U.S. Army vows to fix ‘broken’ housing at Fort Meade in wake of Reuters report

FILE PHOTO: Water damage to the doorway of a Corvias-managed military housing unit is pictured in Fort Meade, Maryland, U.S. October 29, 2018. REUTERS/Andrea Januta/File Photo

By Joshua Schneyer

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The commander of one of the largest Army bases in the United States promised residents to fix a broken housing system in which maintenance lapses by a private landlord left military families in homes with health and safety hazards.

The garrison commander at Maryland’s Fort Meade made the remarks in meetings with residents this month in response to a Reuters report in December that detailed the problems, which ranged from mold and rodent infestations to flooding, crumbling roofs and ceiling collapses. Many tenants accused the closely held civilian company that runs most housing at Fort Meade, Rhode Island’s Corvias Group, of routinely failing to make repairs.

Based on the Reuters articles, we failed you. I failed you, Colonel Erich C. Spragg, Meade’s garrison commander, told families at a January 11 town hall meeting.

“Why are we here tonight? I’ll tell you why: because this is broken, Spragg said of the Meade housing system, operated by a public-private venture between the Army and Corvias. I’ve got to figure out where it’s broken, and we have to fix it.&rdq

Corvias staff also spoke at the meetings, acknowledging lapses and pledging improvements, according to audio recordings that were shared with Reuters.

Trust is hard to earn back, and we’re going to do what we can to earn that back, JC Calder, Corvias’s operations director at Meade, told residents.

Meade and Corvias promised to overhaul the system for placing repair requests to more swiftly complete fixes. The garrison commander is convening resident focus groups to identify housing lapses.

Owned by real estate developer John Picerne, Corvias operates more than 26,000 family homes across 13 U.S. Army and Air Force bases under the Military Housing Privatization Initiative. It is slated to earn more than $1 billion in fees over 50-year contracts, Reuters found.

Asked about the new promises to Meade residents, Corvias spokeswoman Kelly Douglas said in a statement: Our core mission at Corvias is clear: put service members and their families first. We can do better and will do better, in addressing any resident issues.

She said the company already has a high rate of completing work orders, but to respond to resident issues more quickly, is adding additional maintenance and service staff.

In a statement Wednesday, the Army said it is committed to providing a safe and secure environment on our installations, and said it recently completed visual inspections of 10 percent of family housing units nationwide with children ages six or younger.

The Army began the inspection program last year after Reuters found lead poisoning hazards on several bases.

The results, the Army said, will inform our long-term plan to address issues across the force.

Fort Meade is the site of a major U.S. Army contingent and home to the secretive National Security Agency. Corvias operates around 3,000 family homes on the base.

Last month, Reuters detailed housing concerns at Fort Meade and two other bases where Corvias operates, North Carolina’s Fort Bragg and Louisiana’s Fort Polk, where a subsequent online petition to hold Corvias accountable has gained 5,000 signatures. Corvias said it is reviewing its service request system to better address resident concerns at all bases where it operates.

At the two Meade town hall sessions last week, some families described mold sickening their children, unexplained charges from their landlord, days without heat, and problems that forced them to move in temporarily with neighbors.

Corvias is among more than a dozen private real estate firms housing service families on U.S. bases under the two-decade-old privatization program.

Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed, ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, this month told a local TV station he would press for Senate hearings to explore base housing conditions across the country.

Before Corvias took over Fort Bragg housing in 2003, Reed helped make introductions for Picerne at the Army post and credited his work serving military families. After the Reuters report, Reed said the Senate should review operations of all contractors, including Corvias.

(Editing by Ronnie Greene)

Shooting near U.S. National Security Agency, several injuried

: An aerial view of the National Security Agency (NSA) headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland, U.S. January 29, 2010. REUTERS/Larry Downing/File Photo

By Makini Brice

FORT MEADE, Maryland (Reuters) – Several people were injured during a Wednesday morning shooting at the U.S. National Security Agency headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland, the agency said.

The incident occurred about 7 a.m. ET (1200 GMT) when a vehicle tried to enter the U.S. Army installation that houses the agency without authorization, the agency said in a statement. It said shots were fired but that none of the injuries appeared to have been caused by gunshots.

The statement did not make clear whether the shots had been fired by a suspect or by law enforcement and officials at the NSA and Federal Bureau of Investigation, which is investigating the incident, did not respond to questions about who fired weapons.

“Weapons were discharged in the course of the incident, which remains under investigation,” the agency said in a statement. “The situation is under control and there is no ongoing security of safety threat.”

It said several people were taken to hospitals from the facility about 30 miles (48 km) northeast of Washington.

Police earlier had searched a black sport utility vehicle with what appeared to bullet holes in its windshield, according to video from the scene. Items apparently removed from the vehicle were strewn on the ground and checked by a police dog.

Earlier media reports said that as many as three people had been wounded at the base, which is the home of the NSA, as well as the U.S. Cyber Command and Defense Information School.

The National Security Agency/Central Security Service is one of the U.S. government’s main spy agencies. The secretive agency focuses on using technological tools, including the monitoring of internet traffic, to monitor the government’s adversaries.

A White House spokeswoman said President Donald Trump had been briefed on the shooting.

Fort Meade is located just off a major Washington-area highway and motorists occasionally unintentionally take the exit that leads them to its gates, which are manned by armed guards.

In March 2015, two people tried to drive their sports utility vehicle through the NSA’s heavily guarded gate. Officers shot at the vehicle when they refused to stop, killing one of the occupants. The people in the vehicle may have taken a wrong turn after partying and taking drugs, according to news reports.

(Reporting by Makini Brice; Additional reporting by Lisa Lambert, Roberta Rampton and Susan Heavey in Washington and Jonathan Allen in New York; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Bill Trott)