Senator says he'll 'get to the bottom' of vehicle-shipping problems

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Senator says he'll 'get to the bottom' of vehicle-shipping problems

by: Mike Fitzgerald | .
Belleville News-Democrat | .
published: October 27, 2014

BELLEVILLE, Ill. (MCT) -- U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., announced he will begin looking directly into the problems plaguing International Auto Logistics LLC of Brunswick, Ga., a federal contractor that received a nearly $1 billion contract from the U.S. Transportation Command, based at Scott, to ship military members' privately owned vehicles.

Durbin said that he appreciated the hard work of Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, the commander of Transcom, based at Scott Air Force Base.

But Durbin remains "deeply concerned regarding the performance of International Auto Logistics," according to a statement he issued Friday.

"It shouldn't take six months of inquiries and complaints for IAL to meet its obligation to our nation's servicemembers and the basic requirements of its contract," Durbin said.

As chairman of the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, Durbin continued, "I have begun inquiries into the performance of this contract, and I intend to get to the bottom of what went wrong and how to make sure it does not happen again."

Almost as soon as IAL took over the private vehicle shipping contract in early May, complaints from military families started pouring into both Transcom and the Army Surface Deployment and Distribution Command, also based at Scott, about missing cars, late delivery dates and problems with customs paperwork.

Another major source of frustration was IAL's many failures to communicate with bewildered and stressed-out troops looking for their cars.

Both Transcom and IAL have blamed IAL's problems on a six-month delay caused by protests and appeals filed by the previous contractor, American Auto Logistics.

When IAL finally took over the contract, on May 1, it was in the midst of the peak season for the shipment of servicemembers' vehicles.

In early August, in response to a rising tide of customer complaints, Selva ordered Transcom to set up a special 12-person "fusion cell" team consisting to logistics and supply chain experts.

The team's mission was to help IAL unravel the problems behind the contractor's inability to track thousands of privately owned vehicles being shipped to the United States from Europe and Hawaii.

A few weeks later, Selva sent teams of inspectors to visit ports in Germany, Hawaii and four sites in the continental United States to look for the missing vehicles.

A month later, Transcom reported that the on-time delivery of military members' privately owned cars had improved sharply.
Even so, plenty of complaints persisted, especially from military members who had entrusted their cars to IAL before Aug. 1.

Sabrina Tunis, whose husband is an Army sergeant stationed at Fort Campbell, Ky., started a Facebook page in July to air complaints about IAL. In recent weeks, IAL's performance has been "getting a little bit better," said Tunis, whose Facebook page has more than 4,800 members.

But Tunis still wants Transcom to replace IAL with a new contractor because of the many complaints against IAL concerning missing and damaged vehicles, as well as the two class-action lawsuits in Georgia filed on behalf of unhappy customers. That's in addition to a third lawsuit filed by subcontractor Liberty Global Logistics against IAL for the non-payment nearly $20 million in fees.

"That should tell Transcom enough," Tunis said.

These complaints led to a recent meeting in Washington, D.C., between Selva and U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., to "discuss the unacceptable burden thousands of service members returning from duty overseas are experiencing" due to vehicles misplaced by IAL, according to a statement Warner released.

Warner called the meeting with Selva after receiving calls of complaint from 160 constituents who had asked for help, according to Warner's statement.

Durbin's announcement Friday follows by five weeks Selva's published comments that he had "personally communicated to the leadership" of IAL to tell them of his expectation that "they improve their performance with the timely and reliable delivery of vehicles and communication with customers."

Transcom declined to comment on Selva's meeting with Warner, whose office also declined to comment.

Amanda Nunez, an IAL spokeswoman, declined to comment on Warner's meeting with Selva.

Nor would Nunez comment on the lawsuit filed recently by Liberty Global Logistics, the IAL subcontractor, which listed six reasons for seeking to withdraw its contract with IAL.

Those reasons included IAL's alleged failure to merge its computer tracking system with Liberty's, and IAL's tardiness in making more than $20 million in required payments to Liberty.

"To respect the legal process, IAL will not comment on ongoing litigation," Nunez wrote.

IAL's dispute with the subcontractor had threatened to freeze all shipment of privately owned vehicles.

mfitzgerald@bnd.com

(c) 2014 the Belleville News-Democrat. Distributed by MCT Information Services

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