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Costly repairs to flag, general officer quarters questioned

Jun. 24, 2013 - 10:21AM   |  
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A Senate committee is again asking the Defense Department to try to rein in — or at least better justify — excessive costs for flag and general officer quarters.

The 2014 defense budget requests funding for 27 Army general officers’ quarters, each bearing estimated annual operating and maintenance costs exceeding $100,000, the Senate Appropriations Committee says in a report on the $11 billion military construction budget approved June 20.

The Navy isn’t far behind, with 26 quarters for admirals or Marine Corps generals with annual costs exceeding $100,000. The Air Force has just one general officer quarters in that range, according to the report.

The high cost of quarters for military leaders is a longtime concern of lawmakers. Last year, Congress directed the services to review the cost of flag and general officer housing, and to report back with steps that could be taken to reduce costs. “To date no service has complied,” the appropriations committee report says.

Annual operating costs for a typical military family quarters on base averages less than $20,000. The operating costs are higher for flag general officer quarters because they are larger and often older facilities.

The big cost on maintaining comparatively few units comes at a time when the services are deferring maintenance and repair on facilities because of the across-the-board budget cuts of sequestration and because of overall tighter maintenance budgets.

John Conger, acting deputy undersecretary of defense for installations and environment, told the Senate military construction appropriations subcommittee in early May, “We are deferring all but the most critical repairs. We are deferring routine maintenance. We are holding off on major purchases and accepting risk by looking for building equipment to hold out longer.”

Routine maintenance and operating costs are not the Senate committee’s only concern. The Army has seven general officer quarters in need of more than $100,000 in repairs, and the Navy has asked for money for 12 quarters with repair costs more than that amount. The Air Force’s most expensive repair bill for general officer housing is $97,000.

“The committee has tried to work with the services on evaluating alternatives for maintaining these large and aging facilities but has been stymied by an apparent unwillingness on the part of the services to seek less expensive alternatives,” the committee report says.

Congress has required detailed budget justification for the operation and repair of flag and general officer quarters since 1984, when questions arose about expensive renovations that appear to occur each time new occupants move in.

The House version of the construction funding bill makes no specific mention of the upkeep and repair costs for flag and general officers quarters but includes a requirement for the services to detail any repair expense of more than $35,000 for any single set of quarters.

There is some small indication that the services may be catching onto lawmaker’s displeasure in this area. In 2013, the Navy asked for $433,500 to pay operating and repair costs for an 11,000-square-foot flag officer home in Naples that is owned by the Italian government. The 2014 budget asked for $216,000 to maintain the housing, but the committee was notified in April that the Navy is moving out because the structure, built in 1949, “is in a deteriorated condition and is no longer suitable.”

While questioning the high costs, the committee did not reduce the service budgets for maintenance and repair of senior officer housing.

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