The military has failed to address known health and safety risks at military installations around the world, according to a Defense Department inspector general report.
The IG’s office has been investigating military buildings and housing more closely after 18 military and civilian contractors were electrocuted in Iraq between 2003 and 2008.
Those deaths, which investigators said were due to “contact with improperly grounded and faulty equipment,” lead to a broader, multiyear audit of military buildings for health and safety defects.
In a recent summary report recounting those earlier investigations, auditors led by Deputy Inspector General Randolph R. Stone said military housing facilities are rife with problems, ranging from exposed electrical wires to toxic mold and asbestos.
Investigators identified “3,783 deficiencies in electrical system safety, fire protection systems, and environmental health and safety,” including “319 critical deficiencies requiring immediate action at 24 of the 36 installations inspected.”
“We found that the average number of deficiencies per building was consistent regardless of location,” auditors said.
“The pervasiveness of electrical system safety, fire protection, and environmental health and safety deficiencies was the most significant trend we observed,” investigators said in their report.
The IG’s office said its prior audits had uncovered a “lack of consistent inspections and maintenance programs,” the results of which exposed Defense Department personnel “to health and safety hazards at installations around the world.”
In previous reports, investigators found defects that included “improperly grounded electrical equipment; exposed or unprotected energized wiring; missing, obstructed, damaged and disabled smoke detectors, fire alarms and fire suppression sprinklers; and mold, moisture and ventilation problems.”
They also discovered health hazards such as “asbestos, lead-based paint, drinking water quality, radon, pest management, mold and radiation.”
While investigators said the Defense Department had “filled significant gaps” in its building inspection policies since 2010, they faulted the Department’s undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics for failing to create permanent, uniform standards for protecting health and safety.
The inspector general’s report recommended that the Defense Department establish a “permanent policy for the sustainment of facilities, including standardized facility inspections,” as well as recommending that the service branches conduct “independent inspections of facilities” focusing on health and safety.
“These inspections should consist of the physical examination of facilities and housing for compliance with electrical system safety, fire protection, and environmental health and safety (such as, drinking water quality, radon, mold, pest infestation, lead-based paint, asbestos and radiation) requirements,” investigators said.
The inspector general also said department officials need to more closely monitor and hold accountable contractors who fail to meet health and safety guidelines.
Defense Department officials generally agreed with the inspector general’s recommendations.
But Peter Potochney, the principal deputy assistant defense secretary for energy, installations and environment, disagreed with a recommendation to develop a risk assessment requirement for contractors who build or maintain installations at various bases around the world.
“It is inappropriate to develop a uniform set of risk factors,” Potochney said, because each military service branch defines risks using its own “judgment of requirements, potential impact to mission, life, safety, health and conditions on the ground.”
Potochney said the Defense Department’s comptroller already has means “for recovering funds for services not provided/completed via contracts.”
The Defense Department’s real estate portfolio spans the globe, and includes 526,000 facilities with about 280,000 buildings. The Department’s inspector general put the value of the holdings at “about $880 billion at the end of FY 2015.”