As this year’s moving season starts to crank up, senior leaders are considering a crucial money question for service members: whether or not to increase weight allowances for household goods.
The Army conducted an exhaustive analysis of ranks, grades and weights, and looked at how many soldiers are over their weight limits based on the current authorizations in the Joint Travel Regulations, said Army Maj. Gen. Michel Russell, Sr., assistant deputy chief of staff for G-4, during a press call Tuesday.
While the weight allowance question is still up in the air, Russell outlined some concrete steps the Army has taken to make this year’s moving season smoother for soldiers, such as increasing the lead time for orders to give soldiers more time to prepare for their move.
Across the military branches, service members are given specific weight allowances for household goods moves. For example, an E-4 with dependents is allowed 8,000 pounds; a single E-4 is allowed 7,000 pounds. An O-4 with dependents is allowed 17,000 pounds; a single O-4 gets 14,000 pounds.
Those who exceed their allowance may pay several hundred to several thousand dollars in excess weight charges.
Whether it’s being charged for the overage, or having to get rid of some of their property to meet the limit, “It’s something we don’t want our service members to have to do,” Russell said.
“Households have changed. We have dual income families, we have larger families. Even single service members may have more property,” he said.
The analysis took into account a number of different variables, to determine what weight limits would minimize, reduce or eliminate the most instances of being over the limit, Russell said. The Army also provided the other service branches access to their analysis team to conduct an analysis. Changes that affect the Joint Travel Regulations must involve all the service branches.
“We’ve leaned into this issue. We’ve made some progress. We do have recommendations, but those are still being worked through the system,” Russell said. He declined to characterize those recommendations, or whether they might apply to all ranks, as they are briefing senior leaders.
If leaders agree to changes, it could happen in different ways, in terms of timing. For example, they could issue an interim decision and then transition into a more permanent change in the JTR.
Officials are expecting Army PCS moves to be back in the ballpark of numbers seen in pre-COVID days, with an estimated 90,000 this summer, but don’t foresee any issues with moving capacity at this point. They’ve made some changes to try to limit the number of soldiers moving each week, for example, to ease the strain on the system which relies on commercial trucks and movers.
The pandemic stopped most military moves in March, and created hardships for many service members and families. The situation was constantly changing with installations’ status because of COVID-19. In 2020, there were 72,000 Army moves made between May and October, and there’s no backlog, officials said.
Russell highlighted a number of steps the Army has taken to make the Permanent Change of Station move process smoother for soldiers, such as issuing PCS orders earlier to give soldiers more time to prepare — an average of 120 days before report date, compared to the previous average lead time of 30 to 60 days.
In December, the JTR was changed to provide service members 100 percent reimbursement for their costs for a Personally Procured Move, or PPM, but there was interim guidance earlier in the year to allow the 100 percent, up from the previous 95 percent. This is defined as 100 percent of the estimated cost of what the government would have paid a moving company. Russell said the Army has simplified the process for soldiers to request a PPM, to conduct the PPM move, and to get reimbursed faster.
A PPM gives service members an incentive to move their household goods themselves, giving them the flexibility to move at the hour of the day they choose. During the pandemic, some families have had concerns about possible exposure and they preferred to move themselves, and the reimbursement was increased on an interim basis to reduce stress during PCS moves. In 2020 about 19 percent of Army moves were PPMs, compared to about 17 percent in each of the previous two years.
Other steps the Army has taken for this PCS season:
*Increased quality assurance inspections of household goods moves. The goal was 75 percent of all moves, but officials are now at 95 percent of moves being inspected, Russell said. “This allows us to get out there on the ground and help our families during their moves, and make sure [moving companies] are keeping up their end of the deal in terms of how they conduct the move,” he said.
·*Established an Army Relocation Advisory Committee, which also includes two spouses, to talk about what they’re seeing and hearing. They try to work through issues and problems, and the Army takes it for action.
*Developed the Army PCS Move app, which consolidates factual information from a variety of sources, and also allows soldiers to set up their move and track their move.
Note: This story was changed to include updated percentages of Personally Procured Moves from the Army.
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.