(Click here for a graphic comparing the old and new systems for moving household goods.)

ARLINGTON, Va. — The Defense Department is preparing to unveil a new household-goods moving program that will replace lost or ruined goods with brand-new items, or reimburse servicemembers for the full replacement cost.

The new “Families First” program, to begin Feb. 1, addresses one of the biggest gripes servicemembers have about moving, according to Thomas Hicks, chief of the personal property division in the Surface Department Distribution Command (SDDC), Alexandria.

“What they tell us is, ‘If you break my stuff, either pay me for it or give me back something comparable,’” Hicks said.

Military families move an average of every two years, according to the National Military Family Association in Alexandria.

The SDDC is responsible for overseeing all those moves — more than 500,000 military household goods transfers each year, including about 175,000 overseas moves, Hicks said.

The agency uses about 900 moving companies, matching movers with DOD “customers” based on who will charge the least, Hicks said.

“Families First,” however, will shift the emphasis away from which mover is cheapest to which movers have provided the best service according to previous customer evaluations, Hicks said.

At the end of each move, military families will be asked to fill out a Web-based customer satisfaction survey evaluating the moving company. Responses will be tallied, and movers given a numerical score; those that score well will be ranked higher on the SDDC’s list of contractors, Hicks said.

Movers who get poor scores will get dropped to the end of the list, and eventually may lose the government’s business completely, Hicks said.

The lure of increased government business should prompt moving companies to work hard to keep customers satisfied, Hicks said.

“Families First” is the result of some 10 years of pilot projects and test programs aimed at revamping the household goods moving program the SDDC has launched since the early 1990s, Hicks said.

Three years ago, members of Congress finally decided enough was enough, and inserted a clause in the fiscal 2002 Defense Authorization Act that directed the Pentagon to wrap up the test programs and come up with a household goods moving system that would “improve the quality of life for military servicemembers and civilians,” Hicks said.

For more information on the “Families First” program, go to

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