The Officer vs. Enlisted Household Goods Weight Debate


Like a lot of money issues in the military, how much cash you get for your military move depends on your rank. And that baffles me.

That officer vs. enlisted pay divide is semi-logical when it comes to actual paychecks. The pay rates are determined based on job education requirements (college? no college?) and responsibility levels (signing for millions of dollars worth of equipment is a big risk, for example). Housing rates, which are part of the monetary compensation package, are based on the same concept.

Similarly, how much military families get reimbursed for their moves is based on rank and whether or not the service member is married. But this time it's not logical. The higher you rank, the more stuff the military will pay for you to take to your next duty station.

For example, the highest ranking enlistee with dependents, an E-9, is allowed to move only 500 pounds more on the government dime than an O-3 or W-3 with dependents. That could be a 17 year difference in service time, depending on promotion rates. Even the most junior officer with dependents, permitted 12,000 pounds, can move more than anyone below an E-7.

In fact, according to a recent GAO report, it costs on average 134 percent more to move an officer and her family than it does to move an enlistee. Whoa. How does this make any sense at all?

Moving an officer costs, on average, 134 percent more than moving an enlistee. Wait, what?

I can see how the military got to the rank to weight ratio idea. In theory, the higher your rank, the longer you've been around and the more dependents you have. The longer you've been around and the more dependents you have, the more stuff you have to move.

But the problem is where the rank concept comes in. They make the assumption that an officer who has been in, for example, seven years somehow deserves to be permitted to move 5,500 more pounds of stuff than an enlistee who has been in for the same period.

The weight of your household goods is the only military move factor based on rank. Per diem rates, for example, are based on number of dependents making the trip, not the rank of the service member.

So here's an idea for the Defense Department bean counters: why not change the PCS reimbursement structure to allow weight based off years in service plus number of dependents? For example, if you've been in 10 years, you can move 14,000 lbs of stuff with an extra 300 pounds permitted per dependent. Some folks would experience a decrease in the weight they can ship on the government dime. Others would see an increase. And everything would be more logical and, hopefully, a little cheaper for Uncle Sam.

What do you think? Does that idea make sense to you, too?

Edit: A few commenters have suggested that this issue is divisive because it takes into account rank. I disagree. I didn't write about this to start a rank war. I wrote about it because, to me, it's a clear instance in which rank is taken into account where it shouldn't be.

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