A bipartisan group of Congress members blasted the Pentagon over “reprehensible” conditions in military barracks, citing troops living amid mold and contaminated water and, in some instances, forced to clean up “biological waste” left behind by the suicides of fellow servicemembers.

In a scathing letter addressed to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, lawmakers accused the Pentagon of failing to “provide the most basic oversight and care” of barracks at 10 installations cited in a recent report and called it a “failure of leadership” by Austin “that cannot be ignored.” 

The letter comes as a response to a damning Government Accountability Office investigation released last week that rebuked barracks conditions at 10 different bases as posing “serious health and safety risks,” for junior enlisted servicemembers.

A Pentagon spokesperson told Task & Purpose the department could not comment directly on the letter because “as with all Congressional correspondence, the Department will respond directly to the members.”

Brendan Owens, the Pentagon’s chief housing officer, agreed that the GAO report had found major issue.

“The DoD has, in too many instances, failed to live up to our role in making sure housing for our Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen and Guardians honors their commitment,” Owens said in statement responding to the GAO report. “To the service members who have experienced serious issues with their unaccompanied housing: I commit to act.”

The report found poor conditions at barracks at 10 different bases spanning the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps.

“These are not trivial deficiencies,” the 6 Senators and 11 members of the House of Representatives wrote. The letter also addresses security concerns of the facilities, noting one instance where squatters moved into a barracks.

“It is clear that there are failures at all levels. Across the enterprise, personnel are shirking their responsibilities to provide Service members with safe, habitable living spaces,” they wrote.

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The lawmakers called the DOD standards “dreadfully outdated” and insisted that the department update guidelines before submitting its fiscal year 25 budget request.

“The people who choose to serve in the enlisted ranks do so selflessly with little expectation of reward,” they wrote in the letter. “They are the soul of the military and of the Nation, and they deserve better.”

The criticism follows a hearing Wednesday of the House Armed Services’ Quality of Life Panel in which lawmakers heard from the GAO that servicemembers felt vulnerable to sexual assault because of barrack doors that failed to lock. 

Investigators said that leaders at some bases told them they had intentionally cut back on physical training like running and fitness drills with junior troops knowing that they would go home to the barracks. Investigators also found that poorly equipped kitchens led troops to resort to frozen and fast food.

Update, September 29, 5 p.m.: This story has been updated with a response from Pentagon officials.

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