One of the horrendous events in the life cycle of a military family is the infamous PCS, the permanent change of station. It means packing up the home and entrusting your possessions to government-contracted movers. And if you’re moving from CONUS (Continental United States) to or from OCONUS (Outside Continental United States) the experience is even more harrowing because it involves the transport of your POV (Privately Owned Vehicle). Moving is stressful enough and nothing is more reassuring than having competent company in charge of your possessions.
So I found this story particularly alarming.
The Hill reports, “a new controversy at the Department of Defense has raised troubling questions about competency, perhaps even national security. One benefit the military provides is the shipping and storing of vehicles owned privately by service members. It’s a major operation since, at any given time, 10,000 vehicles are being transported on ships or trucks while another 8,500 are in storage.”
“Since 1998, the transporting of these privately owned vehicles was handled by American Auto Logistics (AAL), a defense contractor based in New Jersey. From all accounts, military personnel were pleased with the company’s performance. Then, on October 24, 2013, in a surprise move, the contract for these services for fiscal year 2014 (which ends in September 2015) was awarded to International Auto Logistics (IAL), a newly formed company based in Brunswick, Georgia. Of the five bids submitted for the $305 million contract, IAL was a long shot. With ten employees and an annual revenue of less than a half million dollars, the privately-held company had no experience in the area of expertise required by the contract it won.”
The first thing you have to ask is, if something isn’t broken, why fix or change it? And when you examine the history of IAL, there’s more than enough concern.
As reported, the company was formed in August 2012 with the sole purpose of pursuing this contract — which in itself is questionable. IAL submitted a bid two months later. That means IAL submitted a bid for a contract for which they could not have submitted any empirical data demonstrating the ability to meet the contract requirements.
So what exactly were the evaluative criteria used in selecting IAL over the AAL, a proven American-based company, which had been managing the requirements well for nearly 15 years?
The Hill reveals that “IAL’s parent company is International Auto Processing, also in Brunswick, whose chairman is Park Sang-Kwon. Anything but a native Georgian, Park is a global financial figure who was chairman of Pyeonghwa Motors, a joint venture between North and South Korea — a rarity indeed.”
Though the company’s headquarters was in Seoul, Park enjoyed a close relationship with the North Korean regime. At a time when travel between the Koreas is difficult, Park has visited North Korea 200 times — and why would we want this individual in charge of what seems to be a shadow company with access to military information such as travel orders?
The early testimonials are disconcerting: “screw-ups started as soon as IAL took over from AAL in part because, to comply with the barebones bid it submitted to land the contract, IAL had to close eight of the existing 46 processing centers, four stateside and four overseas. Service members complained website information was incorrect, or customer service couldn’t be reached.
However, Republican Rep. Jack Kingston, who represents the district in which Brunswick is located, was highly complimentary. “This is a critical service for those who dedicated themselves to serving our country abroad,” he said in a statement before commending IAL for its “continued excellence” — which I find odd since the company had only just been formed.
And in typical bureaucrat fashion, when asked if the Department of Defense was concerned about awarding a contract to a company with strong ties to the North Korean communist regime, especially since the job of IAL is to help facilitate troop movements around the world — information the military should want to remain confidential — a spokesperson said the matter had been examined “repeatedly” and the department was “unconcerned” about any national security risk. Right, I’m sure it has been examined “repeatedly” and I bet the spokesperson is “unconcerned” because it is not their personal stuff being transported or stored.
This just goes down as another of those “things that make you go hmm.” Is it blatant incompetence or something much worse — such as preferential treatment in the awarding of a $300 million government contract? There is indeed enough concern circulating about the associations of Mr. Park. I can’t say if they are nefarious in nature, but enough of a concern not to give his company access to confidential military information.
I’d be interested in hearing from military members or their families on this matter.