Two-thirds of U.S. military housing is 'unsuitable,' Pentagon study says Office should be created to enlist private help, panel recommends

October 20, 1995|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Two-thirds of military housing is "unsuitable" for its family and single residents -- a problem that would cost the Pentagon as much as $30 billion and take up to 40 years to solve, according to a new study of life in uniform.

The answer: create a military housing authority to recruit private know-how and money to get the job done at lower cost and in less than 10 years. No estimate of the cash savings was available.

That is the major recommendation of a Pentagon task force that has spent the past year studying the living and working conditions of the all-volunteer military, including the amount of time troops spend away from home and the services offered to their families.

"I don't think we can count on the [forces'] morale staying high forever in the face of these problems," Defense Secretary William J. Perry said at a briefing yesterday. "We have to address them."

It is a central tenet of defense policy that if the forces are not paid and treated properly they will quit, threatening the military's combat readiness.

'Iron logic' of readiness

"Spending to modernize force structure should be appropriately balanced against spending to enhance the quality of life in the military," said the task force report. "Well-equipped forces have the instruments to win war and forces satisfied with their quality of life are motivated to fight -- this is the 'iron logic' of readiness."

Noting that quality of life, pay and housing topped a list of 53 reasons soldiers gave for leaving the Army last year, the report, issued yesterday, said: "No American can afford to ignore this unbreakable link between readiness and quality of life."

The Pentagon owns or leases 387,768 family units and 465,363 bachelor units. The task force says that almost two-thirds of each category is "unsuitable." The reasons range from poor construction and inadequate space to lead-paint hazards and faulty plumbing and appliances.

"Our judgment is we have an inherently flawed housing system in all of its dimensions, from funding to acquisition, maintenance, management and operation," said retired Rear Adm. Roberta L. Hazard, who headed the task force's housing group.

The task force recommended that the Pentagon hand over the challenge of providing affordable and adequate military quarters a quasi-government housing authority to be headed by a private developer.

Nonprofit corporation

The nonprofit corporation would manage the entire military housing system, constructing new quarters and repairing old ones through contracts with local private industry.

The task force studied two other areas:

* The time troops spend away from home.

Prolonged family separations increase the drop-out rate, undermining the experience of the forces, the panel said.

Unable to reduce the number of contingency missions in a troubled world, the task force recommended streamlining training schedules, increasing use of the reserve forces, and putting more noncombat operations out to private contract.

* Community and family services for the military, including child care.

With 60 percent of the all-volunteer force married and supporting a million dependents under the age of 12, provision of adequate services is deemed essential to retaining the best troops.

The Pentagon currently meets 57 percent of the demand for child care, and the task force endorsed the goal of increasing this to 80 percent by 1999. It also called for better financial advice for military families, increased use of reserve chaplains for family counseling and provision of better fitness facilities for the young.

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