The House last night passed an amendment to the Department of Defense appropriation's bill that would restore competitive bidding for household goods carriers moving military personnel abroad.

The action would allow the DOD to expand the Competitive Rate Program (CRP) from Okinawa and Germany to Alaska , Hawaii and several overseas locations.

The 269-96 vote for the House killed previous language in the bill that would have prevented DOD money from being used to expand the program, which has been opposed by the Household Goods Forwarders Association.

Rep. Paul McCloskey (R-Calif.), who had actively supported the CRP called the action a "victory over special interest legislation."

"This was an outrageous attempt to get some special interest legislation through, and I'm glad to see we had the votes to stop it."

McCloskey said he was "surprised" by the size of the vote, and said "there's a new coalition of reform-minded Democrats and middle-of-the-road Republicans, and we can deliver if the issue is there."

The CRP replaces what was known as the "me too" system, under which any shipper meeting the existing lowest rate already bid would be able to share equally in the shipments.

But the low rates were getting higher and higher, the DOD contended in a recent report, and there was no incentive for any shipper to bid lower to get the job. DOD estimated that CRP, in just its present limited form, is saving the government $50 million in a business that totals $250 million.

The Household Goods Forwarders Assn. claims that the CRP causes small businesses to go under, because larger movers merely bid extremely low, undercutting the small shippers, and eventually controlling the market, competing small businesses go bankrupt, or stop bidding.

But DOD defends the CRPI system, still claiming it will save millions of dollars in the long run.

The Senate is considering similar language that would limit CRP expansion in its appropriation bill.