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News | Jan. 19, 2021

DLA contracting officers tap numerous sources to provide critical medical supplies 

By Beth Reece

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of 11 stories highlighting individual and team contributions to DLA’s pandemic support.

As Americans panicked over finding their next roll of toilet paper early in the pandemic, contracting officers at the Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support’s medical supply chain focused on providing critical items like N95 masks, examination gloves and nasal swabs for the entire Defense Department and federal agencies supporting the nationwide response.

“We’ve developed, applied and refined new processes, in real time, to locate, vet and tap new sources of supply to support the ever-increasing demands,” said Medical Readiness Division Chief Pat Quigley.

Quigley’s team purchases medical material for the Warstopper program, which normally supplies items identified by the services as critical due to scarce availability or industrial limitations. Although the program is primarily designed for essential go-to-war items, the group rapidly transitioned to awarding additional medical-readiness contracts for pandemic related supplies in March. 

When his boss, the director of supplier operations for the medical supply chain, was assigned to a FEMA task force coordinating pandemic support early this year, Quigley assumed management of the entire medical contracting team. Their goal was – and still is – to purchase personal protective equipment to meet customers’ needs. Prime vendors that’ve typically supplied most of the medical material DLA provides haven’t been able to meet demands because of manufacturers’ allocations, so the team employed alternative processes to obtain supplies.

“We’re making direct contract awards to an array of vendors we have used in the past and new ones to meet the unpreceded demand for COVID-19-related items,” Quigley said. “This pandemic has been such a tremendous strain on the whole supply chain with customers’ orders increasing by over 100% that manufacturers are having difficulty at every stage of production, from obtaining raw materials to transporting finished products to customers.”

Finding new vendors is only half the process, he added. Contracting specialists are also researching companies’ histories to determine whether they are responsible and responsive and that their products are legitimate.

“It’s not just finding a vendor who says they have 10 million masks and giving them a contract. It’s a challenging and unforgiving process to make sure we’re purchasing quality material from reputable vendors at fair and reasonable prices,” Quigley said.

Speed matters, too, especially with infections increasing throughout the nation, he continued. The team is working 12- to 15-hour days sometimes seven days a week to provide supplies for daily operations, surge test sites, the Defense Health Agency and Strategic National Stockpile.

“In the back of our minds, we’re continuously evaluating, ‘Do we have enough to keep our customers safe?’ And if it’s not enough, where can we get more?”

The urgent need for supplies also has contracting officers tracking production milestones of in-transit shipments including acceptance times at the destination and even who accepted the delivery.

“I’ve never been prouder of working here,” Quigley said. “It’s remarkable what we’ve been able to accomplish even though we haven’t been in close proximity with each other. It’s all been done from remote locations relying on the innovation, professionalism and hard work of our people determined to get the job done.”