A bipartisan group of lawmakers is calling on Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to fix the dire condition of military barracks — and quickly.

“We trust that you will move decisively to ensure each junior enlisted member of the Armed Forces has a safe, habitable room to return to when the duty day ends,” the 17 lawmakers wrote in the letter dated Sept. 29.

“As Secretary, you are responsible for the welfare of these service members. This is a failure of leadership that cannot be ignored.”

They cited a recent report by the Government Accountability Office that detailed numerous problems with the barracks that included rooms with pervasive mold, doors that don’t lock, a lack of air conditioning or heat, contaminated water, and dysfunctional plumbing. In one case, squatters moved into the barracks. In another example, base officials told auditors that service members are responsible for cleaning biological waste that may remain in a barracks room after a suicide.

“This is reprehensible, and we expect you to take expeditious and appropriate action to hold those personnel accountable and ensure service members are receiving the support they might require after that experience,” the lawmakers wrote.

The letter, led by Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.; Rep. Jimmy Panetta, D-Calif.; and Rep. Jen Kiggans, R-Va., was signed by six senators and 11 representatives.

Auditors found that oversight and funding has been lacking for years “It will take years to address the chronic neglect and underfunding we uncovered,” GAO’s Elizabeth Field told members of the House Armed Services Committee’s quality of life panel Wednesday.

There’s failure at all levels, the lawmakers wrote. “Across the enterprise, personnel are shirking their responsibilities to provide service members with safe, habitable living spaces.”

As the GAO report concluded, DoD “simply chooses not to make barracks management a priority,” they wrote. “Modernization and investing in next-generation equipment cannot come at the cost of your most important charter: to provide for the most junior soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen and guardians in the force.”

GAO auditors made 31 recommendations to improve the living conditions in the barracks.

“We expect you to adopt them without delay,” the lawmakers wrote.

Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.

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