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Budget cuts could snarl PCS moves

Help yourself: Plan ahead, be flexible

Apr. 2, 2013 - 03:15PM   |  
Staff Sgts. Derek Eady, left, and Christopher Kissam move furniture into the Kissam's new home in Thrower Park on March 20. The budget cuts sweeping through the military will have an as-yet undetermined impact on permanent change-of-station moves this summer.
Staff Sgts. Derek Eady, left, and Christopher Kissam move furniture into the Kissam's new home in Thrower Park on March 20. The budget cuts sweeping through the military will have an as-yet undetermined impact on permanent change-of-station moves this summer. (Adam Bond / Air Force)
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The budget cuts sweeping through the military will have an as-yet undetermined impact on permanent change-of-station moves this summer — even though money for the moves themselves theoretically is protected.

For example, local transportation offices, also called personal property offices — the crucial link between troops and moving companies — could face a staffing crunch because of furloughs of Defense Department civilian employees, which could delay some aspects of moves.

Although DoD has reduced the number of required furlough days to 14 from the originally planned 22 before the end of September, those furloughs will still fall within the summer months, peak moving season for the military.

But it's not just the furloughs. “A lot of these staffs work overtime in the summer, so it will be a real challenge at the local bases if overtime is not paid,” said Scott Michael, vice president of military and government affairs for the American Moving and Storage Association.

And while service and DoD officials say money for PCS moves is part of the military personnel accounts that are exempt from sequestration, that doesn't prevent the services from cutting back the overall number of PCS moves and keeping people in place longer.

Right now, the Air Force expects to move about the same number of airmen as last year, but “changes may be made to the assignment program” for the rest of this fiscal year as officials assess the impact of recent legislation on operational and training requirements, said Air Force spokeswoman Maj. Cristin Marposon.

While troops are doing much of their own move counseling online at www.move.mil, once they submit a request for moving dates, “there has to be a human processing that request at the [transportation office], so there could be a delay,” Marposon said.

Once a shipment is assigned to a company and confirmed, the service member deals directly with that company, unless a problem or question arises that the transportation office must address.

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There may be issues for moving companies that need to get authorization for special services, especially if the movers already are at the service member's home, Michael said. “And if a problem comes up and the service member needs an inspector, the inspector may be on furlough.”

Last year went quite smoothly in terms of moving company capacity. But Michael said it's not clear how busy this moving season will be in the commercial sector. “We don't know what the overall economy is going to do,” he said. “It depends on the demand.”

However, he added: “We haven't had a lot of indications that movers are investing in extra capacity.”

In a March 22 administrative message, Marine Corps officials specifically cited civilian furloughs as one reason why Marines should plan ahead, carefully prepare their household goods, be flexible in their moving dates, and communicate early with their moving company.

Personal property offices throughout DoD face potential reduced staffing, “which directly impacts counseling and shipment management support,” the message stated.

The message included information about personally procured moves, formerly known as do-it-yourself moves, but there is no pressure from Marine Corps leaders for Marines to do such moves during the peak moving season — or any time of year, said Marine Corps spokeswoman Capt. Kendra Motz.

It's simply another option, Motz said. “A PPM offers our Marines the flexibility to start and end their move on their schedule, and, of course, the household goods would be at destination when the Marines arrive,” she said. PPMs are available to troops in all services.

There's also a financial incentive — service members who do PPMs receive up to 95 percent of what the government would have paid to move the goods. If troops can execute their moves for less money, they can pocket the difference.

So far, bookings for DoD moves are on pace with last year, said Mitch Chandran, a spokesman for the Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command, which manages about 520,000 moves each year for the Defense Department. Of those, about 225,000 moves are made in the summer between May and September.

About 32,000 moves were booked in March 2012. As of March 27 this year, about 30,000 bookings had been made for the month, Chandran said.

The Navy does not expect to move fewer sailors this year, said Navy Personnel Command spokeswoman Katie Suich.

The Navy moved 63,914 sailors in fiscal 2012 and expects to move 64,907 this fiscal year, she said.

The Air Force moved 64,076 airmen in fiscal 2012, and the projected number for 2013 is 62,900, Marposon said, although that number may change.

At press time, the Marine Corps and Army had not provided figures on their projected moves.

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