Saturday, October 25, 2014

Missing the point on PCS expenses

Credit Cards, from Wikimedia

Recently an article came out announcing that Government Travel Cards would be authorized for use on PCS expenses.  On the outside, this looks fantastic: military members now won't have to pay out of pocket when they move every 2-3 years.

"We want to make sure that people still have it within their budget to continue to travel," he said, "but we've got to travel smarter, more efficiently and try to return money back to the Department of Defense."

Return money to the DoD?  Ohhhh, that's right...

Requiring PCSing service members to use the card also comes with a big reward for the government, since the Defense Department receives cash rebates for money spent on the card, officials said. For example, a 5 percent increase in usage across the Defense Department generates an 11 percent rebate.

Well, I have no problem giving DoD money.  PCS travel isn't about making money, it should be about getting from point A to point B relatively quickly and with all your stuff.  The travel card should make that easier, right?


"When the credit card bill came due we had to pay it out of our pocket. Here it is close to three months after our PCS and we still haven't received a dime in reimbursement from the Air Force for our expenses," wrote Air Force spouse Jami Moore on the Military OneSource Facebook page, which recently advertised the change.

"The GTC card doesn't make a difference when a service member is forced to pay out of pocket for a move if they aren't reimbursed right away. Luckily we have savings, but others may be forced into a situation where they either have to buy food and risk getting paperwork for not paying their GTC card or pay their GTC card and not eat. And if you can't pay it, it goes on the service member's credit report."


This change will do NOTHING but make it even harder to move.  In fact, let's count the ways that DoD makes PCS hard (when it shouldn't be):

1. Having a crappy website.  Apparently they hired the same people that made to make the DoD's moving website,  First, the website doesn't work unless you use an ancient version of Internet Explorer (cyber security anyone?).  Second, even when you do, the navigation is a massive pain.  It was obviously designed by someone who never had to use it.  Considering how many people use the site every year, is it so hard to have a site that works on a modern browser and is easy to navigate?  Couldn't we hire Apple or Google to make a site for us?

2. Not paying to ship two cars.  Despite the fact that most families have two cars, DoD continues to only pay for one, indicating to me it has taken none of the feedback about supporting spouses into effect.  Yes, when you're young and starting out, you probably only have one car, but most people with families have two.  Even if your spouse works at home, most of them don't want to be stuck at home while you work late.  And when they do ship the one vehicle, they only hire the best and brightest.

3. Not reimbursing on time.  This point has gotten better at least in the Navy, but as alluded to in Mrs. Moore's comment above, apparently it's still an issue.

4. Not realizing how bad it is.  When senior leadership hears complaints, do they do anything?  Are they poking around with new people asking if their move sucked?  I haven't seen it often.  Considering that they ask junior officers to poke in their subordinates personal lives, how about tackling a problem like PCS moving and maybe actually fix something?

5. Not holding moving companies responsible.  I've never been paid for full moving damages.  Ever.  In fact, the only time I've come close was when I fired the moving crew that was slamming items in my house and chewed out the company on the phone.  To their credit, they sent out a new crew and finished the job properly, but why should I have to be a jerk to get results?  I've never seen Personal Property conduct interviews, and even if they did, would it change anything?

Even worse, we make service members jump through hoops to get reimbursement, then turn around and give them almost nothing.  Two moves ago the movers broke my printer.  I asked for 100 dollars (the cost of the printer).  I paid 30 dollars for a repair quote.  The moving company ended up paying me nothing.  They said that because I had no proof it was working at the time, they weren't liable.  Huh? 

If Congress or the President wanted an easy way to score brownie points with the military, they could fix the PCS moving system.  The concept isn't hard: pay moving companies to move our stuff.  The money is decent, and the military certainly has volume.  But why are moving companies allowed to just walk all over people when they break stuff?  Why not pay a fair price and be done with it?  Is it that much to ask for?