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News | Feb. 9, 2022

DLA’s charter evolves over time, mirrors the Constitution

By Colin Jay Williams DLA Historian

Like the nation it serves, the Defense Logistics Agency is governed by a foundational document. The agency charter assigns authorities, lists functions and defines relationships. Similar to the U.S. Constitution, it’s periodically updated. Instead of amendments, however, DOD reissues the directive whenever reform measures or congressional mandates change the agency in fundamental ways.  

The authors of DLA’s first charter wrote their document, known as Department of Defense Directive 5105.22, as quickly as the 55 delegates who met in Philadelphia over the summer of 1787. Within weeks of deciding to form a supply agency, Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara selected Army Lt. Gen. Andrew T. McNamara to lead it and began composing Directive 5105.22 with the new director’s help. The department issued the charter Nov. 6, 1961, just five weeks after Lt. Gen. McNamara assumed command. 

DLA’s first charter made the agency responsible to the defense secretary, restricted its operations to the continental United States, set “integrated management” and “common services” as its dual purposes, and identified the centers and offices that would conduct its operations.

The first years of a governing document are usually its most tenuous. By the time the Constitution was four years old, it had been altered with the Bill of Rights: ten amendments that restricted government’s authority over citizens. DLA’s charter also underwent change four years after issue. DOD revised Directive 5105.22 in 1965 to clarify the agency’s support to unified and specified commands; remove one supply and one service center; and add contract administration, the Defense Automatic Addressing System, material support to civil defense, industrial plant equipment and the Defense Technical Information Center.

The Constitution and DLA’s charter stabilized after these early changes. Congress and the states amended the Constitution only two times between the Bill of Rights and the end of the Civil War; likewise, DLA accumulated responsibilities too slowly to merit a new charter until the late 1970s. Like Reconstruction-era amendments, however, DLA’s 1977 and 1978 charters were transformative. The 1977 directive renamed the Defense Supply Agency the Defense Logistics Agency and dropped its continental restriction, a limitation already voided by the agency’s support to troops in the Vietnam War and worldwide provision of bulk petroleum. With DLA stationing employees overseas, DOD added a section detailing the relationship between it and united commands. Finally, the 1978 charter made the agency answerable to the assistant secretary of defense for manpower, reserve affairs and logistics instead of the defense secretary.

Another bout of reform 10 years later loosely correlates with America’s constitutional reforms of the early 20th century. Similar to the country ratifying two amendments in 1913, DOD reissued DLA’s charter in 1986 and 1988. The two directives recognized DLA Europe, added the National Defense Stockpile as a field activity and altered the agency’s relationship with the joint staff, a consequence of the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Act.

The long run of the 1988 charter broke the symmetry between America’s constitutional evolution and DLA’s authorizing document. While the country added 10 more amendments after 1913, Directive 5105.22 wasn’t updated for 18 years. Thus, when DOD authored the 2006 rewrite, it had to account for almost two decades of new organizations, to include combat support teams, the U.S. Transportation Command, joint deployment distribution operations centers and the Document Automation and Production Service. Timing prevented it from assimilating 2005 Base Realignment and Closure changes, however.

The 2017 directive picked up the BRAC changes and stands as DLA’s current charter. Although only five years old, it’s rapidly becoming obsolete with the Pentagon, COVID-19 pandemic and 2021 National Defense Authorization Act altering what the agency does. Fortunately for DLA, the past shows that incorporating changes into Directive 5105.22 doesn’t affect its identity as a leader in defense logistics.