This article was updated June 20 to include the response from U.S. Transportation Command.
As the moving season heats up, some service members are already having problems scheduling their household goods moves. And now a new technology problem has surfaced that’s making things worse.
For two weeks, the computerized system that is the backbone of the entire household goods moving process has been “almost at a dead stop,” causing a traffic jam of sorts for service members who needed to get their moves scheduled, said John Becker, director of military policy for the American Moving and Storage Association, a trade organization representing moving companies, including many that are authorized by the Defense Department to move tens of thousands of military members’ household goods. There were still problems as of June 17, according to Becker.
“The next two weeks could be ugly,” he said.
He described a “major problem” that began June 3, after U.S. Transportation Command officials implemented an upgrade to the technology of the system that awards service members’ shipments to companies. Companies have been unable to see the shipments in the system, so they couldn’t book the shipments. Personal property offices have been trying to get shipments booked, he said. TRANSCOM has oversight and responsibility for household goods shipments.
While this system problem is separate from the ongoing and growing shortage of movers in some areas, the combination is exacerbating problems, Becker said. Over the years, there has been an increasing shortage of commercial trucks and drivers to haul shipments, and a shortage of labor to handle the packing and loading. The shortages are getting worse this year, as workers leave the industry for other jobs in the improving economy.
TRANSCOM spokesman Dave Dunn said there was a “decrease in system usability that resulted in a 26 percent slowdown. This began approximately June 3 and lasted four days as the program office updated servers, bringing new and more secure servers online and slowly removing older servers.
“The system is now operating as designed.” He said officials don’t believe the slowdown caused a permanent impact to service members beyond what would be expected with the peak moving season. Service members who can’t get the help they need from their local transportation office are in many cases getting information from the supporting regional personal property offices to consider providing alternate moving dates for July 8 or later. Those who are encountering issues might request an extension in their report date to the new duty station, or consider moving themselves under the Personally Procured Move system., Dunn said.
If service members need more help than can be provided by their transportation office, they can call 833-MIL-MOVE (833-645-6683).
TRANSCOM and the military services have taken steps to ease requirements for moving companies and to spread out the military moves to ease the crunch of military moves. The services have gotten orders out sooner to their service members, which takes some pressure off scheduling the move. The busiest period is generally between May 15 and July 10, but about 40 percent of all military moves are made between May 15 and Aug. 31.
While the volume of military moves scheduled as of June 7 – 80,296—was similar to the three-year average of 75,875 at this point in the peak season, more moves are being scheduled in advance, according to Dunn. But a faster pace of booking moves this year has possibly led to an earlier exhaustion of the moving industry’s capacity to move military members’ shipments, Dunn said.
In addition, the “peak of the peak season” is also higher than normal this year, he said. As of June 19, more than 13,000 moves are being worked for the last week of June -- 115 percent of the three-year average, he said.
An Army staff sergeant at Fort Meade, Md., said he has been waiting for more than a month for confirmation that his family’s household goods will be packed up and moved. He has tried to contact the government regional Joint Personal Property Shipping Office at Fort Belvoir, Va., and the last time was on hold for two hours. “Other families in my neighborhood alone at Fort Meade have had to change to a [Personally Procured, or do-it-yourself] move… they were unable to obtain movers to get them out of their house,” he said.
An Air Force member at Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas, was told that no company will accept the job of packing and moving her household goods, and she will have to change her move dates or move herself, according to her father, who contacted Military Times. During the first week of June, she told officials at the personal property office she could move any day between the next day and June 30, but they couldn’t get a company to accept the shipment. They also pushed her move date into July, but still weren’t able to get a mover. And she’s not the only one in her area having those problems.
“We are seeing a few markets where there isn’t enough capacity to take moves as soon as we’d like them to,” said TRANSCOM spokesman Dunn, adding that Fort Meade and Goodfellow AFB are among those areas that are affected.
Other areas include North Dakota, Colorado and New Mexico, and capacity shortages are the norm for those areas, Dunn said.
In those areas, military service officials use alternative ways to get service members’ household goods moved, Dunn said, such as using local Federal Acquisition Regulation contracts; using storage providers to get members’ shipments packed and out of their residence for later shipment; or encouraging service members to use the personally-procured move process.
“In some areas, there’s nobody to move service members – no trucks or agents [to pack and load],” Becker said. “June has been a complete nightmare for anybody moving from Minot Air Force Base,” he said.
On May 31, two weeks into the peak season and before the problem with the technology began, Army wife Megan Harless said she was surprised that she was hearing from opposite ends of the spectrum – some families who said they’d had really great moves, with no issues, or a minor issue that was quickly resolved; and others who’d had bad experiences, such as three days of packing shoved into two; boxes that weren’t packed properly; movers not showing up with enough people. One spouse reported having a crew loading at her house until 11 p.m. May 30, said Harless, a former Army captain who started a petition on Change.org last August calling for the government to hold moving companies accountable for damage to military families’ household goods, after hearing about issues from other military families. Harless is part of a TRANSCOM advisory group providing input to help improve the moving process for military families.
From what she’s seen this year, she said, “There really is no middle ground. It’s either that you have a really great move, or you’re going to have some issues.”
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.