Delivery times of privately owned vehicles shipped to and from overseas bases by a Defense Department contractor appear finally to be improving after months of chronically late deliveries and complaints that service members' cars have been lost in the shipping system, officials said Thursday.
On-time delivery improved dramatically in August based on a random sampling of cars in the system and site surveys conducted at vehicle pick-up and drop-off points worldwide, said U.S. Transportation Command and Surface Deployment and Distribution Command officials on Thursday.
The sample tracked 500 vehicles turned in to International Auto Logistics (IAL) after Aug. 1. Of those, only 5 percent were late, officials said. IAL officials said the improvements are the result of bi-monthly inventories started by the company to reconcile internal and external tracking data.
"The results and data gathered from these inventories have greatly improved the public data tracking system," said Amanda Nunez, a spokesperson for IAL. "As well, new cars coming into the system are moving through with little issue."
Still, systemwide evaluation by Defense Department officials in mid-August of all vehicles shipped since the company took over the contract May 1 showed that over 70 percent of vehicles were late arriving at their destination.
"To be candid, the on-time delivery rate for vehicles through July was completely unacceptable," Air Force Brig. Gen. Paul Guemmer, who leads a team of DoD officials tasked with tracking IAL's performance, said in a statement. That group was organized after service member complaints about shipping problems skyrocketed in late July.
The improved delivery rates, Guemmer said, is only for vehicles turned in to IAL after Aug. 1. That means vehicles shipped before that date may still be missing.
Of the 31,528 service member and DoD civilian employee vehicles that have entered the IAL system since May, 13, 760 have been delivered and 2,350 are ready for pick-up, DoD officials said.
The shipping quandary continues to draw the attention of lawmakers. In response to constituent concerns, Sen. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, sent an official letter on Sept. 10 to TRANSCOM asking for information on past-due vehicles and asking what DoD officials are doing to assist military families.
"Constituents have written to me about how they are struggling financially to pay for hundreds of dollars of vehicle rentals plus loans," he wrote. "Constituents have contacted my office expressing concerns that their cars are past due; some cannot get anyone from the contractor on the phone or access the contractor's website to locate information about their car."
IAL officials allow service members whose vehicles are more than seven days past their delivery date to direct bill rental cars to the company. But some who said they are service members or military family members stationed overseas reported on a Facebook page devoted to complaints against IAL that overseas direct billing was recently put on hold as IAL renegotiates a rental contract.
"Got an email from IAL stating they were no longer doing overseas rentals because they were revamping the overseas contract," wrote Lindsey Chapman, who is in Wiesbaden, Germany.
Officials with IAL, however, said that is not true.
"This is not accurate information. IAL has always had agreements with rental car companies both here and abroad for direct-billed rentals," Nunez said. "In addition, IAL just recently completed an additional agreement in Europe and has established direct rentals in Korea as well."
Defense Department officials have asked service members who are having vehicle shipping problems to call IAL's hotline at (855) 389-9499. However, the "claims" option on that line dead-ends at a "full" voicemail box.
-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at Amy.Bushatz@monster.com.