DLA’s mission evolves with DoD needs

By Colin Williams, DLA Historian

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The Defense Logistics Agency has grown in scope and responsibility since its founding in 1961. While need and proven capabilities have driven DLA to expand overseas, assume retail operations and serve as one of the nation’s go-to agencies in responses to natural disasters, not every mission the agency has acquired over its 58 years of existence remains with it.

One of the most significant missions initially undertaken by the agency was the Defense Traffic Management Service. DTMS came to the Defense Supply Agency in 1962 from the Army. Charged with moving service members traveling within the continental United States in groups of 25 or more, it also transported freight in quantities of at least 10,000 pounds by ground or 1,000 pounds by air. While usually employed for training purposes, DTMS helped the nation respond to the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, one year after DSA’s founding.

Because DTMS was land-centric, the Pentagon returned it to the Army in 1964. During its short stay in DSA, DTMS became responsible for moving household goods of service members moving to new duty stations. Also during its time with DSA, DTMS began using computers to calculate shipping costs rather than computing them by hand.

Even more fundamental to DLA operations was Contract Administration Services. Formed under DLA in 1964 as a separate entity with its own regional offices and two-star commander, CAS added approximately 20,000 workers to the agency. CAS had such a different mission from the rest of DLA that DoD separated it completely in 1990. It is now the Defense Contract Management Agency at Fort Lee, Virginia.

A smaller but still significant change to DLA was the Defense Document Center. Formed as the Air Documents Research Center during World War II, this organization translated and analyzed captured German documents. It underwent several mission and name changes before landing with DSA in 1963. Cut from the agency in 1991, it became the Defense Technical Information Center, an independent field activity collocated with DLA at Fort Belvoir, Virginia.

Other transfers out of DLA were less significant. At various times, the agency gave the Government Services Administration control of federal supply classes. Over the years, however, DLA acquired more items from federal entities than it lost. Like DTMS, the Defense Automotive Supply Center came to DSA from the Army. Near the end of his command, Army Lt. Gen. Andrew T. McNamara shuttered the Detroit-based center and returned it to the Army, eliminating half of its missions and folding the rest into Defense Supply Center Columbus, now DLA Land and Maritime.

DLA’s historical relationships show how important it is to DoD and the nation. While some missions have come and gone from the agency, DLA gained three or four new missions for each one it lost. It has become the largest of the Department of Defense’s 20 agencies and eight field activities, and is the nation’s only combat logistics agency.