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A welcome focus on improving military housing

U.S. Rep. Kendra Horn
U.S. Rep. Kendra Horn

A fair amount of work was accomplished last year in Congress amid the run-up to President Trump’s impeachment. One of the most notable achievements was an Oklahoma-led focus on improving housing on military installations.

Rep. Kendra Horn, D-Oklahoma City, and Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, helped make a housing fix part of the bill that funds the Department of Defense. Inhofe is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee; Horn sits on the House Armed Services Committee and was among the negotiators on the final version of the authorization bill.

The bill is important to Oklahoma, because problems identified at Tinker Air Force Base were central to the housing efforts and because the state is home to roughly 34,000 military personnel, including Guard and reserves.

The bill includes a “tenants bill of rights” and provides more oversight by military officials of private contractors. Both were necessary — media reports found that housing contractors were slow to make repairs and respond to conditions such as mold, and that meaningful oversight was essentially nonexistent.

The bill includes funds to better staff on-site housing offices. The bill of rights, in what Horn called “really simple language,” gives those who live in private housing better direction on where to get help if needed and frees them up to voice complaints — something some family members had said was a major issue.

“The more we dig into that, the worse it gets,” Horn said last week in an interview with The Oklahoman.

“We’ve got more to do this year … but the bottom line is we had some pretty bad actors in those privatized housing companies,” she said. When Congress many years ago turned to the private sector for on-base housing, “we didn’t provide enough funds for oversight by the base commanders, by the different service branches,” she said.

Horn says a discussion is needed on whether construction of on-base housing should be returned to the military as a core service of government.

“I think that’s going to be a problem we have to wrestle with: What is the best way to ensure we’re taking care of all of our service members and families that are living in base housing?” she said.

“For me, a lot of this comes down to: What’s good governance, responsible use of the taxpayers’ dollars, what’s inherently governmental, and where the role of contractors and private industry comes in?”

Part of the solution, Horn said, will depend on the future actions of private contractors and on the findings of investigations that are ongoing.

There “absolutely” are roles for government contractors across the defense spectrum, she said. “But those core responsibilities, I think we need to have honest conversations about what those are.”

Oklahomans should be grateful that two of the state’s seven delegation members are positioned to help drive those important conversations, and for their work in this area.

The Oklahoman Editorial Board

The Oklahoman Editorial Board consists of Kelly Dyer Fry, Publisher, Editor and Vice President of News; Owen Canfield, Opinion Editor; and Ray Carter, Chief Editorial Writer.. To submit a letter to the editor, go to this page or email... Read more ›