DoD Strives to Fix Household Goods Shipment System
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May. 3, 1996 "The current system is broken. Don't lock us into a broken system," read a recent letter to Congress signed by the uniformed leaders of the four services.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Dennis J. Reimer, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jeremy M. Boorda, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Ronald R. Fogleman and Marine Commandant Gen. Charles C. Krulak wrote to the House National Security Committee and the Senate Armed Services Committee asking that DoD be allowed to overhaul military moves.
Military Traffic Management Command's Phyllis Broz, deputy assistant chief of staff for operations and quality, said many horror stories have been reported over the years.
According to Broz, a service family put its nearly new white cotton sofa, love seat and armchair into storage en route to an overseas assignment. When their household goods were returned four years later, the items were covered with ketchup, mustard and grease stains. The furniture had been used to furnish a workers' lounge.
An Army sergeant shopping at a Frankfurt, Germany, flea market saw his clothes being sold by a vendor. The items were missing when his household goods arrived in Germany from the United States, Broz said.
Another sergeant packed his nearly new VCR in a locked footlocker and turned it over to movers in Bremerhaven, Germany. The VCR was missing when the sergeant opened the footlocker in his new house in Virginia.
Recently, a service member incurred about $14,000 in damage in a shipment. In order to get a couch to fit into a wooden container, the mover sawed it in half.
"During the summer of 1994, a truck loaded with a shipment to DoD caught fire, and the driver left it unsecured for three days before a service member noticed it. The shipment suffered fire and water damage and insect infestation," Broz said. "These are some of the extremes. Most carriers are providing good
However, service members and civilian employees report tens of thousands of cases of missing and damaged goods valued at more than $100 million every year. And taxpayers end up paying part of that bill because so many movers are involved, it's nearly impossible to tell which is responsible, Broz said. This is one problem DoD wants to erase.
"The department pays over $1 billion to 1,200 commercial carriers annually to effect over 700,000 moves of household goods. Damage or loss occurs in approximately 25 percent of the moves, with claims totaling over $100 million in fiscal 1994. This unacceptable situation must be corrected," read the military leaders' letter to Congress.
DoD recovers only about 60 percent from industry. Taxpayers pay the rest. One in every four DoD shipments sustains loss or damage. Only one in 10 private shipments sustains damage or loss. DoD wants the same service as private shipments, Broz noted.
Part of the problem is shippers often form paper companies to get more of the DoD moving business than they can handle, MTMC officials said. These companies go out of business, leaving moving agents and port people holding the bag, Broz said.
"Meantime, we've paid our people, but when we try to get the government's money back, there's nobody to get it back from," she noted.
"With a commercial-quality move, pick-up and delivery of household goods is on time, damage free or as close to that as we can get," Broz noted. "Sometimes service members don't file claims because it's too burdensome. They eat the cost.
"One thing we want to do is require employees of movers to have picture identifications," she said. "Some helpers are picked up on street corners -- we want to get away from that. We want them to be in uniforms, clean and have picture identifications.
"We asked the moving industry to comment on the proposal," Broz said. "One letter said it's too tough to provide picture identification cards. Another said they're not providing them because they would scratch furniture.
"We've had more than 40 meetings with the shipping industry trying to work with them in the best interest of service members," Broz noted. Some firms are cooperating, others object to any changes, she said. DoD has proposed bringing the household shipment program under rules of the federal acquisition regulation. The proposal would establish four regions in the United States and one each in Europe and the Pacific. Each region would contain multiple traffic areas. Shipping companies would bid on traffic that moves intraregion, interregion, internationally or any combination of the three.
"We want to simplify filing claims directly with the carrier and provide full-value replacement insurance instead of depreciating the item," Broz said. "They'll have to fix it or replace the item. Today, DoD customers get depreciated value."
Under DoD's proposal, instead of getting $20 for a damaged television, service members will get a new television. There will be a ceiling on full replacement value. Owners of high-value items will have to purchase additional insurance to cover the extra value, Broz said.
"Service members would have direct contact with the movers instead of transportation officers to handle details of the move and to settle claims," she said.
"We want to build grassroots support for this effort from service members and their families," Broz said. "This is a quality of life issue, and sometimes it's a determining factor whether someone stays in or gets out of the service because of treatment they received on one of their moves."