DLA Hall of Fame
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Documentary: Quartermaster To A Generation

This documentary shows how DLA's first director, Army Lt. Gen. Andrew T. McNamara, played a critical role in World War II.

History of DLA

The origins of the Defense Logistics Agency date back to World War II when America's huge military buildup required the rapid procurement of vast amounts of munitions and supplies. After the war, a presidential commission headed by former President Herbert Hoover recommended centralizing management of common military logistics support and introducing uniform financial management practices. Integrated management of supplies and services began in 1952 with the establishment of a joint Army-Navy-Air Force Support Center to control identification of supply items. For the first time, all the military services bought, stored, and issued items using a common nomenclature. The Department of Defense and the military services defined the materiel 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 assigned to one military service to manage for all the services.

In the mid 1950s, commodity manager agencies (called "single managers") were established to buy, store and issue supplies, manage inventories, and forecast requirements. The Army managed food and clothing; the Navy managed medical supplies, petroleum, and industrial parts; and the Air Force managed electronic items. In each category, the single manager was able to reduce its investment by centralizing wholesale stocks and simplify the supply process by persuading the services to adopt the same standard items. 

The single manager concept, though successful, did not provide the uniform procedures recommended by the Hoover Commission. Each single manager operated A group of executives under the procedures of its parent service, and customers had to use as many sets of procedures as there were commodity managers. In 1961, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara ordered that the single-manager agencies be consolidated into one agency. The Defense Supply Agency (DSA) was established on October 1, 1961, and began operations on January 1, 1962. Eight single-manager agencies became DSA supply centers.

In 1965, DoD consolidated most of the contract administration activities of the military services to avoid duplication of effort and provide uniform procedures in administering contracts. Officials established the Defense Contract Administration Services (DCAS) within DSA to manage the consolidated functions. The agency's new contract administration mission gave it responsibility for the performance of most defense contractors.

The agency's responsibilities extended overseas when it assumed responsibility for defense overseas property disposal operations and worldwide procurement, management, and distribution of coal and bulk petroleum products (1972), and worldwide management of food items for troop feeding and in support of commissaries (1973).

In recognition of 16 years of growth and expanded responsibilities, on Jan. 1, 1977, officials changed the name of the Defense Supply Agency to the Defense Logistics Agency. The Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986 identified DLA as a combat support agency. In 1988, the agency assumed management of the nation's stockpile of strategic materials from the General Services Administration. Soon after, DLA established the Defense National Stockpile Center as a primary-level field activity. In 1990, DoD directed that virtually all contract administration functions be consolidated within DLA. In response, the agency established the Defense Contract Management Command, absorbing its Defense Contract Administration Services into the new command.

Throughout the 1990s, the agency continued its effort to eliminate managerial and stockage duplication, reducing overhead costs. In April 1990, the DoD directed that all the distribution depots of the military services and DLA be consolidated into a single, unified materiel distribution system to reduce overhead and costs and designated DLA to manage it. The consolidation began in October 1990 and was completed March 16, 1992.

The Base Realignment and Closure process, instituted in 1993, significantly affected the way the agency organized for its contract administration and supply distribution missions. Officials merged, realigned, or closed several DLA primary-level field activities. Also in response to BRAC, officials merged the former Defense Construction Supply Center Columbus and the former Defense Electronic Supply Center Dayton to form the Defense Supply Center Columbus. In 1995 the DLA headquarters and the Defense Fuel Supply Center (renamed Defense Energy Support Center in January 1998) moved from Cameron Station in Alexandria, Virginia, to Fort Belvoir, Virginia.