The origins of the Defense Logistics Agency date back to World War II when America’s huge military buildup required the rapid procurement of vast amounts of munitions and supplies. After the war, a presidential commission headed by former President Herbert Hoover recommended centralizing management of common military logistics support and introducing uniform financial management practices. Integrated management of supplies and services began in 1952 with the establishment of a joint Army- Navy-Air Force Support Center to control identification of supply items. For the first time, all the military services bought, stored, and issued items using a common nomenclature. The Department of Defense and the services defined the materiel that would be managed on an integrated basis as “consumables,” meaning supplies that are not repairable, or are consumed in normal use. Consumable items, also called commodities, were assigned to one military service to manage for all services.
In the mid 1950’s, commodity manager agencies called “single managers” were established to buy, store and issue supplies, manage inventories, and forecast requirements. The Army managed food and clothing; the Navy managed medical supplies, petroleum and industrial parts; and the Air Force managed electronic items. In each category, the single manager was able to reduce its investment by centralizing wholesale stocks.
The single manager concept, though successful, did not provide the uniform procedure recommended by the Hoover Commission. Each single manager operated under the procedures of its parent service, and customers had to use as many sets of procedures as there were managers. In 1961, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara ordered that the single-manager agencies be consolidated into one agency. The Defense Supply Agency was established Oct. 1, 1961, and began operations Jan. 1, 1962. Eight single-manager agencies became DSA supply centers.
In 1965, DoD consolidated most of the contract administration activities in the military services to avoid duplication of effort and provide uniform procedures in administrating contracts. Officials established the Defense Contract Administration Services within DSA to manage the consolidated functions. The Agency’s new contract administration mission gave it responsibility for the performance of most defense contractors.
The agency’s responsibilities extended overseas when it assumed responsibility for defense overseas property disposal operations and worldwide procurement, management and distribution of coal and bulk petroleum products (1972), and worldwide management of food items for troop feeding and in support of commissaries (1973).
In recognition of 16 years of growth and expanded responsibilities, on Jan. 1, 1977, officials changed the name of the Defense Supply Agency to the Defense Logistics Agency. The Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986 identified DLA as a combat support agency. In 1988, the agency assumed management of the nation’s stockpile of strategic materials from the General Service Administration. Soon after, DLA established the Defense National Stockpile Center as a primary-level field activity. In 1990, DoD directed that virtually all contract administration functions be consolidated within DLA. In response, the agency established the Defense Contract Management Command absorbing its Defense Contract Administration Service into the new command.
Throughout the 1990’s the agency continued its effort to eliminate managerial and stockage duplication, reducing overhead costs. In April 1990, DoD directed that all the distribution depots of the military services and DLA be consolidated into a single, unified materiel distribution system to reduce overhead and costs and designated DLA to manage it. The consolidation began in October 1990 and was completed March 16, 1992.
DLA headquarters conducted additional major reorganizations. In March 1993, the agency re-engineered its headquarters to form integrated business units for Supply Management, Distribution and Contract Management. As a result, only six organizations, rather than 42, would report directly to the DLA director. The Base Realignment and Closure Commission in the 1990s recommended realigning and closing military facilities, and significantly affected the way the agency organized for its contract administration and supply distribution missions. Officials merged, realigned or closed several DLA primary-level field activities. This included the merger of the former Defense Construction Supply Center Columbus and the former Defense Electronic Supply Center Dayton to form the Defense Supply Center Columbus.
In 1995, the DLA headquarters and Defense Fuel Supply Center (renamed Defense Energy Support Center in January 1998) moved from Cameron Station to Fort Belvoir, Virginia. In October 1996, Defense Printing Services, renamed Defense Automated Printing Service, transferred to DLA. In late December 1997 and early January 1998, the headquarters was again realigned, and the agency’s Defense Material Management Directorate became Defense Logistics Support Command. The Defense Industrial Support Center, located in northeast Philadelphia, was closed in 1999. Concurrently, the Defense Supply Center Philadelphia was moved from south Philadelphia to DISC’s former installation.
As the new millennium began, DLA sought to better increase its business efficiency and ability to quickly serve the war fighter at the right price. In 2000, the agency launched the DLA 21 initiative – a business-oriented method of positioning the agency. It focused on aligning capabilities around the customers’ environments and basing its business processes on the best use of information in order to elevate the level of military logistics support in the new century. In 2001, the new DLA headquarters building was renamed and dedicated the McNamara Headquarters Complex in honor of DLA’s first director, U.S. Army Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Andrew T. McNamara.
While DLA was working to improve the way it did business, the agency rose to meet new challenges from terrorist attacks and natural disasters. In the traumatic days and weeks following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, DLA continued to provide outstanding logistical support. In support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, beginning in 2001, DLA processed more than 6.8 million requisitions with a total value of more than $6.9 billion; provided $21.2 million in humanitarian support and supplied more than 2.3 billion U.S. gallons of fuel.
In support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in Iraq, beginning in 2003, DLA processed 6.4 million requisitions with a total value of more than $6.89 billion, provided more than 180.5 million field meals, provided nearly 2 million humanitarian daily rations for displaced refugees, and supplied more than 3 billion U.S. gallons of fuel. During retrograde operations from Iraq, the agency continued to supply 100 percent of food, fuel and medical supplies, as well as most of the clothing, construction materials and spare parts for weapons systems for the forces that remained during the reconstruction of Iraq.
In 2007, DLA extended its enterprise to 48 states and 28 countries, working hand in hand with military services around the globe. To oversee expeditionary contracting during combat, post-combat, and contingency operations, DLA formed the Joint Contingency Acquisition Support Office in 2009. That same year, DLA began planning the support for the drawdown of equipment and supplies in Iraq.
DLA has been a major provider of logistical and aid support in humanitarian and natural disaster relief missions. The agency provided unprecedented logistical and humanitarian support in the wake of Hurricane Sandy in October-November 2012. DLA leveraged its commercial partners to meet the needs of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Defense Department, and many of the 24 states affected by devastating storm.
DLA also responded rapidly in September 2014 to support the U.S. Agency for International Development in combating the deadly Ebola virus in West Africa. Working with U.S. Africa Command, DLA was part of the first group on the ground to identify sources of supply and begin establishing in-country logistics operations. As orders came in, DLA immediately responded by filling requirements for food, water, cots, building supplies and medical supplies to support AFRICOM and its component elements. DLA support was crucial to this humanitarian operation.
DLA’s top priority is warfighter support. In support of this during 2016, DLA improved support to combatant commanders through its C2 Initiative, making DLA regional commanders the agency’s “single face” to the customer. The agency also improved support to the services by supporting the Army’s divestiture of excess equipment; improving the Marine Corps Weapon System Support Program; forward stocking the Navy’s fleet high priority material; and providing DLA training to Air Force personnel.
DLA’s Whole of Government initiative was successful in delivering disaster relief to the people of Haiti and the Southeastern United States following Hurricane Matthew; assisting Iraqi and Syrian refugees with humanitarian support; and completing the third successful year of support to the U.S. Forest Service wildland firefighting efforts.
On Oct. 1, 2016, DLA celebrated 55 years of supporting the Armed Forces, and continues to do so today. As America’s combat logistics support agency, the Defense Logistics Agency continues to provide the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, other federal agencies and combined and allied forces with the full spectrum of logistics, acquisition and technical services. Wherever the United States has a significant military presence, DLA is there as well.
Interested in learning more about the histories of some of DLA's major subordinate commands and other activities?