Sen. John McCain said the Pentagon is wasting millions of dollars of its increasingly tight personnel funding by failing to properly oversee the program that moves more than 600,000 troops, their families and their household goods to new duty assignments each year.
"Despite the crippling effects that sequestration is having on our military services, the Defense Department continues to throw millions of dollars out the door as it fails to adequately manage the costs and budget for service member relocations," the Arizona Republican said in a statement issued Tuesday.
"It is critical that the Pentagon finally start budgeting for its expenses instead of coming to Congress, hat in hand, when funding inevitably runs dry," said McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
McCain's critical remarks come on the heels of a Government Accountability Office report released last week that criticized the Pentagon for failing to keep track of the money spent on permanent change-of-station, or PCS, moves.
Forcewide spending on PCS moves is up 13 percent since 2001, increasing from $3.8 billion that year to $4.3 billion in 2014, according to the GAO.
Those costs are rising despite a decline in the total number of annual moves, which is down by 12 percent, from about 731,000 in 2001 to about 646,000 in 2014, according to the report.
Driving up the total spending is per-move costs. Since 2001, the cost of an average PCS move has risen 28 percent, from $4,200 then to about $6,700 today, according to the report.
For years, Congress has pressured the Defense Department to cut PCS-related spending, which includes household goods shipping fees, storage, travel allowances, temporary lodging expenses and other costs.
The GAO also pointed out some unexplained variances in PCS costs. For example, for a Marine officer who's moving from one duty station to another, the Defense Department pays an average of about $3,100 to store and move his or her vehicle. Yet for an Army officer making a similar move, the same vehicle storage and transportation costs less than half that, $1,288.
The services vary significantly in their costs. For example, the Air Force has the highest average total per-move cost at $8,548, nearly twice the Marine Corps' average of $4,679. The Air Force told the GAO that might be because the Air Force has more officers than the other services.
Officers consistently have more costly moving expenses than enlisted troops due to the higher allowances for household good shipment weights and travel expenses incurred.
The GAO report also noted that the services consistently fail to abide by their own rules for keeping troops in one place for at least several years.
McCain said the services should take steps to save money on PCS moves, in part by making moves less frequent.
"There are several actions that our services can take to rein in the unacceptably high costs of this program, including by actually enforcing its own duty station tour lengths for troops, normalizing weight allowance policies across the services, and reducing the frequency of operational moves," McCain said.
Andrew Tilghman is the executive editor for Military Times. He is a former Military Times Pentagon reporter and served as a Middle East correspondent for the Stars and Stripes. Before covering the military, he worked as a reporter for the Houston Chronicle in Texas, the Albany Times Union in New York and The Associated Press in Milwaukee.