Pandemic Exposed Flaws in Military Family Moves, General Tells Congress

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Movers unpack after a PCS.
Movers unpack after a PCS. (Stephenie Wade/U.S. Army)

The coronavirus pandemic exposed flaws in the military's "fragmented approach" to moving troops' household goods and underscored the need to finally outsource management of the moves to a private company, the nominee to head U.S. Transportation Command said Thursday.

The command had to keep more than 900 companies updated on shifting health protection policies as they sent movers into military homes to pack or unload belongings amid COVID-19 outbreaks, Air Force Gen. Jacqueline Van Ovost told the Senate Armed Services Committee during a confirmation hearing.

"Frankly, what we learned in COVID was it really exacerbated the flaws that are in the current contract," Van Ovost said.

A plan to shift military management of those companies and service members' permanent change of station, or PCS, moves to a private company, or consortium, has been in the works for years, following widespread troop dissatisfaction. But a final contract remains stymied after bidders protested the initial awarding of a $19.9 billion contract last year.

Transportation Command awarded what it calls the Global Household Goods contract to American Roll-On Roll-Off Carrier, or ARC, of New Jersey in April 2020. But after competing bidders filed protests, the Government Accountability Office last October sustained several of the protesters' allegations, negated the contract, and sent it back to the command.

Now, the finalized contract is not expected until the end of October, at the earliest. The overhaul could affect the hundreds of thousands of service members and their families who are given orders to move to new duty stations each year.

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If confirmed, Van Ovost would head up one of the Defense Department's 11 combatant commands and provide a wide array of mobility services to the others, including moving troops and equipment.

The confirmation hearing appeared to go smoothly, with no indications from senators that her nomination could be imperiled. The general is currently head of Air Mobility Command and would be the first woman ever to lead Transportation Command.

Van Ovost testified that making PCSing easy and efficient for families is a key quality-of-life issue, and said the military needs to rein in its scattershot method of hiring companies to carry out those moves.

The Defense Department's 39 regional shipping offices hire moving companies on a shipment-by-shipment basis without formal contracts, she said. Therefore, it can't hold them accountable when personal items are lost or broken, or for other poor performance.

The military's current system also makes it hard to use movers' capacity efficiently and keeps it from taking advantage of modern technology, she said.

But shifting to a single, multi-year contract with a company to manage moves will make it easier to adopt up-to-date tech and hold movers accountable when necessary, Van Ovost added.

Recent reports of moving companies experiencing labor shortages in areas with high military populations underscore the problems with the current system and the need to move to an official long-term contract, she said.

If the contract is signed within the next few weeks, the winning company likely would take over managing moves sometime in 2022.

-- Stephen Losey can be reached at stephen.losey@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StephenLosey.

Related: Outsourced Military Moves Are on Hold Again Thanks to a $20 Billion Contract Cancellation

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