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Blame questioned for problems shipping troop vehicles

Hundreds of U.S. troops and civilian defense workers complain that the company hired to ship their personal vehicles after they relocate is delivering them weeks, even months late.

The military blames litigation filed by the firm that formerly did the work for the government as the cause of the program's ills. That delayed the start of the new company's work from December to the height of the moving season on May 1, triggering shipping problems, says the U.S. Transportation Command.

But a contract notice filed Oct. 23 by TransCom shows the military anticipated that they might have to delay the start date to May 1 if the command decided to hire a new company to ship the vehicles. This was filed before any litigation was initiated.

The extra time might be necessary for an adequate transition to a new firm, the document says.

The document appears to undermine TransCom's assertion that American Auto Logistics of New Jersey is to blame for problems in the shipping program.

"While time for contractor transition was originally contemplated in planning," TransCom said in the document, "changes in contract requirements have overtaken the originally scheduled transition time."

The day after this document was filed, TransCom hired International Auto Logistics of Brunswick, Ga., which won a contract potentially worth $919 million with a bid that was $38 million lower than AAL's.

A TransCom spokesman said the document, described as a routine filing, does not contradict its assessment of blame.

The document "does not extend the contract but gives us the justification and approval to do so if necessary," said Army Maj. Matthew Gregory, a TransCom spokesman.

The military notes it did not actually extend AAL's contract to May 1 until after litigation was initiated.

TransCom indicated that extra volume of cars at the height of the moving season increased the difficulties faced by a new company taking over the business.

"It was never the intent of TransCom to transition this size of a contract during the busiest moving season," the command said.

TransCom said it asked AAL to continue working beyond May 1 "to mitigate the difficulties caused by its litigation and avoid a potential break in service" after it was clear IAL would not be ready to take over.

AAL, however, was not contractually obligated to ship cars beyond May 1, and TransCom said the company refused the request.

The controversy over the shipping contract appears to have caught the military flat-footed. Two days before IAL took over the contract on May 1, TransCom officials provided reassurance that the transition to a new firm would go smoothly.

"We do not anticipate any diminished service during the transition," the U.S. Transportation Command said April 28 in a response to an inquiry by a New York congressman.

The command said it was meeting daily with International Auto Logistics, and "is confident IAL will be able to perform contract requirements when it assumes responsibility" for the work.

The prediction proved wildly off mark as complaints began flooding in during the months that followed.

The command said IAL took over the business earlier than it was required to do so. "This is certainly not how TransCom planned the transition, but it was the only solution," the command said.

Amanda Nunez, an IAL spokeswoman, said the company "has worked nonstop" to correct problems and noted it has shipped 34,000 vehicles since May, a record for the program.

IAL did not exist two months before it filed its winning bid, though its parent company has extensive experience shipping vehicles. AAL argued during litigation that hiring an inexperienced company to ship thousands of troop cars might be problematic.

But government lawyers told a judge the risk was small.

"The government has not invoked national security because poor contract performance will result in no more than inconvenience for Department of Defense military and civilian personnel," lawyers said in a court filing. "Here (TransCom) has decided the government can tolerate a small increase in risk to privately owned passenger vehicles to save a significant sum."

Contact William R. Levesque at levesque@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3432.

Blame questioned for problems shipping troop vehicles 08/16/14 [Last modified: Saturday, August 16, 2014 9:20pm]
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