FORT KNOX, Ky. — It began in the fall of 2020, when a necessary contract rebid at the offices that generate Soldiers’ permanent change of station orders at Fort Knox turned into a small bidding war.
A typical result of contract rebids, what nobody could’ve predicted was the timing of those protests and their eventual resolution, which led to several challenges. Now, leaders here are urging Soldiers to stay active in their orders process to ensure they get them, their Families and household goods to the next duty station on time.
“This issue is very complicated: a lot of moving parts,” said Kevin Corbin, director of the Directorate of Human Resources at Fort Knox.
In fiscal year 2019, Fort Knox Garrison leaders were directed to cut roughly $2.6 million from the installation budget. As a result, a number of cost savings and avoidance measures were implemented, including rebidding the Directorate of Human Resources manpower contract.
Just coming into command of the Fort Knox Garrison as many of the measures emerged, Col. CJ King recalled the logic and reasoning behind the moves that led to the new contract.
“I suspect there was potentially savings to be gleaned, but in order to find out, they needed to go through the re-compete process to determine if somebody else could come in, assess what the contract needed to do, and then determine if they could accomplish those tasks to the same standard, but at a cheaper level,” said King. “It became a perfect storm.”
Charles Trumpfheller, director of Mission and Installation Contracting Command at Fort Knox, said re-competing contracts is part of today’s military landscape.
“The Army, over time, continues to live in a budget-constrained environment, and for contracted services, the tools that we have available to reduce contract costs are considered throughout the entire process,” said Trumpfheller. “Initially, during formulation of contracted services, we take a look at, ‘To reduce costs, can we reduce any of the services expected to be performed?’
“In this case, because these are critical services that support our military personnel, which was not an option.”
Trumpfheller said another option they have includes whether they can loosen or decrease what is determined as the acceptable level of performance to accomplish the mission — such as reducing the orders cutting window from 60 to 30 days.
“That is unacceptable to the Army, so that was not a consideration to use, either,” said Trumpfheller.
The final option involved placing the existing contract — a longstanding contract Fort Knox had had for nearly two decades — up for rebid in an attempt to get a lower cost for the same services.
Fort Knox leaders chose to put the contract up for competitive rebid.
“The protests started when we were doing the contract reduction to try to save money per [U.S. Army Installation Management Command]’s instructions,” said Corbin. “It was solicited as a lowest priced technically acceptable procurement, and after two protests, it was awarded to the company that finally got it.”
In October 2020, as Fort Knox leaders worked through each of the protests, the U.S. Army changed how much time Military Personnel Divisions have to get PCS orders cut and into the hands of Soldiers — from 60 days prior to a report date to 120 days.
The re-compete process resulted in an $800,000-a-year reduction, a significant step toward meeting the directive for the $2.6 million in savings, said King. The winning company was committed to do the job at the price they proposed, which was a result of the company reassessing positions and pay and benefits of its employees, all with the understanding that they had a 60-day window to get orders cut. More problems arose.
“Because of the low bid, people working there started losing pay, many of which had worked in those positions for 12, 15, even 18 years,” Corbin said.
Corbin explained that by January of this year, a number of the more experienced contract workers did not take the employment package offered by the new contractor and either retired or resigned, leaving a vacuum of experience in the offices.
King said that vacuum put them behind. Factor in the 120 days and peak PCS season around the corner, he understands how quickly the situation can go south.
“We started off behind the power curve from the get go,” said King. “Cutting orders no closer than 120 days from a report date sounds achievable, but think about when you need your orders for a June report date; you need them by February.”
Having been through something similar at a previous duty station, King said this situation they face is one that can create a negative reputation as word of mouth starts circulating about Soldiers’ PCS experiences.
“This hurts me to my core,” said King. “I was one of those Soldiers who never had to prompt anybody. I just received my orders automatically. I never had to prompt anybody for them. As I found myself about 40 days from PCSing at my previous duty station, I still hadn’t received orders.”
He reached out to personnel at that personnel division.
“What I found was an MPD that was probably in a worse situation than the one we have here,” said King. “I was probably within 18 days of report date before I ever got a set of orders. Because of that experience, that was enough for me to say, ‘I’m never going back to that location again. With 30 years in service, I have a vote. I’ll retire first.’
“A situation like this can absolutely affect retention.”
Corbin said while the contractor is struggling to meet the current demand of Soldiers needing to get their orders cut within the 120-day window, they are working in earnest to make it happen. The contractor has even told him they will do what is necessary to get the job done on time and to the satisfaction of all.
Additionally, King said he is working with IMCOM leaders to request more funds to help the contractor with additional hires, overtime pay and benefits.
“Even then, I think we’re at least a few weeks, if not a month or more, away from being back at a level where we’re caught up with the demand,” said King.
There is another way to get through the difficult times ahead as smoothly as possible, he said — Soldier involvement from the moment U.S. Army Human Resources Command cuts a request for orders to when the Soldiers have their orders in hand.
“It becomes incumbent upon the Soldier to check with MPD and say, ‘Hey, I received my RFO yesterday; do you have it?’” said King. “That starts the communication between Soldier and the MPD that generates orders.”
King said past habits can become current problems if Soldiers assume orders will arrive on time as they always have before.
“Oftentimes, what we find is that the Soldier will get the RFO and MPD may not catch it, may get overwhelmed and be working other issues and, as a result, the Soldier will hold this for 45 days, 60 days, and then say, ‘Hey, where’s my orders?’” said King.
“If there’s a message to Soldiers here, it’s this: As soon as you get that RFO, reach out to MPD.”