The US military’s relationship with private sector housing has once again come under fire after it was discovered that one of the military’s largest private industry landlord companies was found falsifying maintenance records.
Balfour Beatty, a private company that provides military housing to service members and their families, reportedly kept two maintenance books at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma- one that was real, and a fabricated one that showed more favorable response times to maintenance issues.
From 2014 until 2017, Balfour Beatty manager Robert Whittington reportedly doctored work order information in electronic maintenance logs, all at the urging of his superiors who pressured staff to close unfinished work orders.
A retired Air Force veteran, Whittington knew that falsifying records was wrong, and eventually came out on the matter after some introspection.
“It’s like they’re operating a bank robbery at a corporate level,” he said. ” I got to the point where I was waking up in the morning and wondering, ‘Well, how many people am I going to have to screw over today?'”
According to Reuters, the Air Force was also aware of the questionable record-keeping and poor conditions, having been told repeatedly by Air Force housing employees stationed at Tinker Air Force Base.
Any attempts to hold Balfour Beatty accountable, however, were blocked by the US Air Force Civil Engineering Center out of San Antonio, Texas.
The AFCEC was uninterested in the 18-plus complaints issued since 2015, namely the ones concerning false maintenance logs. In fact, the center eventually advised Tinker Air Force Base officials the drop their complaints.
“It doesn’t matter if they were in compliance or not,” a Tinker Air Force base housing official wrote in a February 2018 email. “They would still get paid.”
US Air Force Assistant Secretary for Installations John Henderson admitted he had concerns with Balfour Beatty’s performance but was unsure if the housing company purposefully changed maintenance records so that they could gain incentive money.
“We trust our private sector partners to act in good faith,” Henderson said. “When this doesn’t happen, we must hold those responsible accountable for achieving better outcomes to ensure that we continue to be worthy of earning the trust of our Airmen and our Nation.”
The Tinker base housing has been plagued with problems, ranging from mold to the presence of asbestos. Often using inferior construction material, agents of Balfour Beatty created a hazardous environment for military families to live in, and then added insult to injury by allowing maintenance backlogs to pile up.
In one neighborhood on the base, nearly all of the 262 homes contain asbestos in the flooring material.
In other cases, inferior weather stripping has led to leaks that ruin carpet and cause mold to form in the walls.
“I get done flying at 4 AM, and at 6 AM I get a phone call from my wife saying the house is leaking again,” said Navy Flight Engineer Derek Rouse, who is stationed at Tinker AFB. “I put my life on the line, and I shouldn’t have to deal with this.”
Last November, the Tinker Housing Office requested that the Air Force Engineering Center investigate Balfour Beatty.
“With continued inadequate maintenance, our property will not withstand a 50-year life cycle,” the office wrote.
In 2018, Reuters conducted a survey and found that nearly half of the 400 new homes built at Tinker suffered from leaks, sewage backups, and mold.
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