Fort Belvoir, Virginia, Dec. 20, 2019 —
While the Defense Logistics Agency has realized many savings for the Defense Department, effective cataloging has been its most consistent and reliable way of reducing expenditures. Until the agency received control of all DoD cataloging activities in the late 1990s, however, successful item identification depended on receiving complete and accurate information from the military services. The selection for December’s Document of the Month, a letter exchange between Army Lt. Gen. Donald M. Babers, DLA director from 1984 to 1986, and Army Gen. Richard H. Thompson, commander of U.S. Army Materiel Command from 1984 to 1987, highlights problems that this reliance caused.
Babers initiated the exchange by asking Thompson for help obtaining accurate technical data, what he saw as key element of their shared problem. Babers informed Thompson that, “for the 24,002 items we provisioned for the Army this past Fiscal Year (FY 85), our managers coded only 41 percent. . . as having complete item identification data while 27 percent had only a manufacturer’s code and part number.” At the time, the services and DLA conducted their own cataloging. DLA could set standards but not enforce them. As shown by Baber’s letter, the best it could do was to ask for compliance.
Thompson accepted responsibility for the low percentages, replying that it was because the Army received poor technical data from manufacturers. In his view, the problem was not just between services and DLA, but between the defense industry and all recipients of military supply. Babers undoubtedly understood this, as he sent similar letters to other service logistics leaders. For some unknown reason, however, only Thompson’s response is stored in the U.S. National Archives.
Item identification is just as important today as it was in 1986. The process is now conducted by one entity, DLA’s own Logistics Information Services. Part of DLA Logistics Operations, Logistics Information Services coordinates catalogs more items than the services did in 1986 and does it more completely, with a smaller error rate and with 575 fewer people.