Should service members pay for extra costs associated with shipping home alcohol from overseas locations as part of their household goods?
That question is at the heart of an ongoing discussion between the moving industry and the Surface Deployment and Distribution Command, the Defense Department's executive agent that manages service members' household goods moves.
It's mainly an issue for troops coming back to the U.S. from Europe and bringing with them German, Italian and French wines in their household goods shipments.
Service members already pay the appropriate import fees charged by states when shipping alcohol in their household goods shipments from overseas; that is a longstanding policy and it's not an issue.
But when the shipment coming from overseas contains alcohol, a more complex customs clearance process often is involved.
That process may require moving companies to use a specialized customs broker familiar with the ins and outs of clearing alcohol at ports of entry, said Chuck White, senior vice president of the International Association of Movers.
And that generates extra costs associated with the clearance of a shipment containing alcohol, generally in the range of about $200 to $300, White said.
"In the past, industry had been told that any excess cost over and above the normal customs cost would be payable directly by the military members ... that was the standard for a number of years," White said. "Now SDDC has questioned that paradigm."
Moving companies have told service members in advance of their move that they will be responsible for the extra costs related to alcohol, White said, "and normally members have been OK with paying it."
But SDDC wants more information from the moving industry to clarify whether there are extra broker fees, and what those fees are, said Air Force Col. Michael Erhardt, director of the command's personal property program.
The command feels it's unclear whether such extra fees should be the responsibility of the service member, the service branches, or the moving companies. Once information about those fees is received from industry, officials will take up the issue within DoD, including service officials.
When alcohol is included in a household goods shipment, customs brokers deal with the entire shipment. Since a fee for the normal customs clearance process already is included in the rates that companies file in advance for shipping household goods, the government wants to make sure it is not being double-billed for some of the cost that is already included in those rates.
Currently, moving companies don't includes extra costs for alcohol in the rates they file in advance with SDDC for moving household goods shipments, simply because they can't predict when service members will have alcohol in their shipments.
"So we believe these excess costs should be (put on) the member's account, or payable by DoD," White said.