaining to military base housing and the unfunded mandates that could arise and devastate military base neighbors.  Feel free to chime in with your thoughts.


NOPE learned moments ago that the Government Accountability Office's report on Laurelwood and Section 801 on-base military housing has been published. You can find the report here:

We will read through the report and hope to issue a response within the next 24 hours.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Worth watching this week...

Absent confirmation from our political contacts that the Department of Navy and Laurelwood Homes, LLC, reached a buyout and demolition settlement of the Laurelwood contract at NWS Earle by the supposed Oct. 8 deadline, we continue to watch for any media updates (i.e. newspaper, military press release) on the topic.

Meanwhile, we expect the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Congress' investigative branch, to release this week a long-anticipated report on privatized military housing vis-a-vis Laurelwood housing. Our supporters may recall that NOPE, at the advice of Congressman Chris Smith (to GAO investigators), was the first to be briefed on the Laurelwood matter by GAO back in January. Congressman Smith, for background, requested the GAO study as part of last year's Federal Defense Authorization.

NOPE is confident that the GAO's findings will validate what our grassroots organization has argued for nearly three years now (unbelieveable...) - that privatized military housing, designed with good intentions to save the military a lot of money and oversight responsibilities for housing its servicemembers, has run amok in terms of private contractors' fleecing the government on housing deals and the unfunded mandates to local taxpayers that often get lost in the discussion. But we expect to learn this week what the GAO investors determined in the end. Please stay tuned.