The military has awarded a $7.2 billion contract to a single company to move families’ household goods. But advocates say the contract was rushed through — and worry it won’t fix a system plagued by delays and lost shipments.
New Jersey-based American Roll-On Roll-Off Carrier Group, Inc., said Thursday it had received the contract, which covers household moves for the Defense Department.
ARC will now act as a single move manager, meaning it will subcontract with smaller moving companies around the country and world in order to get families’ belongings from place to place.
Previously, the military contracted every shipment directly — some 450,000 per year — and coordinated with 42 government-managed shipping offices and hundreds of local moving and storage companies.
"Under (the global household goods contract), a single commercial move manager was appointed to oversee activities that relate to the domestic and international movement and storage-in-transit of household goods," ARC said in its statement. "ARC will provide all personnel, equipment, facilities, tools, materials, supervision, and other items and services necessary to provide global Household Goods (HHG) relocation services."
The Right Move?
Military families have long complained about the poor quality of their moves. In 2018, a military spouse circulated a Change.org petition pushing Congress to hold moving companies more accountable. It went viral, gathering more than 100,000 signatures in just a few weeks.
That's part of the reason the military began to rethink its approach to moving service members' household possessions.
In testimony before the House Armed Services Committee last year, Gen. Stephen Lyons, head of U.S. Transportation Command (TRANSCOM), said too many offices were involved in the moving process, making it difficult for the military to manage movers and hold them accountable.
"Today, if you were to look at the way we manage this department: completely diffuse, completely decentralized," he said. "Every service is running their own thing. There's no enterprise approach. A carrier can be suspended over here and working over here."
But the proposed single move manager solution has been controversial. Some military families and advocates questioned whether privatization could solve long standing mover shortages and quality assurance issues.
Likewise, smaller moving companies working with the Defense Department’s household goods program expressed concerns about monopoly and increased risks with a single move manager.
In a statement in 2019, the International Association of Movers said:
“While DoD has indicated that they want more capacity and the ability to provide a higher level of quality during periods of peak capacity, it’s apparent that DoD doesn’t understand how the current structure is set up; therefore, it doesn’t understand how the proposed change to a single source contractor creates risks that the DoD doesn’t need to create in order to get what it needs out of the program and retain the ability to tap into the combined capacity of the entire moving world.”
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigated the Global Household Goods contract and the Defense Department’s existing program. In a report released in April, it recommended that more performance metrics be incorporated into the GHC before implementation.
Kelly Hruska, government relations director for the National Military Family Association, said she was taken aback by the speed — and scale — of the contracting decision.
“I mean, isn't even dry on the GAO report yet and they're awarding this contract,” she said. “I just don't understand what the rush is.”
Hruska said she doesn’t think the military has made the changes suggested by the GAO.
“I don't understand how you can say, ‘Well we're going to do these first few years and then we're going to see how the contract does,’ if you don't have metrics in place to judge that from the beginning,” said Hruska. “Are you just going to make it up as you go along?”
According to the Pentagon, the government will continue to maintain ordering of services and will implement an accountability program for contractors.
One military spouse, Sarah Taranto of San Antonio, voiced skepticism about the new contract and its recipient, American Roll-On Roll-Off Carrier Group. She and her Army husband had a disastrous move from Grafenwoehr, Germany to Texas in 2017, during which their shipment was ransacked.
"The main thing I would want to see would be the new contract and how it sets out reimbursements and how it handles punishment... in damage and loss situations,” Taranto said. “Companies lied so often about the claim process, and there was a clause in the last contract to punish them for it, but I never heard of it actually being enforced. Egregiously performing companies were only removed, not criminally charged.”
U.S. TRANSCOM and ARC will spend about nine months building IT systems and processes before going ahead with its first moves in spring of 2021. All shipments scheduled for 2020 will move under the existing program.