WASHINGTON — Backed-up plumbing, peeling paint and other corrosive conditions in aging barracks at Fort Bragg prompted U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole to propose changing the way maintenance is handled on U.S. Army bases.
The North Carolina Republican said Friday she wants a pilot program that was tested at Fort Hood in Texas to be expanded Army-wide.
Called the First Sergeant's Barracks Initiative, it transfers responsibility for daily maintenance of barracks to a beefed up team dedicated solely to maintenance that would report directly to the base commander.
Now, the units that occupy the barracks must do much of the work themselves, and they often face delays when requesting help from base work crews on more complicated jobs.
Dole introduced a bill late Thursday to expand the pilot program to all Army installations.
"Anything less than safe and clean housing is unacceptable," Dole said in a phone interview.
Problems at some of the 1950s-era barracks at Fort Bragg in central North Carolina came to light last week when Sgt. Jeff Frawley's father videotaped the conditions and posted them on YouTube.com.
Ed Frawley said he was disgusted that troops with the 82nd Airborne, who had been serving in Afghanistan, came home to such an environment.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday that he'd watched the video and found the conditions "appalling."
"Soldiers should never have to live in such squalor," he said, adding that "current needs must not be sacrificed to future capabilities."
Pentagon officials, blaming "chain of command" problems, said earlier this week that some of the conditions captured on the video had already been repaired.
Work orders had been issued while the troops were deployed, but the work wasn't completed by the time the soldiers returned to Fort Bragg.
"We're not going to tell them to stay longer because we don't have the barracks prepared," Gen. Dennis Rogers, deputy director of operations and facilities for installation management, told reporters this week.
"We're going to get in there and we're going to work harder, work faster, and try to get as many ... fixed as possible."
It's unclear how many other barracks are decaying. Rogers said Fort Bragg has 23 other barracks of the same vintage as the one videotaped but that they're not occupied.
"They're all scheduled for demolition within the next five years," he said.
Barracks now under construction are scheduled to open in 2009.
The Army also ordered a service-wide review of barracks to determine if similar conditions existed elsewhere.
Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., a presidential candidate, called on the Senate Armed Services Committee to investigate the matter.
Dole said expanding the maintenance program might cost $50 million-$70 million. She would pay for it through increased funding for the military.
The Army Garrison at Fort Hood issued a 250-page report in January on how to implement the First Sergeants Barracks Initiative, which it compared to "property management."
It said the program's benefits would include improving the quality of life for soldiers, extending the life of furnishings, extending barracks modernization, and reducing the number of soldiers "needlessly collecting" a housing allowance.