It's more important than ever to schedule your permanent change-of-station move as soon as possible, experts say, as access issues with online moving tools, an increase in short-notice relocations and a shortage of movers could wreck some service member's plans.
The peak moving season is May 15 to the end of August, when more people are moving – and not just military personnel. As that window approached, U.S. Transportation Command officials were working to strengthen the Defense Personal Property System, the online moving portal that, for two weeks in March, suffered access issues for relocating troops, moving companies and military transportation offices alike.
Some service members and transportation offices had trouble getting online to arrange for moves and complete other tasks associated with the moving process. Some moving companies weren't able to pull information about service members' shipments that they were supposed to handle.
"There were intermittent access issues to the system, not complete denial of services, but absolutely some frustration that affected all systems users," said Air Force Lt. Col. Todd Jensen, director of the property system at Surface Deployment and Distribution Command.
The problems have been resolved, Jensen said, but he advised service members who run into technical problems logging in to Move.mil to contact the transportation office on base that handles household goods moves. Personnel in those offices may have some workarounds to handle moves, and would be able to decode what the system can or can't do.
Those in the moving industry say most of the problems have been cleared up, but there are some issues that continue to plague the system.
"The fear is that DPS remains an unstable platform and that many of the problems we have been experiencing will raise their ugly heads during the summer," said Charles White, senior vice president for the International Association of Movers.
Also read: Military Moves 2017: Doing it yourself? Tips for personally procured moves and Military Moves 2017: 13 tips for your next PCS
Another issue this year is the Navy's short-notice time frame on sailors' PCS orders. Sailors are getting their orders two months in advance, rather than the normal three to four months, because of budget constraints, the service said.
When service members of any branch try to book a move weeks ahead instead of 90 days or more ahead, it makes it more difficult to get the desired move date, Jensen said.
The bulk of moves haven't happened yet, but White said the industry already is coping with the short-notice moves. If sailors get their information into the Move.mil website as soon as they get their orders, he said, they should receive a move date in a timely fashion.
There have been some persistent issues with the moving industry lacking enough truck drivers, packers and other personnel to load and unload trucks – problems that industry experts said will continue.
White said one moving company that has been "a significant DoD industry player" has ceased operations, a move that could limit available resources to move people for the rest of the year.
Some areas have more of a crunch than others, especially in the "peak of the peak" moving season – from June 15 to July 15 – and especially where there are large concentrations of service members. Top points of congestion include the national capital region; San Diego; Norfolk, Virginia; and eastern North Carolina. Moves involving Hawaii, North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana may also see labor availability issues.
Jensen said SDDC has an open solicitation to get additional transportation service providers into the business of moving military personnel.
"The goal is to have viable new government-approved TSPs by the end of this peak season … and to have some for this season in those areas we are trying to target," Jensen said.
White said he is concerned that this effort is too late to make much difference in the 2017 peak season.
"We are also concerned that adding TSPs only in areas where they feel they have a capacity crunch will not truly add any capacity," he said. "The real capacity needs are at the local level, at the agent level, not at the TSP/carrier level." he said.
Those agents are the truck drivers, the packers, the loaders and unloaders that are hired by the TSPs to do the work.
There also have been issues with installation access for some moving companies, said John Becker, director of military policy for the American Moving and Storage Association. Each base has its own background check policy, he said, and the delay caused by such access problems "causes an accordion effect" as workers are late to their initial location, then the next, and so on.
Becker gave a recent example of a company spending three days to pack up a military family's shipment, then returning the fourth day to find installation personnel wouldn't allow the 72-year-old driver onto the base because he'd been in a fight 45 years ago.