'Families First' to Transform Personal Moves
By LaWanda York
Special to American Forces Press Service
ALEXANDRIA, Va., July 14, 2005 The process of servicemembers moving their household goods - virtually unchanged for many years - is about transform.
The Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command is developing a new process called 'Families First' that is scheduled to launch Feb. 1, 2006.
"We are extremely proud to introduce this absolutely transformed personal property program that will provide many benefits and safeguards to individual service members," said Maj. Gen. Charles W. Fletcher Jr., head of SDDC and leading proponent for Families First.
Families First is designed to alleviate some of the stress of moving by involving the servicemembers in the process and giving them a voice in how their personal property is moved. Families First focuses on meeting the customers' needs by promoting a first-rate moving experience.
Working closely with the military services, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and Congress, SDDC partnered with the trade associations of the American moving industry to create Families First.
"Families First is dedicated to supporting the armed force's most important stakeholders, the military and civilian service customers," said Thomas Hicks, the command's program director for personal property moves. "Our commitment to the warfighter runs parallel to our support to the invaluable work provided by America and international transportation service providers.
"The working partnership between the moving industry and the U.S. military is a longstanding, mutually productive and positive relationship," Hicks said. Every year, about 500,000 service members and civilian employees move to new duty stations. This comprises the biggest moving population in the United States, making the stakes high for both the customer and the transportation service provider. The partnership between the two will soon enter a new dimension.
Presently, transportation service providers are selected based on the lowest cost, with little consideration for performance. Under Families First, transportation offices will use a "best value" approach that focuses on performance. Most moving business will be awarded to transportation service providers who do the best work as measured by the customer. That customer, the servicemember, will exercise his or her voice by completing a web-based customer satisfaction survey to measure the performance of their movers
"We all share the goal of providing the best customer service to those who deserve it the most, the American servicemember," Hicks said. "Families First unites the moving industry, the (military) services and SDDC in a sensible and cooperative manner to achieve this goal.
Transportation service providers providing the best service will receive the most business. This emphasis on customer satisfaction is expected to stimulate better quality work from all transportation service providers.
Families First also promotes customer satisfaction through:
Full-replacement value for property lost or damaged beyond repair; Direct claims settlement between the servicemember and transportation service provider; Web-based counseling option; and Increased emphasis on direct deliveries - reducing temporary storage requirements.
Currently, servicemembers may only receive a depreciated value for property lost or damaged beyond repair in a move. In the new program, a member is entitled to the current replacement value of the item.
For example, a five-year-old television with a replacement cost of $200 would be valued at only $100 if lost or damaged beyond repair now. That $200 replacement cost is depreciated at 10 percent a year. Under full-replacement value, the transportation service providers will either replace the lost or damaged item with a new item - or reimburse the servicemember the full cost of a new one.
There are some exceptions where the transportation service provider may replace the lost or damaged item with a comparable used item. The exceptions list includes boats, personal watercraft, ultralight aircraft, pianos, musical organs, firearms, art objects, all-terrain vehicles and snowmobiles.
Today moving claims are handled through the closest military claims office. In Families First, servicemembers file a claim directly with the transportation service provider using SDDC's web-based claim filing process, a part of SDDC's new Defense Personal Property System. If no settlement is reached within 30 days, a servicemember may transfer the claim to the servicing military claims office.
In all claims processing, maximum transportation service provider limit of liability increases to $50,000 - up from the current $40,000.
Presently, servicemembers receive pre-move information from the local transportation office or the Department of Defense pamphlet entitled "It's Your Move." In Families First, servicemembers have an added option and convenience to receive pre-move counseling through SDDC's web-based Defense Personal Property System.
Families First encourages door-to-door moves with the goal of sharply reducing temporary storage. Temporary storage results in more handling, delay and expense, all of which increases risk to the shipment.
"Under the new program, we will work closely with the services to synchronize member relocations so most moves may be door to door," Hicks said. "This initiative emphasizes customer convenience and reduces the need for the double handling of property."
Families First provides a payment program feature that automates payments to transportation service providers. The introduction of automated PowerTrack payments for transportation service providers enables them to be paid for their moves within five to seven days, a special benefit to the small-business-owner sector of the moving industry. PowerTrack assists their business operations by eliminating payment delays and providing a consistency to their cash flow.
"We recognize that Families First represents a dramatic change in the way we do business," Hicks said. "The greatest challenge is managing business among competing firms."
(By LaWanda York is a public affairs specialist with Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command.)