The Defense Logistics Agency is strengthening partnerships with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to provide materials, services and personnel in the fight against a global pandemic.
DLA’s Whole of Government Division provides support to more than 40 federal agencies during nationwide emergencies. Crises resulting from natural disasters have already highlighted the need for cooperation between federal and civil agencies, and the coronavirus further increases that necessity.
To support HHS and FEMA, DLA has interagency agreements in accordance with the Stafford and Economy Act designed to bring orderly federal assistance to state and local governments following natural disasters.
“The IAAs are enacted so that FEMA and HHS may order directly from DLA without the requirement of a Defense Support to Civil Authority mission assignment. These agreements allow for mutual support during standard operations and emergencies,” said Peter Battaglia, a customer relations process owner for DLA Logistics Operations who also serves on DLA’s COVID-19 Task Force.
DLA’s WOG support was first spotlighted during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when Defense Department assets deployed in support of FEMA. Having exceeded its logistics capabilities, FEMA turned to DOD for assistance, Battaglia said.
“After Hurricane Katrina, we determined that there are so many likely support opportunities that we actually developed pre-scripted mission assignments,” he said.
Pre-scripted mission assignments are streamlined and funded statements of work giving DLA the authority to quickly provide supplies, distribution and storage support, and even personnel. Unscripted mission assignments occur when a capability is requested without prior planning. These assignments must be reviewed and approved by the Secretary of Defense.
“But the potential administrative lead time is very long,” Battaglia said, adding that since pre-scripted assignments have already been approved, DLA can provide immediate support.
Support requests from FEMA and HHS are typically for capabilities that either they can’t do or DLA is better situated to do, he continued, referring to the deployment of military hospitals as an example.
“In terms of expeditionary medical capabilities, DOD has them more readily available and prepared to go compared to anywhere else in the federal government,” he said.
DLA also has well-established relationships with vendors. Using existing contracts, the agency stocked the USNS Comfort and Mercy with over $13.2 million in protective equipment, pharmaceuticals, medical supplies, fuel and food.
The agency even has teams of supply and service experts who can deploy on short notice to assist federal and whole-of-government partners.
“Currently, DLA’s Rapid Deployment Blue Team is activated and they’ve deployed in support of NORTHCOM [U.S. Northern Command] to assist with the military unit deployments and operations,” Battaglia said. “Those military units are under a mission assignment from FEMA and include the deployable military hospitals, USNS Mercy and Comfort, as well as other units such as mortuary affairs team.”
Battaglia said the pandemic has resulted in an unprecedented level of cooperation between departments.
“Not only are the departments looking for support, for example, to the mortuary affairs and the hospital units, but we’re also cooperating in cross-leveling supplies,” he said. “Because our DOD forces are being used to support civil authorities, we’re utilizing HHS and FEMA stock as well as distribution services to ensure that the appropriate stocks are assigned where they’re needed.”
To date, over $500 million in lifesaving supplies and equipment have been provided to service members and federal agencies through the WOG approach to the coronavirus pandemic.
“As a combat support agency, DLA is ensuring that those units – those soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen and civilians – are properly equipped to conduct the missions they’ve been assigned,” Battaglia said.
And as the amount of equipment needed by the U.S. government mounts, DLA’s distribution experts are using existing shipping routes to maximize delivery of supplies. Additionally, the agreement with HHS to provide supplies for the military forces supporting civil authorities allows for a single distribution system to the hardest hit areas.
“That puts a lower strain on the distribution system in terms of number of trucks and also reduces government expenditures,” he continued.
Although the Ebola outbreak in 2014 presented similar challenges to DLA’s WOG response, Battaglia notes the main difference is the pervasiveness of the coronavirus.
“While there were cases of Ebola throughout the globe, the main epicenter was contained to West Africa, so we were able to leverage the commercial industry there to provide that support,” he said. “Now the largest lesson we’re learning is the availability of industry within the United States to provide support, but then some of the firms have production centers outside the U.S. that we can’t necessarily rely on, because those countries are also being impacted.”
Battaglia said DLA liaisons are also integrated with HHS and FEMA into the White House Task Force. He added that HHS, which provides medical oversight for states, localities and commercial practices, operates with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as well as the Strategic National Stockpile through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“DLA augments HHS’s logistics expertise in order to figure out how to get these supplies all over the country,” Battaglia said. “That’s where FEMA and DLA come in, because of our supply chain and distribution expertise.”
HHS also manages the distribution of supplies like ventilators and executes the Defense Production Act, the 1950 federal law that was enacted in response to the Korean War to ensure the nation had enough wartime supplies.
“There’s a limited amount of supply to support all of the required operations; the support to state and local responses through FEMA and HHS, and the military forces,” he said. “With the implementation of the Defense Production Act, HHS is controlling who gets what from the industrial base.”