Moving industry experts say a change to how the Defense Department expects moving companies to organize their schedules around military moves could reek havoc on the upcoming peak moving system.
Here's the deal: for the last several years moving companies that take DoD work have been permitted to decline work assignments if they are too busy or don't have manpower to handle it. Under that system, if a moving company declines, the request bounces back into transportation manger's hands, who reenter it into the system and send it to the next guy in line. That puts a big burden on those transportation folks to constantly be reentering assignments, but makes sure that moving companies aren't taking more work than they can reasonably handle, according to industry experts.
Now the DoD is moving back to a previous policy that puts the burden on the moving companies. Those rules require moving companies to accept jobs if they are sent to them (or risk expulsion from the military moving system). To make sure they don't have too much work, moving companies are expected to use a "blackout date" system that allows them to keep DoD from sending them work orders in certain zip codes for certain chunks of time. In theory, DoD says, this allows pack outs to be scheduled much faster.
The problem with that, industry experts say, is that moving companies are forced to select big black out chunks in order to avoid being overburdened, especially since they have very little idea how much work will come and where those moves will be headed. Doing that means there may not be enough movers for some periods to service all the families who need to be moved. So instead of getting moves scheduled faster, there are just less movers to go around, industry officials said.
That could mean long pack-out date wait times for families, they said, and possibly long wait times for delivery on the other end. And you and I both know there is very little worse than major PCS delays due to moving company problems. It seemed like one million days between when we got to Fort Benning, Georgia and when they brought us our stuff (it was five). Longer than that? Ugh.
"We’re going to see a lot more blackouts, and they will be earlier because people get overwhelmed with shipments and can't refuse them," said Charles White, "I fear that the industry is going to turn away from the DoD market, focus more of their capacity on [other markets] so available capacity for DoD is going to be dramatically reduced, we feel."
The DoD however, is sure that this system will help them make sure movers are not just living up to their performance standards, but that troops are being helped in a timely manner.
"By changing the practice of allowing unlimited refusals and requiring movers to use a blackout policy, personal property shipping offices installations will have a better handle on which moving companies are available, have the capacity and have an interest in moving service members," officials with the DoD's Surface Deployment and Distribution Command (SDDC) said in a statement. "With the use of blackouts, versus refusals, a shipment can be awarded much faster in many cases, thus service members can start their moving plans with the company sooner."
DoD officials said if the system isn't working, they will make adjustments.
"Getting a service member and their family's household goods moved efficiently, effectively and in a quality way is our priority," Lt. Col. Michael Erhardt, director of SDDC's Personal Property Directorate, said in a statement. "We're keeping a close eye on things. If we see something that needs tailoring, we will address it and make adjustments accordingly," said Erhardt.
Really, White said, this is a bigger problem than just SDDC -- it's a problem with Transportation Command (TransCom) and the services as a whole. Each link is attempting to do their jobs in a vacuum, with little predictability and help from the others, he said. The problem with that, of course, is that none of these things can happen alone. TransCom and SDDC are responding to service needs, services are deciding where to put people based on staffing issues and things outside their control like deployments.
Really, this seems like a good time to say (in jest) "I blame Obama." This latest potential moving problem, much like the car shipment fiasco of last year, could have more to do with overall military culture than anything else -- and that isn't going to change any time soon.
Photo courtesy U.S. Air Force.