Picking up the tab for moving service members to their next assignment has been getting more expensive for the Department of Defense in the past 10 years.
But as a recently released study found, the reasons for that increase aren’t clear and a new investigation may be needed to better understand the costs of permanent change of station moves so that they can be reduced.
In fiscal year 2014, PCS moves cost the Department of Defense about $4.3 billion, or 3.7 percent, of its military personnel budget. In that year, about 650,000 service members were moved.
Across all service branches, the average cost for an operational PCS move — that is, a service member and his or her family relocating within the continental United States — was about $10,200. About 104,000 service members made an operational move each year between 2001 and 2014. The only higher-cost move is a rotational PCS, in which service members and their families travel to an overseas duty station. The cost for a rotational move averaged about $13,000.
The numbers come from a U.S. Government Accountability Office report to Congressional committees produced in September 2015. The report, titled “DOD Needs More Complete and Consistent Data to Assess the Costs and Policies of Relocating Personnel,” ultimately says more information is needed to find the true cost of PCS moves and to determine why the cost is rising. The average PCS per-move cost increased by 28 percent between 2001 and 2014, the report states, and that’s after inflation has been accounted for.
Find the report here.
The report states that the PCS program will likely continue to be a DOD focus in an effort to find efficiencies and cost savings. Increasing soldiers’ time-on-station is one way the Office of the Secretary of Defense, or OSD, could take to reduce PCS costs.
Ultimately, however, more information is needed about PCS costs and how they change over time, the report states.
“Furthermore, DOD does not conduct periodic evaluations of the PCS program and is not in a position to identify and evaluate changes that may be occurring over time in PCS per-move costs and the factors driving such changes, nor is it in a position to take steps to manage and control cost growth. In addition, DOD does not have complete and consistent data on waivers and exceptions — information that is needed to determine the military services’ performance in meeting time-on-station length requirements,” the report states in its conclusion.
The report recommends the Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness periodically evaluate whether the PCS program is working effectively, identifying changing PCS per-move costs over time and identifying steps to manage and control cost growth. It also suggests the DOD should “improve the completeness and consistency of PCS data in service budget materials,” so the actual costs of PCS moves can better be tracked. Tracking PCS moves that happen prior to established time-on-station lengths also needs to be better tracked, the report states.
According to a report from National Public Radio, the Defense Department responded in October 2016 to the GOA report by saying it would convene a working group to review and revise the PCS budgetary data reporting. However, officials did not release a timeline on when the group would meet and when it would release any findings.