U.S. Transportation Command plans to institute several changes next year to better support military personnel and families making permanent change of station moves, according to a draft of its PCS rules issued this week.
The changes would go into effect May 15, the beginning of peak moving season, which is expected to be busier next year as the result of moves delayed in 2020 under COVID-19 restrictions.
The new rules aim to address problems with loss of personal property, including firearms, due to theft; speed up the claims process; and help moving companies meet expectations for scheduling pickups and delivery.
Here is what to expect should the draft rules be finalized:
Customer support on Saturdays in addition to during the week. Pickup or delivery still will not take place on weekends or holidays without a waiver or prior authorization, but moving companies will be required to provide customer service support throughout the week and on Saturdays -- a change from the previous weekdays-only requirement.
Under the agreement, moving companies will ensure that the military customer -- or their government representative -- receives a response to a call or voicemail the same business day. Customers will continue to have one point of contact in the company for coordination and communication throughout the process.
Fewer labels and markings on boxes containing firearms to reduce theft. Moving companies must promise to eliminate "conspicuous page markings" on containers or packages containing personal weapons. Marking the outside of any package, luggage or other container indicating a firearm is inside will be prohibited, although documentation in a sealed envelope attached to the box or container is allowed.
For containers going overseas, all firearms will be placed in the first container, positioned so that customs officials can readily inspect them. The container will be sealed at the customer's residence, according to the draft rules.
A written acknowledgment of delivery will be required for any package containing a firearm.
Tamper-evident seals to prevent theft. For overseas and container shipments, moving companies will use tamper-proof seals, which will be placed on the crates at the customer's residence, unless otherwise directed by the customer. The seal numbers will be noted on the inventory list.
At least two seals will be used per box to secure the access at top and ends. Four seals, at a minimum, will be used to secure container doors and side panels.
Tighter deadlines to accelerate the claims process. When items are lost or damaged, military families often wait months for reimbursement, replacement or repair. New deadlines should accelerate that process and give more power to the customer in deciding how to proceed.
Under the proposal, customers would now have the choice to decide whether they want a replacement or receive full replacement cost -- a decision previously left to the transportation service provider, or TSP. The TSP will be required to respond to customer counter offers within seven days.
The movers also face new repair deadlines of 20 days to hire someone to do the repairs and 45 days to complete the job. Should a damaged item be a total loss, the moving company's salvage deadline will be 45 days.
New residential property protections. Companies will now be required to put down floor coverings and take other steps in high traffic areas before packout and delivery to protect floors, walls, doorways and stairs from damage.
Should they damage a property despite the precautions, they must notify the transportation service provider of the damage within five days, and the customer can request a claim form and seek restitution.
A seven-day pickup window set by the customer replaces a set date and alternates. In establishing a date for a move, counselors would schedule a pickup date across seven consecutive days, with the start date to be set by the customer. The first day would be the "requested pickup date." Should the company not be able to meet that date, it will provide a pickup date within seven days of that initial date.
Health and safety measures. While the Defense Department established safety guidelines and protocols to follow during the pandemic, including mandating the use of personal protective equipment and following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention safety guidance, the draft rules put these policies in writing, ensuring that moving companies follow the directive.
TRANSCOM had been eyeing 2021 as its year to get out of the household goods shipping business. The command plans to contract out management and administration of military moves to a private company, which would be responsible for planning, scheduling and administering moves, as well as hiring subcontractors to do the hard work of packing, shipping and delivery.
The company awarded the 10-year, $20 billion contract, American Roll On Roll Off Carrier Group, lost the contract following a series of bid protests over its application and bidding estimate.
TRANSCOM is now revising its procedures to prepare for issuing a new request for proposal for the job.
In other PCS news, an update to the Joint Travel Regulations issued Nov. 1 allows for reimbursement for lodging at "commercial or private lodging, a furnished or unfurnished apartment, house, motor home or recreational vehicle" when government lodging is not available.
This means that short-term vacation rentals through commercial sites such as AirBnB and VRBO are covered -- a question that has plagued military families facing concerns over where to stay while moving.