The logjam that’s caused delays in getting troops’ cars to and from overseas is starting to clear, said an official with the new contractor. The company is also working to be more responsive to troops’ calls, and to provide more accurate information for online tracking, he said.
By Tuesday, Sept. 2, service members will be able to accurately track the location of their vehicles at the www.pcsmypov.com site, said Ken Quinn, senior vice president and chief financial officer of International Auto Logistics. That site has been a source of frustration for troops since IAL took over May 1.
More cars are getting to their destinations. Quinn said he received calls from a number of vehicle processing centers this week saying they “have tons of cars” waiting for service members.
“In less than 30 days, the backlog will be relieved and all will be flowing smoothly,” said Quinn, whose experience includes 10 years working for the previous contractor, American Auto Logistics.
IAL contracted with a call center to be more responsive to the flood of service members asking about the location of their cars, with inquiries passed on to a team tasked with responding within 48 hours.
“Frankly, we hadn’t been doing that,” Quinn said. “We understand there has been tremendous frustration.” (The number is 855-389-9499, Option 2; an operator answered within two minutes when Military Times called). The number also offers an option to be transferred to the local vehicle processing center.
On Aug. 4, the first day the call center was established, it received 1,766 calls. On Aug. 25, it received 889 calls, Quinn said, noting that Mondays are the busiest days.
These steps were taken as part of a voluntary plan submitted by IAL to address problems troops were having with late deliveries of their vehicles and frustration in reaching IAL. Quinn said that as of last Tuesday, 31,000 vehicles had been turned in to VPCs for handling; more than 12,000 had been picked up by service members; and another 2,000 were at their destination VPCs waiting for service members to pick them up.
Getting timely and accurate information to service members about their cars is a priority of defense officials, said Air Force Brig. Gen. Paul Guemmer, who leads a team at U.S. Transportation Command addressing problems with IAL.
“We feel that frustration,” said Guemmer, when asked about continued problems for service members. He said IAL’s voluntary plan to correct the problems “came up out of a number of concerns we’d highlighted with IAL. They understood significant actions are needed, so they gave us a corrective action plan.”
TRANSCOM officials “are actively involved in ensuring they’re living up to their responsibility to service members. We’ll be closely watching that,” Guemmer said.
Guemmer said the team has found “serious challenges in the flow of information between subcontractors and IAL.” He’s also focused on how the company tracks service members’ vehicles in the supply chain.
Officials are looking at how information about the vehicles is validated for reliability.
“I take this personally. We’re doing our best to make sure the information provided to the service member is timely and accurate,” Guemmer said.
Quinn said the company’s system tracks a vehicle at each leg of its journey — when first turned in to a processing center, put on a truck and delivered to a staging area to be placed in a container, taken to a ship. But although this ties into the online tracking system accessible to service members, there have been some disconnects, he said. The vehicle-by-vehicle inventories taken the weekend of Aug. 22 in conjunction with personnel from TRANSCOM and the Surface Deployment and Distribution Command will improve the in-transit visibility for service members online, he said. They’re reconciling that inventory information with their tracking system, he said, and will continue to perform physical inventories every other week “until we’re certain there’s 100 percent data integrity.”
IAL has taken other steps to address problems, such as changing some processes that were causing delays at customs.
Asked if he thought it was a mistake to award IAL the contract, Guemmer said that’s not his turf. “My focus is on working with IAL to make sure IAL provides the level of service” required in the contract.“We expect our service members to receive top-quality service. It’s really a quality-of-life issue,” Guemmer said.
Guemmer said he wants to remind service members whose vehicles have not arrived on time that they are entitled to a rental car at government expense for the first seven days through their military claims office, and through IAL for any period beyond that. IAL also has an agreement with Avis and Budget for direct billing for rental cars so troops don’t have to pay up front.
A source familiar with the procedures of the previous contractor, American Auto Logistics, which had been shipping troops’ cars since 1998, said the company met the required delivery date for vehicles 99.8 percent of the time in 2013 — fewer than 200 of the 68,000 cars shipped were late. And if those cars were late, it was by a few days, not weeks.
“It comes down to the timing and the volume,” said IAL’s Quinn, who noted the company took over the contract May 1, in peak season. “We also had to move 8,000 storage vehicles [from AAL’s facilities to IAL’s facilities for long-term storage. Even the incumbent never had to move that many.”
The start of the contract was delayed because of protests from AAL, and there were issues training new employees quickly, he said. “We weren’t able to hire as many [of the previous contractor’s] employees as we wanted. We were blocked by the incumbent, although they were contractually required [to provide contact information for the employees.] Our plan included hiring quite a few of these. We had to hire over 300 new employees.” Less than 10 percent of the previous employees in the U.S. were hired.
“Our original plan was to go live in the late December/early January time frame … to really go through the processes and make sure the kinks were worked out.”
“I am not making excuses for our performance thus far,” he said, noting he wanted to provide information about steps they are taking and the challenges they have faced, to “begin to earn back the trust we have lost.”