DOD system to ease moving woes

Planning a move is never fun — especially for military service personnel

who are uprooted about 20 times during their careers to places they know

little or nothing about.

However, that tedious aspect of military life is about to get wired.

The Defense Department is designing a personalized World Wide Web-based

application to help the more than 750,000 military personnel who move with

their families each year manage the logistics, obtain the necessary documents

and funds, and find housing on or near their new station.

The Personal PCS Page (early version at right), due out this summer,

will provide one-stop shopping for online applications that cover base housing,

passports, car registration, children's school registration and overseas

driver's tests.

Employees will be able to electronically fill out and transmit the forms

and will have a personalized calendar with dates and links to necessary

information. Also, travel reimbursements can be made directly to the employee's

bank account.

Military personnel typically receive about four months' notice of a

reassignment, which is sufficient for moves within the United States, said

Vicki Beard, senior analyst for Resource Consultants Inc. at the Defense

Integrated Travel and Relocation Solutions Office (DITRS), an office of

the secretary of Defense. But when moving overseas, planning everything

in four months can be a challenge, said Beard, who recently retired from

the military.

DOD hopes its relocation system will reduce the stress associated with

moving. In addition to the personalized pages, the DOD system will distill

1,200 pages of relocation rules and regulations down to one page of relevant

information about the service member's new assignment and expense reimbursement,

said Stephen Rossetti, director of DITRS.

It will also move many manual processes online. "It may not change the

requirement for four months' lead time, but it will reduce the time a service

member has to sit and wait for an appointment" to make the necessary changes

before moving, Beard said. "The things you have to wait for, you can do

online." For example, no longer would an employee have to wait in line at

the post office to submit a change-of- address form.

DOD's personal relocation Web pages ultimately will take service members

from their reassignment all the way through about 500 processes associated

with military moves. That will include accepting their travel allowance

and finding a new home, a new school and a job for a spouse.

Rossetti, speaking at the Federal Government Relocation Seminar June

1 in Washington, D.C., said DOD has recognized that relocation procedures

must be improved to retain military personnel. The average service member

moves 18 to 20 times in his or her career and loses about $1,000 per move

in out-of- pocket expenses for things such as house hunting.

"Military entitlements are very austere. We're moving quickly to do

something about it," Rossetti said.

DOD hopes that savings from processing reimbursements electronically

can be shifted to the military entitlements side, Rossetti said. DOD spends

about $40 million annually to process paper-work for financial vouchers.

Rather than being a cost-cutting initiative, however, DITRS plans to use

the savings to "hack away at out-of-pocket expenses of our people," Rossetti

said.

In July, DOD plans to launch a main travel site to preview what will

come, and in August, it plans to post early versions of the personalized

travel relocation system.

The success of the project will depend on DOD's ability to harness resources

available from the dot-com, dot-gov and dot-mil domains and to access them

from a central site, Rossetti said. "The challenge that we have is how to

bring that together," he said. Meanwhile, PricewaterhouseCoopers is conducting

a market survey to explore public/ private partnerships that DOD could use

to integrate dot-com sites with the system to enhance the relocation process.

"Most of the time, you don't know anything about where you're going,"

Beard said. "Many sites are available that give the layout of a base, and

most service members don't even know about them."

Eventually, the new system will interface with the Defense Travel System

(DTS) — once that is complete.

DOD and prime contractor TRW Inc. said that DTS would be ready for initial

operational capability by this fall, but they plan to test a limited version

of the system this summer. DTS will allow about 3 million DOD users to have

their travel authorized and reserved and to receive reimbursement from DOD

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