Congressional leaders returned to Fort Hood to continue their investigation and oversight into the recommended changes proposed by the Ft. Hood Independent Review Committee.
Just hours before the California Congresswoman Jackie Speier and her colleagues presented their findings, the Army announced a restructuring of the Criminal Investigations Command (CID) and Sexual Harassment Assault Response Prevention program.
The CID and the SHARP Program are a huge topic of concern for Speier, her colleagues and the community after the death of Spc. Vanessa Guillen.
However, this congressional delegation took on a different tone compared to the first one Speier lead 8 months ago. Rep Speier and her colleagues spent the past two days on post talking to everyone from the highest-ranking commanders to the newest soldiers at Ft. Hood, getting raw and unfiltered feedback.
Rep. Speier said she was pleased to find out that most of the 70 recommendations made by the Fort Hood Independent Review Committee have been addressed and plans are in the works to adjust the remaining recommendations.
Speier said she is glad to see the changes being implemented. Speier said 8 months ago, "I said this may be the moniker the great place but it's not the great place. Today I can say with great confidence that it is a much better place than it was 8 months ago."
Texas Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia said after the three trips she has made to Ft. Hood, she feels most confident in this one, that change is actually happening. Garcia is particularly impressed with Operation People First.
Garcia said, "They're doing a lot to restore trust in the system. I've never been more encouraged, more encouraged by the progress I think that we're making. The new program the Operation People First is focused on that soldier. It is about putting people first and I think that's a big step. I think it will see a lot more. I know I can go back to the Guillen family and let them know that progress is being made, and Vanessa was a part of that change."
Many of the representatives pointed out that the issues identified at Ft. Hood like housing shortages and a lack of child care aren't unique to Ft. Hood adding these are issues that need to be addressed across the military.
It seems like a complete 180, for the most part. California Congresswoman Sarah Jacobs said soldiers do see a significant change, but there is still room for improvement.
Jacobs said, "It's clear that leadership is taking this issue seriously, they are trying, innovative programs to address this problem. We have a lot of work to do before we can look a mother in their eyes and tell them that their child will be safe and protected and respected and cared for in our armed services."
The group reported they still don't have faith in the CID's ability to conduct a thorough investigation.
Garcia said "I still have reservations about CID and their capacity to handle a situation should it occur again like the Vanessa Guillen case here locally. They announced some changes so we will see what that does, but I think we need to make sure that we take steps for the prevention of sexual assault and harassment. We've got to keep our eyes on this."
Although the army has released an updated guideline with CID and SHARP programs, Speier says the newly released plans still aren't enough. Speier said she believes these changes are sparked by a hearing they had on the topic a few weeks ago.
Speier said, "Not at all confident that we have the right mix of civilians. We frankly, don't have civilians for the most part in the Army CID. They came out with an announcement today that they are going to change it...but there are no details. So, we will continue to hold the Army accountable."
Speier says including more civilians than what's already listed would create more oversight and ensure accountability. Speier and her colleagues are making it clear that their work is not done just yet.
"Now the trick is to make sure that we sustain those programs and we deepen them and we scale them across the army and across the services," said Jacobs.
Speier also said she does not believe the $420 million dollar partnership with Lendlease is the best fit. The contract is a part of a $1.1 billion dollar investment to improve housing on six bases throughout the Army.
"It's poorly crafted. It's a 50-year contract. The commander of the base really has no input as to how the money is spent. It is an attractive arrangement for the company which is a publicly held company and has frankly nothing to lose. They have a guaranteed income. The accountability for fixing sewage problems, leaky roofs, mold is really abysmal. I would terminate that contract," said Speier.
Speier says she plans to speak to the Secretary of Defense to see what steps they could take to terminate the contract at hand.
In a statement to 25 News Leanlease said,
We are surprised and very disappointed to hear Representative Speier’s characterizations of Lendlease’s decades of work under the Military Housing Privatization Initiative.
Firstly, Lendlease worked with the Army to come up with a creative, private financing solution that allows us to substantially accelerate improvements across our Army housing portfolio.
Of the $1.1bn investment, nearly half will go to Fort Hood. That means approximately $420M will go toward the demolition of and subsequent new construction of nearly 600 new JNCO homes; roof replacements on more than 2,300 homes; and renovations at more than 1,300 homes. This work will take place over the next five years.
The Army decides how investments are spent across its installations. We are partners with the military and work cooperatively and collaboratively to manage the housing. While we handle the day-to-day management, our military partners have oversight of all our operations and have major decision rights under the respective agreements, including how and where this private financing, sourced from private investors, is spent.
Furthermore, Lendlease has attempted to meet with Representative Speier on multiple occasions. Not only did we publicly invite Representative Speier to come visit us during our presentation at the House Armed Services subcommittees in March, we have been in touch with her office on eight separate occasions – both over the phone and via email – requesting time on her agenda during her visit to Fort Hood this week, and we were told she was unavailable. We remain willing to meet with her and have again reached out to her office to facilitate a discussion. – Company Spokesperson, Stefanie Murphy