DLA taking the pulse of industry during COVID-19 

By Chris Erbe

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Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Defense Logistics Agency continues to execute its ongoing national security mission to support the military with repair parts, fuel, food and more. DLA has been reaching out aggressively to ‘take the pulse’ of industry and offer support as defense companies respond to coronavirus disruptions.

In a March 20 memo, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord told the defense industrial base, “Consistent with the President’s guidelines: ‘If you work in a critical infrastructure industry, as defined by the Department of Homeland Security, you have a special responsibility to maintain your normal work schedule.’”

During this unprecedented crisis, a ‘normal work schedule’ can be a tall order for some companies. As the main provider of military supplies, DLA has a vested interest in not only the state of its current and future contracts, but on the overall health of the 12,000 companies it works with. Nearly 9,000 of those suppliers are small businesses with varying capacities to stay financially viable during disruptions brought on by the pandemic. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic won’t change the fact that our suppliers are the lifeblood of the DoD industrial base,” said DLA Director Army Lt. Gen. Darrell K. Williams. “We’re staying on top of what this coronavirus is doing to our industry partners and we’ll do everything we can to support them as they support us.”

Communication is key, and DLA has taken a proactive approach in passing on information and assessing the health of partner companies during the crisis. In mid-March, Lt. Gen. Williams took part in a conference call with representatives from seven industry associations representing more than 4,000 companies, informing them of changes and accommodations DLA had made in response to the virus, as well as listening to their concerns. Organizations represented on the call included the Aerospace Industries Association, National Defense Industrial Association, National Defense Transportation Association, Professional Services Council, National Council of Textile Organizations, American Apparel & Footwear Association and SourceAmerica.

“The DLA director also made about 17 personal one-on-one calls to key defense industry executives,” said DLA Ombudsman Timothy Stark. “That was in addition to nearly 400 direct calls made by leaders of DLA’s major subordinate commands who oversee purchases for specific supply chains.”

To further assist communication with industry, DLA has optimized analytic and data collection tools to assess impacts to the supply chain, including a new Post-Award Request System reason code that allows industry to highlight any contracts where problems may exist due to coronavirus impacts. 

“If you have a contract with us and you have some issue you need to talk to a contracting officer about, PARS is a way for you to submit that information into an automated system so that our contracting officers can take action on it,” Stark said.

DLA also created a Request for Information website that allows suppliers to inform the agency of potential impacts to their workforce and their contracts. They are using some of the already over 3,400 RFI responses to help assess the current health of the supplier base.

DLA laid the groundwork for close communication with its suppliers well before the coronavirus. In recent years, the agency established the DLA Ombudsman Office to facilitate industry outreach and issued an Industry Engagement Plan to emphasize stronger partnerships. The agency also holds yearly Demand Forecasting Summits and Industry Days to help industry plan for future demand. Supplier surveys and semiannual Industry Association Luncheons further those efforts and provide venues for feedback and discussions of current issues.

“DLA has worked hard to strengthen the partnership between the agency and our industry base,” Williams said. “In this moment of crisis, we are seeing the benefits of that work as we make a determined effort to hear our suppliers and help coordinate the industrial base response to this crisis.”