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Troops complain about new POV shipping company

Jul. 17, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
The Personal Property directorate at Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command manages the Department of Defense's Privately Owned Vehicle shipping program.
The Personal Property directorate at Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command manages the Department of Defense's Privately Owned Vehicle shipping program. (Army)
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Complaints are surfacing about a new contractor that recently took over the process of shipping service members’ privately owned vehicles to and from overseas locations.

Officials with the new contractor, International Auto Logistics, of Brunswick, Georgia, said they have taken steps to improve their customer service and to ease the financial burden of troops who incur expenses because their POVs have been delayed. Most of the problems stemmed from issues in the first two weeks of the new contract, they said.

The breadth of complaints is unclear. But some troops have said their cars are being delayed, they can’t get information about where their vehicles are, have experienced problems accessing the online tracking system and have had difficulty reaching anyone at the company’s headquarters.

“Everyone seems to be content with blaming someone else and trying to get me off the phone,” wrote one service member in a letter reportedly sent to the Defense Department on June 16, after more than a month of trying to locate the vehicle he had dropped of in Fairbanks, Alaska, on May 5.

“In short, I’m more than a little upset by this whole experience. Right now, I’m just hoping that my truck ever makes it to Atlanta. I’d like to know why no one is being held accountable for this, and I’d like some kind of compensation for this nightmare.”

Asked about that service member July 17, IAL officials tracked down the truck and reported that it was delivered June 20, adding that the requested delivery date was most likely June 2 or 3.

“This was probably the first vehicle the new facility in Alaska had shipped, and it was sent to the new facility in Atlanta. We are comfortable in saying that this member would not have the same experience today he had the first week of May,” said Sam Choate, an attorney representing IAL. “We hope we get a second chance to meet and serve him.”

Many of the complaints are going to the previous contractor, American Auto Logistics, which unsuccessfully disputed the award of the contract to IAL with both the Government Accountability Office and the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.

AAL had had the contract for the moving and storage of vehicles for service members since 1998. Before that, the government ran the program.

The U.S. Transportation Command has received some complaints as well, although an exact number was not immediately available. “We are aware some service members are facing delays in the delivery of their vehicles, and we appreciate their understanding that this is a new contract, less than three months old,” said Cynthia Bauer, a spokeswoman for the command.

“We are not aware of any cars being lost under the new contract,” she said. “IAL has been transparent regarding each challenge they have faced during this transition period. We are confident, and IAL has assured us, they will continue to improve.”

She noted that IAL has added staff to both call and vehicle processing centers and enhanced service members’ ability to track vehicle status online.

“Service members and their vehicles are important to us, and IAL continues to show improvement,” she said.

Because the contract disputes forced a delay in the start of the contract by about six months, IAL took over May 1 during the busiest season for permanent change-of-station moves, after having less than two months to prepare.

Doug Tipton, president and CEO of International Auto Logistics, acknowledged that there have been issues, primarily technical ones. “But there are none that we can’t handle and make right with the service member,” he said.

“This is what happens when you start [a new contract] in the peak season” of PCS moves, he said. “Once we get through the peak season and fine-tune our processes, we’ll be fine. The service will be comparable to or better than what they had under the previous contractor.”

He said the number of complaints has been relatively small, and although he’s still waiting for information on feedback from initial customer comment cards, the negative ones appear to be less than 5 percent. “We’re getting a lot of good comments,” Tipton said. “Some have said, ‘It’s the best shipment I’ve ever had.’ ”

About 182 inconvenience claims have been filed as of July 17 for reimbursement of expenses incurred because cars were delayed, about 1 percent of the number of POVs shipped.

As of July 17, IAL had shipped about 26,000 POVs — which includes 8,000 POVs in long-term storage moved from the previous contractor’s facilities to IAL facilities. IAL has accepted about 18,000 POVs for shipping to and from overseas locations since May 1.

Of those, more than 3,000 have been delivered to their owners; about 4,000 others are at vehicle processing centers, waiting to be picked up; and the remaining 11,000 or so are in transit. Service members dropped off their POVs at various times during those first 2½ months; about two-thirds of the POVs accepted so far came after June 3. Transit times also vary, depending on the country and location in the U.S. where the car is coming from or going to.

IAL delivered 80 percent of scheduled POVs on time in June, Choate said. While company officials are disappointed with the other 20 percent that were not, he said, they’re working to improve that, and project the July percentage will be 90 percent on-time deliveries.

Meanwhile, besides adding extra staff to call centers and vehicle processing centers, IAL has taken steps to immediately help service members whose POVs have been delayed, Tipton said. That includes expediting the process for paying inconvenience claims; and direct billing from rental car companies Avis and Budget to IAL. That allows service members whose cars are delayed to get a rental car without having to pay upfront.

In late June, Sen. David Vitter, R-La., wrote to U.S. Transportation Command chief Air Force Gen. Paul Selva that he has “been astounded at a number of the stories soldiers have shared with me regarding the difficulties their families have endured.” Further information about the number and nature of the complaints was not available.

“We have noted in the early stages of this contract transition that IAL has faced some challenges with training of their personnel, and refinement and expansion of their information technology system, to include phone and Internet,” Selva wrote in a July 11 response.

While IAL’s systems are improving, Selva wrote, “some members have experienced reduced service during the transition. Those servicing issues are being addressed individually with each member as we become aware of them.”

Arlen Henock, chief financial officer of American Auto Logistics, the previous contractor, said AAL has gotten “hundreds of complaints” about cars missing, systems not working, and cars not being delivered, adding that his company refers such complaints to government contract officers overseeing the local operations either for the new contractor or for their previous contractor.

“If all this is true, we’re appalled by what we’re hearing,” he said.

AAL also forwards the complaints to Surface Deployment and Distribution Command, which oversees the contract, and refers service members to SDDC as well, Henock said.

AAL is required to continue to move vehicles that were already in the processing pipeline at the end of its contract; that work will wrap up by July 29.

In one complaint reported in early July, a POV owner said her car had taken nearly three months to arrive. But again, any POV shipped before May 1 was handled by AAL. Information was not immediately available about TRANSCOM oversight.

For appointments and general information, SDDC advises troops and families to call IAL toll free at 855-389-9499, or visit www.pcsmypov.com. Customers can email SDDC’s staff at the digital hotline at army.sddc.safb.ppcf@mail.mil.

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