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Families First will transform service members’ moves

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ALEXANDRIA, Va. (USTCNS) --- Packing, handling and shipping of personal belongings is a great concern for our service members when they relocate. Yet, the process of moving service member's household goods has remained virtually unchanged for many years. To modernize this process, the Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command (SDDC) is developing a new process called Families First that will begin Oct 1, 2005.

Mobilization and relocation is a reality of military life for service members and their families. It can be very stressful. Families First is designed to alleviate some of this stress by involving the service member in the process and giving them a voice in how their personal property is moved. Families First focuses on meeting the customers' needs by promoting a first-rate moving experience.

"We are extremely proud to introduce this absolutely transformed personal property program that will provide many benefits and safeguards to individual service members," the leading proponent for Families First, Brigadier General Charles W. Fletcher, Jr., Commander of SDDC, recently announced.

Working closely with Congress and the military services, SDDC partnered with the trade associations of the American moving industry to create Families First.

"Families First is dedicated to supporting the armed force's most important stakeholders, the military and civilian service customers," said Thomas Hicks, program director for personal property moves for SDDC. "Our commitment to the Warfighter runs parallel to our support to the invaluable work provided by America and international transportation service providers."

"The working partnership between the moving industry and the U.S. military is a longstanding, mutually productive, and positive relationship," Hicks said. Every year, approximately 500,000 service members and civilian employees move to new duty stations. In any given year, this comprises the biggest moving population in the United States. With each move, the stakes are high for both the customer and the transportation service provider. In an effort to maximize the best value for the customer and the provider, the partnership will soon enter a new dimension.

Presently, transportation service providers are selected based on the lowest cost with little consideration for performance. Under Families First, transportation offices will use a "best value" approach that focuses on performance. The majority of the moving business will be awarded to transportation service providers who do the best work as measured by the customer. That customer, the service member, has the opportunity to complete a web-based customer satisfaction survey to measure the performance of their movers. This gives the service member a voice in how his or her household goods are shipped.

"We all share the goal of providing the best customer service to those who deserve it the most, the American service member," Hicks said. "Families First unites the moving industry, the Services and SDDC in a sensible and cooperative manner to achieve this goal.

This is a win-win approach for both the customer and the provider. Based on this information, transportation service providers providing the best service will receive the most business. In turn this emphasis on customer satisfaction stimulates better quality work from all transportation service providers. Families First also promotes customer satisfaction through:

Full-replacement value for property lost or damaged beyond repair.
Direct claims settlement between the service member and transportation service provider.
Web-based counseling option.
Increased emphasis on direct deliveries - reducing temporary storage requirements.

Currently, service members may only receive a depreciated value for property lost or damaged beyond repair in a move. In the new program, a member is entitled to the current replacement value of the item.

As an example, a five-year-old television with a replacement cost of $200 would be valued at only $100 if lost or damaged beyond repair. The $200 replacement cost is depreciated at 10 percent a year. Under full-replacement value, the transportation service providers will either replace the lost or damaged item with a new item - or reimburse the service member the full cost of a new one.

There are some exceptions where the transportation service provider may replace the lost or damaged item with a comparable used item. The exceptions are boats, personal watercraft, ultralight aircraft, pianos, musical organs, firearms, art objects, all-terrain vehicles and snowmobiles.

Today moving claims are handled through the closest military claims office. In Families First, service members file a claim directly with the transportation service provider using SDDC's web-based claim filing process, a part of SDDC's new Defense Personal Property System. If no settlement is reached within 30 days, a service member may transfer the claim to the servicing military claims office. In all claims processing, there is a maximum transportation service provider limit of liability of $50,000-up from the current $40,000.

Presently, service members receive pre-move information from the local transportation office or the Department of Defense pamphlet It’s Your Move. In Families First, service members have an additional option and convenience to receive pre-move counseling through SDDC's web-based Defense Personal Property System.

Families First encourages door-to-door moves with the goal of sharply reducing temporary storage. Temporary storage results in additional handling, delays and expense. The more often the property is handled; the higher the risk is for damage.

"Under the new program, we will work closely with the Services to synchronize member relocations so most moves may be door-to-door," Hicks said. "This initiative emphasize customer convenience and reduces the need for the double handling of property."

Families First provides a payment program feature that automates payments to transportation service providers. The introduction of automated PowerTrack payments for transportation service providers enables them to be paid for their moves within 5 to 7 days. This important program feature will especially benefit the small business owner sector of the moving industry. PowerTrack assists their business operations by eliminating payment delays and providing a consistency to their cash flow.

"We recognize that Families First represents a dramatic change in the way we do business," Hicks said. "The greatest challenge is managing business among competing firms."

To follow the implementation of Families First and to keep apprised of the business rules as they develop, go to the SDDC web page at www.sddc.army.mil. Go to Personal Property, Programs and Families First.

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