Military movers urge DoD, Congress to pause household goods contract

New coalition of moving companies pushes back on DoD's multibillion dollar household goods contract

Many of the companies who currently handle military household goods moves have been vocal in their criticism of DoD’s new contract to overhaul the system. Up until now, they’ve been pressing the department to make changes to the Global Household Goods contract (GHC). Now though, under the auspices of a new coalition called Movers for America, they’re looking to stop its implementation altogether.

Although GHC has been in the works for years — the final solicitation was issued in 2019 — implementation is only now beginning, because of a series of bid protests and technical challenges. HomeSafe, the eventual winner of the up-to-$17.9 billion contract, only began moving shipments via its subcontractors last month.

Tim Helenthal, the CEO of National Van Lines and a member of the new Movers for America group, said DoD’s established moving companies have been working for months with U.S. Transportation Command to resolve their concerns, but without any real success.

“Some of us, for a while, have said ‘Hey, there’s a train wreck that’s coming. And we’re getting closer and closer to the engine hitting us as we get closer to this implementation phase,” he said in an interview. “You’re starting to hear our concerns become more focused and get louder as that train approaches, and we’re seeing some some additional issues that we didn’t see before.”

As Federal News Network has previously reported, none of the large providers who currently handle military moves has agreed to participate in GHC. The biggest stumbling blocks are what they say are lower rates in the new program that would cause them to lose money on almost every military move, and a new requirement that those moves be governed by the Service Contract Act, which would dramatically change the way moving companies compensate their drivers by requiring them to be paid hourly wages.

“[The SCA] is a major problem for independent owner-operators,” said Scott Kelly, the president of Suddath Government Services, another large military mover and member of the coalition. “As we understand it today, through conversations with the Department of Labor and attorneys, those independent contractors would in effect have to become our employees, which is fiscally impossible. They don’t want to be employees. I think that clearly puts customer service at risk with absolutely no fallback plan, which is a huge problem.”

The new coalition is arguing that DoD should pause implementation of the contract, and that Congress should order the Government Accountability Office to conduct a comparative study of the current moving system against GHC.

One of the group’s first actions was to commission a third-party survey to help argue the point that customer satisfaction in the current system, known as DP3, is actually higher than what’s reflected in the data that’s collected by U.S. Transportation Command (TRANSCOM), which administers the military moving system. Their point, essentially, is that there’s no urgent reason to move from the current system to the new one.

That survey, which included responses from 947 military families who have recently undergone moves, found that 90% of respondents were happy with how the companies handled their shipments, and 83% were happy with the timelineness of their move.

TRANSCOM measures things differently, but by its metrics, just 78 percent of military families were satisfied with their moves in 2023. Movers for America argues that’s because of a low response rate: only about 20 percent of military members respond to DoD’s official surveys.

“The people that are most likely to respond in any kind of a survey are the people that have the the worst moves,” Helenthal said. “There’s a naysayer bias problem with that. So the 15% of respondents are overrepresenting unhappy customers, and that would be true in any industry.”

TRANSCOM, which has been working for the last two years to refine its surveys and customer experience data, strongly disputes that idea. So far in 2024, the satisfaction rate has risen to 83% — up from last year’s 78%.

“I think what the data shows is that service members are calling it like it is,” Andy Dawson, the director of TRANSCOM’s Defense Personal Property Management Office told Federal News Network. “As of last week, our data shows we’ve moved 84,000 shipments. If 83% are satisfied, that’s a significant number of service members who are saying they received a good move experience. I think that shows these are not just people who are dissatisfied filling out the surveys.”

That said, in a system that moves 350,000 families each year, the difference between a 78% satisfaction rate and a 90% satisfaction rate can be enormous.

“Whether it’s 5%, 10% or 20% that aren’t satisfied, that equates to tens of thousands of service members each year that that are impacted,” Dawson said.

So TRANSCOM has been refining its data analytics since 2022, trying to gain more granularity on its understanding of how well the system is performing. Instead of one survey that’s sent to military members once their move is finished, they now get six different smaller surveys that try to measure, for example, how smoothly the process went at the start of their move, at the end of their move, and whether any of their belongings were damaged along the way.

Some of those data analytics are available via a publicly-available dashboard — and officials said more granular surveys will continue during the transition to GHC, so that TRANSCOM can measure the performance of the current system against the new one.

“We’re not going to go backwards from the amount of data we’re collecting now. Things might change slightly for improvement purposes, but they will receive essentially, the same surveys and the same survey questions,” a second TRANSCOM official said. “We might look at things differently, because the programs are not identical to each other, so things are going to look different here and there. But there’s absolutely no reason why we can’t use the old data and look at new data for comparison, trending and other analysis purposes.”

But comparing apples-to-apples is likely to prove extremely difficult for the foreseeable future, mainly because of scale issues.

HomeSafe announced a formal launch of the GHC program with a ribbon-cutting ceremony in Redlands, Calif. last month — heralding the first move under the new contract.

As of last week, only nine moves had been completed under the new contract. For now, HomeSafe and TRANSCOM are testing the new system with short-distance moves with the Army and Navy in a handful of locations, and both say military moves will gradually transition to GHC.

However, only one HomeSafe subcontractor, Joyce Van Lines — has been willing to identify itself as a participant in the new contract structure. That company conducted the first GHC move, from one location in the San Diego, Calif., area to another.

It remains to be seen whether other vendors will raise their hands to join the GHC project, and officials have not announced plans for anything beyond local moves in a handful of pilot locations. During the peak summer season, which begins this week, DoD only expects about 1% of its overall household goods volume to use the new moving contract. From there, it intends to start ramping up its use of GHC within the continental United States starting this September. International moves under the new contract aren’t likely to begin until September 2025 at the earliest.

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