With budgetary uncertainty looming, the Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command’s (SDDC’s) Quality Assurance Branch is focusing its efforts now to advance its processes and gain efficiencies.
The branch, part of the Strategic Business Directorate, is responsible for evaluating and monitoring more than 1,200 motor carriers from the transportation industry that are approved to transport government cargo for DOD shippers. SDDC provides expeditionary and sustained end-to-end deployment and distribution solutions for surface shipping of DOD equipment and supplies to warfighters worldwide.
Branch Chief Maureen Carlo and her team of 10 transportation experts manage myriad programs designed to ensure that carriers doing business with the government comply with U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and DOD rules and regulations. If not, branch personnel inform carriers of their substandard performance. If such performance is left unchecked, the branch processes company “non-use” and “disqualification” standing on the DOD approved carrier list.
Many Ways to Monitor
Managing more than 1,200 carriers for compliance is no easy task. Branch members use a variety of checklists and programs to validate carriers, including Freight Carrier Registration; Compliance Safety and Accountability; performance bonds; truck insurance; DOT sites; National Motor Freight Traffic Association sites; U.S. Bank; and mapping and review programs.
“We are able to do in-depth checks and are finding discrepancies,” Carlo said. “At the same time, we are exploring ways to gain more efficiency in our office and the way we do our job.”
“When we did our first review of 1,800 carriers in early 2011, we found quite a few that did not meet the qualification requirements for one reason or another,” said Kathy Baker, Traffic Management Specialist for the Quality Assurance Branch.
“After completing our first review last year,” Carlo added, “we recommended disqualification of about 300 carriers from doing business with the government for substandard performance or qualifications.” Carriers that remain cognizant of their operations can minimize the chance of losing their government contracts.
Compliance Safety and Accountability is a program designed to gain efficiencies from DOT’s database by looking for compliance or trends in the motor carrier’s performance history. For carriers with questionable scores in tracked categories, the branch asks the carrier to explain what it is doing to fix or improve its scores.
DOT initiated this program in 2010, and the command adopted the program for its review process last year.
“Prior to 2010,” Carlo added, “DOT had a rating program called Safer System, which gave us a good, conditional, or satisfactory rating for the carriers. Now, DOT has revised the program to rate carriers. Also, industry is really working with DOT to make it a better program.”
Levels of Compliance
The Quality Assurance Branch also maintains a detailed compliance program for carriers that transport arms, ammunition; and explosives and other sensitive government cargo.
“Although the process is the same, we keep the Transportation, Safety and Security program separate because of the need to maintain higher compliance for safety,” Carlo said. “We inspect about 65 carriers a month. This includes corporate and no-notice inspections as well.”
The branch also monitors validation of truck drivers’ insurance. SDDC requires trucking companies to maintain $150,000 in cargo insurance on each truck used to move government cargo. Using Lean Six Sigma, the branch “created a project to study and improve our monitoring processes, which is helping us to advance our efficiencies,” Carlo said.
The branch also helps shippers when carriers exhibit poor performance or are negligent with government cargo. Branch members write carrier performance letters, letters of warning, or letters placing a carrier in a non-use status for up to 90 days. The branch can issue nationwide carrier performance action letters for multiple or severe infractions, or hold a transportation review board, a formal meeting with subpar-performing carriers to determine cause, effects, and solutions to performance problems as well as whether probation, suspension, or disqualification is in order.
The branch also manages the DOD Government Cargo Recovery Effort, coordinating, reviewing, analyzing, and disseminating performance data to the military services, agency representatives, committee members, carriers, and SDDC staff.
“An incident happened about three years ago involving an Air Force item that was being shipped and ended up getting lost,” Carlo said. “We started reviewing the process, and after making changes, we actually gained efficiency to where the carriers are now calling us with items they find. Also, the shipping community is now making quarterly contact with local warehouses and installations.”
The branch’s mission is more than compliance checks, however. The branch wants shippers and carriers to know also it is there to help.
The branch participates in transportation freight workshops for government shippers and carriers, to enhance and promote sound traffic management business practices. The team also fields questions from shippers and industry throughout the year, provides guidance, and clears up disputes.
“Our office fields about 10,000 questions each year from service members and carriers with questions ranging from detention fees to fraud, waste, and abuse,” Carlo said.
“As an example,” she added, “a carrier may arrive at an installation with cargo and, for one reason or another, can’t offload their truck. So the carrier has to leave. We’ll answer questions like, is the carrier entitled to storage? Or, is the carrier entitled to detention or re-consignment fees? We’ll examine the paperwork involved in each query, talk to both parties if necessary, and recommend a solution.”
Carlo said the branch has made great strides in improving its processes since its 2010 relocation from Fort Eustis, VA, to Scott Air Force Base, IL.
SDDC provides expeditionary and sustained end-to-end deployment and distribution solutions for surface shipping of DoD equipment and supplies to Warfighters worldwide.
- MITCH CHANDRAN, a DA civilian employee, is a Public Affairs Specialist for Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command. He holds a B.B.A. in business management from the University of Central Oklahoma.