A surprise change in Pentagon contractors is causing headaches for rank-and-file military personnel and their families on the move this summer.
International Auto Logistics of Brunswick, Ga., last year won a $305 million bid to handle the transport of about 66,000 personal vehicles owned by service members, family members and civilian employees who move each year within and beyond the United States.
Immediately after the new contract began this spring, complaints began rolling in: Cars and trucks shipped to wrong locations, delays of several weeks, vehicles damaged upon arrival and an online vehicle tracking system that typically fails.
Angela Jackson, whose husband is in the military, shipped the family Ford Explorer to the U.S. from Germany in early May. It arrived 44 days late and damaged, which she estimates will cost at least $1,500.
“It’s just a nightmare,” she said. “The company, they don’t take any responsibility for anything that they do. They’re just making excuses.”
Worse still, military families say phone calls and emails to the company routinely are unanswered or unreturned. And when they do get in touch with someone they say they get conflicting answers.
“For a third of a billion dollars, somebody ought to answer the phone,” said Parker Northrup, husband of an Air Force colonel, who IAL notified last week that the couple’s Toyota Camry scheduled to arrive in the U.S. from Germany in early July finally had made it to Baltimore.
“The frustration just mounts when you aren’t able to get accurate information.”
Military spouse Chasity Wahl said her family’s car is more than 30 days late, and she can’t reach anyone at IAL to tell her where it is.
“I don’t know if it’s been broken into. I don’t where it’s at. I don’t know what’s going on. I have no clue,” she said. “They can ship several troops overseas with ease. Why can’t they ship a car?”
Wahl added that she had to turn down a job opportunity because she had no transportation.
“It’s not just affecting the transportation side, it’s affecting livelihood of family members who desperately need” their cars. “It’s gotten way out of hand.”
Frustrated military families, who note that they’re only speaking for themselves and not the Defense Department, have set up an online petition demanding that the contract be revoked. More than 900 have signed the petition so far.
IAL has blamed the delays on a record number of requests for service for the months of June and July.
"IAL took over this contract during the busiest time of the year, leading to unanticipated quantities of vehicle shipping and processing requests that tested their new systems,” said company spokeswoman Amanda Nunez.
The Department of Defense's Privately Owned Vehicle shipping program prepares a sedan for shipment (Photo: U.S. Army)Nunez said the company has opened a new call center and is working with the Pentagon to fix the problems.
“Solving these problems is the highest priority for IAL, and they appreciate the patience of the military personnel they serve as they provide them not only what they demand but deserve,” she said.
Sen. David Vitter, R-La., said the problem is much bigger than just an inconvenience for service members, saying “it’s actually having significant negative impacts our mission deployments.”
He added that the Pentagon’s Transportation Command is using “internal resources” in addition to the cost of the contract to help IAL deal with the problems.
“Transcom is working internally to help service members, but I’m concerned they will not have the resources to get themselves out of default unless they make some reforms,” Vitter said.
Transportation Command says it is “well aware” of the complaints and has established a team to “identify issues and make recommendations to help the process become more efficient and transparent.”
“Ensuring on-time delivery of service members' personal vehicles is one of our top priorities,” said Transportation Command spokesman Maj. Matthew Gregory.
He said an estimate of how many vehicles have been delayed should be ready this week.
IAL's parent company, International Auto Processors, formed IAL just before the contract was awarded. Critics say the company was woefully unprepared, undertrained and understaffed, a problem exasperated because they opened for business at the cusp of the summer travel season.
(Defense Dept. photo)Service members gave high marks to the previous contractor, American Auto Logistics of Park Ridge, N.J., which held the job since the 1990s, and are puzzled by the Pentagon’s decision to drop it.
“The company we shipped with before was amazing,” Wahl said. “This is complete and total opposite what we experienced with the previous company.”
AAL says it was also surprised it lost the contract, particularly since its bid was only four percent more than IAL’s proposal.
The losing bidder filed a challenge with the Government Accountability Office and in federal claims court, touting its experience and high customer satisfaction record. But its appeals failed, and IAL took over operations in earnest May 1.
The Rev. Hyung-jin Moon, left, son of the late Rev. Sun Myung Moon, and Park Sang-kwon, the president of Pyeonghwa Motors, take questions from the press after returning from North Korea near the truce village of Panmunjom, in the demilitarized zone that separates the two Koreas, in 2012. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)AAL says IAP senior official Park Sang-Kwon has cozy relationship with North Korea, saying he has visited the reclusive country more than 200 times and received rare honorary citizenship in an apparent bid to encourage him to invest there. It says IAP failed to disclose those ties, as well as others with China and the Unification Church, when bidding for the contract,
IAL “will obtain highly-sensitive military troop deployment and service member personal information via IAL's unclassified IT system,” said AAL’s legal counsel in a December letter to the GAO.
“Certainly Department of Defense officials, the affected service members and the American taxpayers should be alarmed about the IAL/IAP ownership structure as a matter of national security.”
Transportation Command said it has investigated AAL’s claims and found them without merit. It adds the claims court also dismissed the company’s accusations.
Transportation Command “takes all matters of national security very seriously and, after multiple independent and external reviews, is satisfied IAL does not pose a risk to national security,” Gregory said.
IAL’s contract runs through February 2016, with three one-year options. The Pentagon reserves the rights to review, cancel or rebid any contract before it expires. But as for now, it Transportation Command says it has no plans to do so.
“The transition has not gone as smoothly as we would have liked, but this is a top priority for (the military),” Gregory said. “We are working very hard with IAL to ensure that our military members get the service they deserve.”