FORT BELVOIR, Va. –
The Defense Department’s leading logistics agency had its eye on COVID-19 before the U.S. reported its first person-to-person transmission on Jan. 30. Having already spread through South Korea and Europe, the virus popped up in an environmental scan produced by the Defense Logistics Agency’s Agency Synchronization Operations Center on worldwide operations.
As the hub of DLA’s $42 billion annual support to the military and government organizations like the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the ASOC monitors and integrates actions of the agency’s nine supply chains, six major subordinate commands and three regional commands.
“A lot happens in DLA’s world every single day. We have a 24-hour watch to keep sight on everything from supply chain disruptions and belligerent actors around the globe to the finance of running the agency,” said Joe Brooks, the ASOC’s chief of operations.
Having a worldwide view enables the agency to detect potential issues early and prompts commodity experts to assess DLA’s capacity to respond, he added. By the time COVID-19 was declared a pandemic and employees switched to widespread telework, the ASOC was already collecting data on stock levels and locations of medical supplies.
Rising demands for information on DLA’s posture and urgent orders for personal protective equipment needed across the nation spurred the ASOC’s creation of a separate COVID-19 Task Force in early March to provide pandemic-specific analysis and support. Members are concentrating only on crisis response, allowing the rest of the ASOC to maintain its broader, cross-functional focus as the agency continues to prioritize warfighter support, Brooks said.
Task force members have used ASOC processes to handle over 500 requests for information pouring in from military customers, the White House, federal agencies such as FEMA and the Department of Health and Human Services, and even media outlets. The group taps into information fed daily to the ASOC from the supply chains, industrial sites, military account managers, suppliers, and experts in finance and acquisition to answer the stream of daily requests on everything from the status of equipment production to the availability of specific items.
Stephen Armstead, a logistics systems analyst who served as a DLA Troop Support liaison to the ASOC in the first five months of the pandemic, played a key role interpreting and refining RFIs, which often lacked details on actual requirements.
“A customer might ask for gloves, for example, but DLA Troop Support manages over 90 different types of gloves. We needed to determine things like whether there was a latex-allergy requirement, whether they needed powder or no powder, how thick they needed to be and whether they should be medical or non-medical,” he said.
Initial RFIs involving mask requirements also needed to be defined.
“N95 became the buzzword, so everybody wanted those but didn’t necessarily need them,” Armstead added. While meeting military demands for masks, which the agency offers in cloth, medical, construction and nuclear varieties, the task force kept FEMA and HHS officials up-to-date on availability to help meet increased demands from medical workers nationwide.
Lynette Dilbert, a management program analyst from DLA Disposition Services who also served as an MSC liaison to the ASOC early in the pandemic, helped steer pandemic support, too. Although DLA Troop Support manages new requisitions of medical supplies, DLA Disposition Services manages excess material turned in by the services.
“They have things like masks and ventilators that have been reconditioned. Lynn really helped the agency realize that we have this sort of stockpile ready to support when we’re having production problems,” Brooks said.
The urgency of pandemic support and ever-changing stock levels required the team to continually reassess DLA’s posture while answering RFIs, said Lee Dvonch, task force chief.
“We needed to understand what the effects of COVID-19 were, how it was affecting our business, how it was affecting demand and how it affected our ability to satisfy that demand during every phase,” he said.
Although the agency has developed standard medical equipment sets for deploying units, the pandemic brought an unprecedented demand for material from what Brooks and Dvonch agreed had been an underappreciated supply chain until 2020. DLA’s COVID-19 Task Force worked with the agency’s metrics integration team to provide automated supply and demand data for medical equipment that DOD could include in its automated data platform, Advana. The tool gives a quick snapshot of key items owned by DLA, the military services and geographic commands as well as FEMA and HHS. Accurate data on status and location became critical, Dvonch said, as multiple agencies relied on the same vendors to increase production.
The ASOC and COVID-19 Task Force also produced daily information products to ensure senior leaders throughout the agency had the most recent data on the agency’s response. In addition to daily senior leader briefings, the task force prepared a daily infographic highlighting DLA’s cumulative support to the pandemic and provided reports used by the DLA director in daily briefings to the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment.
“The challenge is that we’ve had to provide a huge volume of information to very senior levels to support a whole-of-government response, all while operating in a new socially distanced environment,” Dvonch said, adding that the demand for that information often came with a short suspense and was needed for decision making by leaders.
“Getting that accomplished required a lot of teamwork from a lot of people. It wasn’t just task force members who put in the long hours and met tight deadlines to protect and maintain warfighter readiness, but also professionals from across the supply chains and subject matter experts at DLA Headquarters,” he continued. “For me, the biggest takeaway is the whole-hearted dedication displayed by so many people that were involved to support the mission.”
DLA Troop Support has provided the most pandemic support with items ranging from food and masks to ventilators, but every part of the agency has contributed, Dvonch stressed. DLA Aviation provided disinfectants and maps for the USNS Mercy and Comfort while DLA Land and Maritime provided repair parts for the hospital ships. DLA Energy provided fuel. DLA Disposition Services provided reutilized medical supplies, tents, vehicles and more to DoD and state and local agencies. DLA regional commands also coordinated local supply support. And DLA Distribution shipped most items.
Task force and ASOC members are now working with whole-of-government partners to determine how and where to replenish supplies while anticipating future demand. Brooks said he continues to be impressed by the flexible thinking and eagerness to solve problems posed by task force members and professionals throughout the agency.
“There’s no certification out there for pandemic logistics, but the DLA team has managed to become experts anyway,” he added. “From the integrative work of preparing talking points and read-aheads so our leaders were the most well-informed people in the room to solving a problem no one saw coming, I have a lot of appreciation for our employees.”