FORT BELVOIR, Va., Oct. 24, 2011

Defense Logistics Agency Provides Gold-Standard Logistics

From the Defense Supply Agency to the Defense Logistics Agency; from a post-war concept to a worldwide logistics leader; from manual, paper-based systems to electronic systems that deliver instant results; DLA has come a long way in 50 years. But as America's premier combat logistics provider hits the half-century mark, its mission is as clear today as the day it was established: provide superb logistics support to America's warfighters around the world.

Defense Secretary Robert McNamara first established the Defense Supply Agency, which would later become the Defense Logistics Agency, 50 years ago, but the agency can trace its roots even further back, to World War II, when the fastest buildup of military forces in history forced the War Department to explore centralizing the management of military logistics and using uniform financial management practices.

During that time, the War Department colocated the Army and Navy offices responsible for procuring petroleum products, medical supplies, clothing and other items. That move's success led to a recommendation from a presidential commission headed by former President Herbert Hoover to coordinate procurement, storage, distribution and transportation across the services.

Integrated management of supplies and services began in 1952 with the establishment of a joint Army-Navy-Air Force Support Center to standardize supply terminology. The Defense Department and the services defined the material that would be managed on an integrated basis as "consumables," meaning supplies that are not repairable or are consumed in normal use. Consumable items, also called commodities, were each assigned to one service to manage for all.

In the mid-1950s, the services each became single managers for selected commodities. The Army managed food and clothing. The Navy managed medical supplies, petroleum and

industrial parts. In each category, the single manager was able to centralize stocks and persuade the services to adopt the same standard items.

The concept, though successful, fell short of the Hoover Commission's recommendations. Each single manager operated under its service's procedures, and customers had to use different procedures for each commodity. In 1961, McNamara ordered the consolidation of the single-manager agencies. The Defense Supply Agency was established Oct. 1, 1961, and began operations Jan. 1, 1962. DSA took over administration of the Federal Catalog Program, Defense Standardization Program, Defense Utilization Program and Surplus Personal Property Disposal Program, and eight single-manager agencies became DSA supply centers:

Defense Clothing and Textile Supply Center
Defense Construction Supply Center
   (Columbus, Ohio);
Defense General Supply Center
   (Richmond, Va.);
Defense Medical Supply Center
   (Brooklyn, N.Y.);
Defense Petroleum Supply Center
   (Washington, D.C.);
Defense Subsistence Supply Center
Defense Traffic Management Service
   (Washington, D.C.); and
Defense Logistics Services Center
   (Washington, D.C.).

Over the next two years, DSA added more supply centers and service depots to its network. In 1965, DoD consolidated most of the services' contract administration activities. Officials established the Defense Contract Administration Services within DSA to manage the consolidated functions, making it responsible for the performance of most defense contractors.

One of the first depots to be brought under DSA was the Army general depot in Tracy, Calif. Bobby Parsons was a computer systems programmer there at the time and spent 30 years leading DLA's automation efforts, retiring in 1993 as staff director for information services at DLA Headquarters. In 1963, DSA leaders designated the Tracy depot as the lead for designing automated systems, Parsons said. He was chosen as one of that effort's leaders. Parsons said he remembers when DSA bought its first computer. He helped write the requirements for the agency's computer procurement plan for all depots.

"Our first computers had a few thousand bits of storage and the first one I programmed, we programmed it in actual computer language," Parsons said. "You actually keyed in on the punch card the code you wanted to use. There were no inputs or outputs; you had to sit there and feed a card in and get a card out."

Starting in 1965, DSA faced its first wartime operations when U.S. forces were deployed to Vietnam. From 1965-1969, DSA shipped more than 22 million short tons of dry cargo and 14 million short tons of bulk petroleum to Vietnam. Total procurements jumped more than 50 percent from 1966 to 1967.

In September 1972, DSA's responsibilities expanded even further with the creation of the Defense Property Disposal Service, which later became the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Service and then DLA Disposition Services, in Battle Creek, Mich.

In 1977, DSA changed its name to the Defense Logistics Agency, in recognition of 16 years of growth and expanded responsibilities.

In the 1980s, DLA's responsibilities expanded even more. The 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Reorganization Act designated DLA as a combat-support agency, and a July 1988 presidential order transferred management of the nation's strategic materials stockpile to DLA from the General Services Administration. Soon after, DLA established the Defense National Stockpile Center as a primary-level field activity.

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Vincent Russo, who served as DLA director from 1986-1988, said the Goldwater-Nichols designation came in recognition of the enormous support relationship that existed between DLA and U.S. forces around the world. He said he attended weekly meetings with the Joint Chiefs of Staff to keep up-to-date on support for military operations.

"I was always impressed with the high quality of support provided by DLA to the combatant commands," Russo said. "This situation came about due in large measure to two fundamental conditions. First was the willingness of the leadership in the uniformed services to provide high-quality personnel to man key positions within the command, starting with the DLA command position. Second was the DLA workforce that, on a day-in, day-out basis, provided only the best support possible."

In 1990, DoD directed that virtually all contract administration functions be consolidated within DLA. In response, the agency established the Defense Contract Management Command, which absorbed the Defense Contract Administration Service. That year, DoD also directed that all distribution depots be consolidated into a single, unified material distribution system to reduce overhead and designated DLA to manage it. The consolidation was completed March 16, 1992.

Taking on distribution responsibilities from the services was a challenge, said retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Charles McCausland, who was DLA director from 1988-1992.

"It was always difficult as you grew and got new missions assigned to you, because they were not given freely. They were given with some resistance," McCausland said, noting that he worked for DLA four different times over the years. "But I think in the long run … there was a realization that DLA was able to respond."

The 1980s and 1990s marked many changes in DLA's depot and distribution operations, said Don Brown, who spent 23 years working in DLA's depot operations and was director of Defense Distribution Center Columbus, Ohio, from 1997 until its closure in 2008. During that period, DLA adopted commercial business practices to improve operations and services to customers, especially in distribution, Brown said. One example of this shift was when DLA changed its practice of consolidating orders to save money on transportation.

"At the time we didn't realize what the inventory impact was to the people in the field having to have a larger inventory out there because they had to wait such a long time to get the materials shipped to them," Brown said.

DLA looked to commercial practices, such as those used by Federal Express, and explored using overnight delivery to speed up shipments and eliminate the need for large inventories, Brown said.

"We said, 'If we adopt this practice, what's it going to do? It may increase our transportation costs somewhat, but what's it going to do overall to the inventory?'" he said. "As a result of that, the inventory that had to be maintained was reduced as we got more into it."

The 1980s was a time of huge growth in the automation field in general and at DLA in particular, Parsons said. Personal computers became popular and the agency evaluated whether to maintain large mainframe computers or distribute processing to employees by giving everyone computers, he said. Parsons said he was a proponent of distributed processing, which is now how the agency has operated for many years.

"That's what I was working for, to give employees the capability to do their own processes and have the ability to communicate with everyone but not have it running in some computer room somewhere where us computer guys could turn it off or it could be down because it broke or we were maintaining it or something,"  Parsons said.

During the 1980s, the organization that eventually became DLA Logistics Information Service worked with industry partners to automate the agency's connection to contractors, Parsons said. DLA connected its systems so contractors could work with the agency to view requirements and get contract information.  

In the midst of all this change, DLA was called on to support U.S. forces in operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. From the start of the buildup of troops in Saudi Arabia in August 1990 to the end of combat nine months later, DLA responded to more than 2 million requisitions, totaling more than $3 billion in food, clothing, textiles, medical supplies and repair parts.

McCausland cited the agency's performance during the Gulf War as one of the greatest accomplishments of his tenure.

"As I think back, I can't think of any logistics issues that weren't totally satisfied," McCausland said of the Gulf War. "I can't think of any serious shortages of commodities or items that the military services did not receive from us in that combat environment. Everything they needed we had and got it to them in the appropriate time."

After the war, then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney and then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Colin Powell came to DLA Headquarters and thanked the staff for their efforts, Parsons said.

"They said that we had provided the best support; it couldn't be any better," Parsons said.

McCausland said he recalls Cheney making "a very positive statement that [U.S. forces] would not have been successful in Desert Storm without the support of DLA."

DLA Headquarters also saw reorganization in the 1990s, with integrated business units for supply management, distribution and contract management being formed in March 1993, reducing the number of organizations reporting to the director from 42 to six. DLA Headquarters was relocated in 1995 from Cameron Station, in Alexandria, Va., to its current location on Fort Belvoir, Va. That decade also saw a change in how DoD selected contractors, placing best value above low bidder. The best value approach put more focus on quality, delivery, effectiveness and past performance of contractors and set the stage for the agency's prime vendor program.

DLA continued its shift toward automation in the early 1990s, when it was one of the first adopters of electronic commerce. The agency developed an eMall approach as early as 1993, before most companies were even using the Internet. Backed by then-Director Navy Vice Adm. Edward Straw, DLA's e-commerce strategy earned the agency a Joint Meritorious Service Award in 1996 for providing improved access to higher quality products while reducing inventories and saving taxpayers $6.3 billion.

Since then, DLA has continued to keep pace with technology and evolving business practices, developing various Web-based interfaces with customers and suppliers and modernizing its internal supply management system, the Business Systems Modernization program.

BSM, the agency's Enterprise Resource Planning initiative, was already under way when now-retired Navy Vice Adm. Keith Lippert took over as DLA director. He said he counts ERP as among both the agency's greatest successes and greatest challenges during his tenure, which lasted five years. Lippert arrived at DLA in July 2001, and when the attacks of 9/11 happened, agency leaders debated whether to continue the ERP effort while supporting a new global conflict.

"My final conclusion was there really was no good time to do an ERP business transformation, because there was always something going on that would tell you there are other priorities," Lippert said. "So we made a decision to go ahead and continue the ERP effort. Everyone understood that this was going to be even more of a challenge because, at least in the …first several years after 9/11, our business literally doubled."

BSM laid the foundation for the Enterprise Business System, which became the agency's technology backbone in 2007, after the BSM was integrated throughout DLA's supply centers. EBS replaced the Standard Automated Materiel Management System and Defense Integrated Subsistence Management System and has modernized the agency's supply chain management practices.

The war on terror firmly shifted DLA into wartime operations. One way the agency evolved was to enhance its customer-focused support, Lippert said. DLA had been developing this over the years as it worked with the services on demand planning and other efforts, but after 9/11 it improved this focus by putting more agency representatives in the field with customers, he said.

"Over time, for various events and various reasons, DLA got more and more involved with the customers, the services," he said. "DLA evolved from really a hands-off perspective with the customer to being very engaged, and we see that with the customer service representatives and the liaison officers and the actual DLA people being right there with their customers."

Today, DLA has hundreds of employees deployed worldwide in DLA support teams, disposal remediation teams and other units.

DLA has also expanded its role in humanitarian missions over the years. McCausland said he remembers sending excess supplies from the Gulf War to Bangladesh for typhoon relief and using surplus uniform fabric to make blankets for homeless people. Today, the agency is one of the first responders when a humanitarian crisis occurs. In recent years, DLA has been intricately involved in relief efforts for the 2004 tsunami in Indonesia, hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, and the 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami, among others.

A significant reorganization within DLA in 2010 aimed to create a single-agency environment. The We Are DLA initiative was a process of renaming the agency's field activities to clearly identify them as parts of DLA. For example, Defense Supply Center Columbus, Ohio, became DLA Land and Maritime, and Defense Supply Center Richmond, Va., became DLA Aviation. DLA Director Navy Vice Adm. Alan Thompson wrote that he believed it would be a vital step forward for the agency.

"The key to our success, now and in the future, may well rest on our ability to present ourselves as a cohesive, collaborative and forward-thinking organization. One in which we hold and demonstrate great pride in the unity of our mission, our values and our accomplishments," Thompson wrote.

As a Department of Defense combat support agency, DLA provides the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, other federal agencies, and joint and allied forces with a variety of logistics, acquisition and technical services. The agency sources and provides nearly 100 percent of the consumable items America's military forces need to operate, from food, fuel and energy, to uniforms, medical supplies, and construction and barrier equipment. DLA also supplies more than 80 percent of the military's spare parts.

Headquartered at Fort Belvoir, Va., DLA has about 27,000 employees worldwide and supports about 1,900 weapon systems. For more information about DLA, go to, or

SOURCE Defense Logistics Agency

CONTACT: Mimi Schirmacher,, +1-703-767-5276

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