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Air Force seeks to eliminate inadequate housing

By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (March 30, 2004) -- Air Force senior leaders spoke with members of Congress on March 30 about the service’s requests for military construction funding in the fiscal 2005 budget.

In testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee subcommittee on military construction, the Air Force civil engineer, Maj. Gen. L. Dean Fox, told senators the commitments reflected in the budget request are similar to those of the previous year.

"The Air Force continues to … invest wisely in installations from which we project air and space power, take care of our people and their families with adequate housing and quality-of-life improvements and sustain the public trust through prudent environmental management," General Fox said.

Air Force officials requested $2.6 billion for total-force military construction and military-family housing and an additional $2.2 billion for sustainment, restoration and modernization funds. The total Air Force budget request is more than $4.8 billion.

According to prepared testimony, the Air Force's budget request is higher than the previous year -- that includes an increase of $200 million for military-family housing.

Air Force officials said they expect to use some of that money -- a total of about $1.6 billion -- to meet its goal of eliminating all inadequate military-family housing in the United States by 2008. Portions of that funding will also be used to provide more than 2,200 housing units at 16 installations, to improve more than 1,300 units at six bases, and to support privatization of more than 6,800 units at six bases.

The privatization process means the Air Force would no longer own military family housing, but it would instead work with contractors to have housing privately owned. The Air Force then arranges to have Airmen rent or lease the units directly from the private owners. The cost for maintenance of the units falls on the shoulders of the private owners.

Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas asked if the Air Force had considered proposals by local governments in Germany to privatize military-family housing there.

The assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations, environments and logistics, Nelson F. Gibbs, told the senator the Air Force was aware of the proposals and was considering it.

"We would encourage them to go even beyond the build-to-lease program and to go into what would look more similar to privatization that we do (in the United States)," Mr. Gibbs said. "That would be for them to construct housing and put it at our disposal in exchange for the allowance for quarters over there. They have been apprehensive because of the increased risk. But we want to talk with them about the success it has enjoyed here and to try to convince them to consider that in addition to the build-to-lease program."

Funding to continue work on the Air Force's dormitory master plan is also in the budget request.

"Just as we are committed to provide adequate housing for families, we have a comprehensive program to house our unaccompanied junior enlisted personnel," General Fox said. "The Air Force is well on its way in implementing (that plan.)"

The three-phase plan involves eliminating facilities with group latrines and eliminating the deficit of dormitory rooms. The plan also includes conversion or replacement of existing dormitory rooms at the end of their useful life with rooms that meet the new Air Force-dormitory standard.

General Fox said the Air Force has already completed the first phase of that plan.

Also discussed at the senate hearing was the meaning of "excess capacity" in relation to base realignment and closure, Air Force monies being spent on environmental remediation and the locations of new C-17 Globemaster III missions.