DLA leaders meet with industry partners, discuss engagement strategies

By Dianne Ryder

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Defense Logistics Agency Director Army Lt. Gen. Darrell Williams met with several private-sector leaders at the McNamara Headquarters Complex to discuss how DLA can better engage with its industry partners during a meeting with representatives from industry associations May 31.

Representatives from the Aerospace Industries Association, National Defense Industrial Association, American Petroleum Institute, National Defense Transportation Association, National Council of Textile Organizations, Professional Services Council and SourceAmerica joined DLA Vice Director Ted Case, DLA Logistics Operations Deputy Director Michael Scott, DLA Associate General Counsel and Ethics Counselor Claes Lewenhaupt, DLA Acquisition Director Matthew Beebe and recently appointed Ombudsman Timothy Stark to discuss topics ranging from increasing mutual feedback to expanding DLA’s industrial base.

“I want to go to another level in our engagement with industry,” Williams said at the meeting. “One of the ways that we think we’ll be able to spread the DLA message and its relationship with industry is to have a greater relationship with you — because you all talk to sectors all at once, and you are in places that we are not.”

“We want you to understand what our commitment is, we want you to understand what our message is, and we just want to bring you a little closer to the DLA mission.”

Williams said that in the past, candid feedback was often difficult in DLA’s former “captains of industry” discussions, where the representatives were often competitors. He said he hoped to have more honest conversations with the heads of the associations.

“This session was born out of that thought process,” the general said. “This is one of what I hope will be many sessions in the future about what we can do to enhance our relationship.”

However, Williams said the engagement isn’t limited to DLA’s relationship with industry, but for the purpose of improved support to the warfighter and the nation.

Williams said he included support to other federal agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Agency for International Development as part of DLA’s support, because 20 percent of DLA’s spending is now on such “whole of government” support.

The director emphasized the importance of DLA’s industry partners. “The reality is, we couldn’t get it done without you,” he said.

At Williams’ request, the industry partners introduced themselves.

David Berteau, chief executive officer of the Professional Services Council, has a long history of service with the Department of Defense and with DLA.

“I’ve long been a defender of this agency — both its role and its mission, as well as its ability to execute that. And I’d like to continue that relationship,” he said.

Retired Air Force Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle, president and CEO of NDIA, said he appreciated the opportunity to meet with DLA and said he thinks NDIA can help DLA broaden its reach to private industry.

“I really enjoy working with industry to try and help solve the warfighter’s problem,” he said.

Williams said the broad cross-section of capabilities was intentional. “There’s no competition in this room,” he said. “Most of you, by and large, are operating in different sectors — all very important sectors, and all [ones] that DLA is involved with.”

Beebe led a discussion about what DLA wants to achieve in the realm of industry engagement. He pointed out some features of DLA’s Industry Engagement Plan but said the agency really needs to improve how it gets feedback from industry partners.

“We’re not very good at collectively knowing what [the feedback] is telling us,” he said. He also noted innovation is a major focus, but it’s not limited to new products or even new technologies — but how industry is changing.

Beebe asked how DLA should adjust its thinking to partner with industry to advance readiness. Carlisle responded that one challenge is not hearing anything from customers until they do something wrong, or until there’s a crisis.

“What my membership will tell you is, ‘Hey, we can provide tons of feedback, but we’d like it to go the other way as well,’” he said. “I think all of us have a degree of capability to help with respect to providing that two-way communication so we can get better feedback.”

Steve Soroka, CEO of SourceAmerica, said he thinks DLA does a good job of reaching out to industry. "Everybody can do better, but the relationship we have with [DLA] Troop Support is great,” he said. “They sponsor an industry day just for our network of nonprofits.”

Retired Vice Adm. Andy Brown, president and CEO of NDTA, talked about the importance of mobilizing the industrial base in regard to increasing transportation access.

Williams agreed that a strategic plan for a national industrial base is needed. “Our two major distribution centers, one in San Joaquin [California] and Susquehanna in Mechanicsburg [Pennsylvania] are absolutely critical to any war fight,” he said. “DLA must always have a plan to ensure that our critical infrastructure remains solid.”

The director said he’s still taken aback at how embedded DLA is with the military services. “We do the ordering for subsistence, all the water, all the Class II materials, all the pharmaceuticals, medical supplies, all the fuel — it’s a marriage between us and the services.”

Williams said he hoped the meetings with industry would also serve as a sounding board. “What I need from you as the director is: What are the trends?… Where are things headed? Where is the investment now?”

After much discussion about mutual interests, including forecasting and demand planning, commodity optimization and readiness, Scott allowed attendees to view DLA’s Enterprise Dashboard, which provides a near-real time view of readiness rates for three air and 10 ground systems operated by the services. The Dashboard compiles metrics from DLA systems and the Army’s common operation picture, and helps improve readiness through close scrutiny of supply metrics like material availability and backorder statuses.

Williams said he has metrics for every one of the military services and has provided them access to the Dashboard. “I look at this every single day — we all do,” he said.

Industry partners expressed interest at the depth of information on the Dashboard.

As the event came to a close, many of the industry leaders exchanged business cards with Stark in an effort to sustain engagement.