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News | Feb. 26, 2024

Commentary: DLA’s historic, current support covers 14 of 15 executive departments

By Colin J. Williams DLA Historian

The Defense Logistics Agency has long been a whole-of-government provider. While focused on the Defense Department, it has been supplying federal civilian agencies since receiving support responsibilities from the General Services Administration in 1965. Many of these agencies belong to one of the cabinet’s fifteen departments. Some of these departments, such as State, predate DLA. Others, such as Homeland Security, are more recent.

Picture of the front of a building with three stories above ground.
The U.S. Mint in Philadelphia adds stately presence to the Center City neighborhood, circa 1905. Now the Community College of Philadelphia, the mint was run by the Department of Treasury until 1969, seven years after DLA started operating from installations north and south of it. Library of Congress photo
Photo By: Library of Congress photo
VIRIN: 240214-D-D0441-1004
America’s four most senior executive departments were established 172 years before DLA existed. Nonetheless, the agency has helped the State Department by supporting embassies and, during the COVID-19 pandemic, providing personal protective equipment for the U.S. Agency for International Development. It’s currently working with the Department of the Treasury on G-Invoicing, an improved way for transferring money between agencies. DLA previously signed an agreement on precious metals recovery with the department and loaned space to the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia. Skipping over the Defense Department, the next most senior executive is the attorney general, whose department wasn’t formed until after the Civil War.

Picture of big truck with cab painted in camo sitting outdoors in the snow.
A former Army five-ton tractor truck acquired by the Torrance County, New Mexico, sheriff’s department through DLA’s Law Enforcement Support Office waits for its next mission, Dec. 26, 2016. Repurposed as a snowplow, the rig assisted rural residents during Winter Storm Goliath.
Photo By: Joy Ansley, Torrance County Sheriff’s Department
VIRIN: 240214-D-D0441-1002
The federal government added the Interior Department before the Civil War, Department of Agriculture during the conflict and the Justice Department soon after it ended. DLA provided the Interior Department with many items during the 1960s and 1970s, to include perishable food for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, industrial plant equipment for the Bureau of Mines and warehousing services for the Bureau of Reclamation. Its interactions with the Department of Agriculture once revolved around inspections but today center on the department’s school lunch program. The Justice Department, built so the attorney general could enforce Reconstruction, also has a long relationship with DLA. In the mid-1970s, Defense Supply Center Richmond stored vehicles for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and the Defense Industrial Plant Equipment Center loaned machines to Federal Prison Industries. Today, DLA’s Law Enforcement Support Office coordinates equipment transfers with the department. 

Smoke plumes from the base of a rocket as it gets ready to launch at night.
DLA Energy supports the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket launch from Vandenberg Space Force Base, California, Nov. 10, 2022. The rocket carried a satellite owned by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, part of the Department of Commerce.
Photo By: Courtesy of the United Launch Alliance
VIRIN: 240214-D-D0441-1001
America established three more cabinet-level positions before DLA formed. The Department of Commerce received document support and industrial plant equipment from the agency in 1978. More recently, its National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration used DLA fuel to launch a satellite into space. The Department of Labor has worked with the agency on contract compliance, and its Occupational Health and Safety Administration Training Institute has benefitted from DLA’s medical device support. Finally, the federal government created the Department of Health and Human Services in 1953 to oversee agencies such as the Public Health Service, a longtime medical supply chain customer, and the Food and Drug Administration, which received quality assurance responsibilities from the agency in 1982.

The U.S. government added two more executive departments in the 1960s. The Department of Housing and Urban Development used to rely on DLA for payroll, reproduction and graphic arts services. The Federal Aviation Administration, part of the Department of Transportation, has asked experts from the Defense Electronics Supply Center and Defense Industrial Supply Center to review nonstandard electronic parts, fasteners and bearings to see if stocked parts were of equal or better quality.

Rows of filled food trays are laid out on a table in what appear to be a school cafeteria.
Lunches stand ready for consumption in a Yadkin County, North Carolina, school, April 30, 2020. The county’s school district purchases meals through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National School Lunch Program, which buys locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables from DLA Troop Support.
Photo By: Yadkin County School District of North Carolina photo
VIRIN: 240214-D-D0441-1003
Another two cabinet-level agencies formed in the 1970s. DLA has supported the Department of Energy in many ways, most significantly by filling the nation’s strategic petroleum reserve. The Department of Education is the one cabinet-level department without a current or former relationship with DLA. The agency supports DOD schools and DLA Disposition Services runs a Computers for Learning program but neither involves the Department of Education.   

The two most recent federal departments have been working with DLA since their formation. The Department of Veterans Affairs is looking to deepen its reliance on the agency’s medical supply chain and is investigating whether it can mimic DLA’s Warstopper program. The Department of Homeland Security has been the higher headquarters for the Coast Guard since 2002. The agency has been clothing America’s only armed force outside DOD since the 1970s.

Copy of a document with text and numbers
Sales to federal civilian agencies for the first three quarters of fiscal 1977, as reported by DLA to the Pentagon.
Photo By: NARA document
VIRIN: 240214-D-D0441-1005
While memoranda of understanding govern DLA’s support to federal civilian agencies, GSA was the conduit for these agreements. Intent on shifting the federal government from local purchase activity to centralized provision, the administration sometimes assigned responsibilities to its own Federal Supply Service and sometimes to DLA. Because much of what the agency offers can be used for civilian as well as military purposes, all but one of the nation’s 15 departments has been a customer.