McCain sets his sights on cutting PCS costs

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A moving truck is unloaded as a family moves into their new home. (Department of Defense)
From Stripes.com
A moving truck is unloaded as a family moves into their new home. (Department of Defense)

McCain sets his sights on cutting PCS costs

by: Travis J. Tritten | .
Stars and Stripes | .
published: September 16, 2015

WASHINGTON — Sen. John McCain thinks it is time for Congress to cut back the costs of moving troops to new duty stations, and he has some ideas of how to do it.

Here’s a hint: It could mean troops stay put longer and take less when they do move.

The Arizona senator Tuesday called out the $4 billion spent annually on permanent change of station, or PCS, moves in the newest installment of his government waste reports, called “America’s Most Wasted.” He cited a federal audit released earlier this month that found PCS costs rose 28 percent since 2001 while the number of moves decreased by 12 percent during that time.

“In recent years, Congress has directed [the Defense Department] to find efficiencies in the program, but the Department has been slow to implement meaningful change,” according to McCain’s report. “That means it’s probably time for Congress to take a much closer look at the PCS program.”

It is a strong signal from the chairman of the Armed Services Committee — a key congressional body for military policy — that PCS moves could be the next program in line for reform as lawmakers, the Obama administration and the Pentagon look to curb ballooning personnel costs.

A retirement system overhaul is in the works, House and Senate leaders are battling over increasing Tricare co-pays, and President Barack Obama recently decided to keep troop pay raises below the rate of inflation for next year.

McCain says there are a few points of waste in the PCS process, which claims about 4 percent of the personnel budget.

First, the services vary in how much weight they allow for servicemembers’ belongings during a move.

“The result of the current policy is that some services routinely authorize higher weight allowances, even though there is no compelling reason for service members of the same rank to be allotted different weight allowances simply because they serve in different service branches,” the report says.

Also, slashing operational PCS moves could save over $100 million in two years, according to McCain.

The moves account for $1 billion of the total PCS budget but are discretionary, meaning the military services could limit or eliminate them.

The report says the Marine Corps decreased the number of operational moves by 40 percent over the past two years. Instead, it often sent Marines to new assignments that were within 50 miles of their old duty station.

Requiring longer time-on-station tours could be another way to save.

Meanwhile, it remains unclear why the cost of moves is growing.

The Government Accountability Office found in its Sept. 9 audit that the DOD has no system in place to regularly review the PCS program or determine why it has become more expensive over time.

For example, there is no explanation why the Air Force pays $8,548 on average for a PCS move while the Marine Corps pays just $4,679, according to McCain’s report.

“If DOD had a robust evaluation process for the PCS program in place, instead of having to come hat in hand to Congress every couple of months, it would be able to better budget for its actual PCS expenses in the first place, and then find savings within the program when it needed to make up for shortfalls,” the report says.

tritten.travis@stripes.com
Twitter: @Travis_Tritten

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