As this year's peak moving season starts to rev up, industry officials warn there could be some problems on the horizon for troops and their families as a result of a policy change that affects moving companies.

Moving industry officials are concerned that the change could spark problems similar to the troubled 2010 moving season, when some military families were left scrambling after movers did not show up as scheduled to pack and pick up or to deliver their household goods.

Companies say the change will result in less capacity — trucks and packers — to move military customers.

Against that backdrop, defense officials say it's more important than ever for service members to make arrangements as soon as possible after receiving permanent change-of-station orders; to be as flexible as possible in their choices of moving dates; and to ensure the moving company has confirmed the dates within a few weeks after they are requested.

The policy change reverts to a system in which companies can't turn down shipments without facing suspension, even if they don't have the capacity to accept the shipments.

In 2010, in the infancy of the Defense Personal Property Program, some companies were overwhelmed with shipments. A variety of problems, including communications shortfalls and technology issues, resulted in missed pickups and deliveries.

"We feel we've been down this road before," said Charles White, senior vice president of the International Association of Movers. "We have concerns about what this [policy change] will do to DoD capacity."

Each year after 2010, the Surface Deployment and Distribution Command, executive agent for military household goods moves, has issued an exception to policy each year allowing companies to refuse shipments.

But this year, SDDC decided not to allow refusals. So, White said, moving companies will have to "black out" dates on which they won't accept shipments farther ahead of time, more often, and in wider geographic areas, in order to avoid the risk of being suspended if they can't accept a shipment.

Companies that get first dibs on military business are those with the highest performance ratings. And, White said, companies in the lower echelons may not know what's coming.

"They have no way of knowing the companies above them have blacked out the dates. They'll become overwhelmed quickly," he said.

When companies were able to refuse shipments without consequence, they didn't have to black out as many dates ahead of time, which allowed them more flexibility to pick up at least some shipments, rather than refusing them all.

Also, companies can't black out dates for the "destination" side, when household goods are delivered, he said.

"This could very well cause significant problems like we saw in 2010," said Scott Michael, president and CEO of American Moving and Storage.

Moving companies "are going to be having to black out the days and locations where they're not able to provide service, so they're going to have to black out a lot of the country in the peak summer months when things are very, very busy," Michael said. "We're going to see a lot of challenges finding the capacity to move everyone at the times they want to get moved this summer."

But SDDC officials said they, as well as military service representatives, voted unanimously to adhere to the basic rules and not allow unlimited refusals this year. "We believe if the [moving companies] utilize the enhanced blackout capability ... the program will work as originally designed and help ensure that the higher Best Value Score [companies] receive more shipments," said Sarah Garner, an SDDC spokeswoman.

The unlimited refusal policy produced secondary and tertiary effects "that could possibly lead to lower-quality moves, and we are trying to move away from that," she said.

According to the regulations, if a company refuses a shipment, it may be ineligible to receive shipments in that market for 30 days. Multiple refusals could result in disqualification.

SDDC manages about 530,000 personal property moves each year, and nearly half of those moves happen during the peak moving season that runs from May through August, officials said. During that period, flexibility is the key, since requested pickup days may not be available.

The command notes that requested move dates are not confirmed until the service member and the commercial carrier mutually agree on the actual pack and pick-up dates.

After requesting move dates, Michael said troops should check with their personal property office if they haven't heard from a mover within a week or two, unless they are booking a move far in advance, such as six months.

Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.

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