DLA COVID-19 support guided by strong alliances with whole-of-government partnerships

By Beth Reece

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Strong alliances with other federal agencies and its role as the Defense Department’s lead agent for medical supplies made the Defense Logistics Agency an essential contributor to the nation’s coronavirus response.

The Economy Act allows federal agencies to buy goods and services from one another for actual costs. The bulk of DLA’s $2.14 billion in support to the pandemic has been in support of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Department of Health and Human Services for state and local governments, nursing homes, schools and the Strategic National Stockpile.

According to its charter, DLA provides risk-mitigated logistics support to worldwide DOD assets as well as federal agencies and, when authorized by DOD and Congress, state and local governments. Organizations like FEMA and HHS leverage DLA capabilities through interagency agreements and a formal mission-assignment process requesting the agency’s support.

“We maintain liaisons with over 40 federal agencies. Those relationships, along with formal memorandums of agreement that outline everything from DLA responsibilities to financial agreements, have been vital to our success throughout COVID-19,” said Lisa Roberts, DLA’s Whole of Government Division chief. 

Support during natural disasters like hurricanes Katrina, Sandy and Maria have enabled DLA to refine its whole-of-government partnerships. And as requirements for limited medical supplies and personal protective equipment for COVID-19 soared – DLA alone saw a 1500% increase in orders for protective equipment from non-medical, non-DOD customers – the agency leaned on lessons gleaned during the 2014 Ebola crisis in Liberia.

“We discovered then the value of working together rather than competing against each other for supplies and the importance of using each other’s expertise rather than duplicating efforts,” DLA’s executive director of operations, Dave Kless, said of the agency’s help providing building materials and medical supplies for Ebola treatment units on behalf of the U.S. Agency for International Development and Department of Homeland Security.

DLA has supported Defense Support of Civil Authority operations for much of the last decade by assisting efforts like domestic emergencies, border security, and natural and manmade disasters, Kless added.

“DLA’s access to the U.S. industrial base is expansive, and we have existing long-term contracts in place that we can leverage for additional support,” he said. “DLA has the expertise and resources available to support multiple contingencies.”

Kless said the agency doesn’t need to direct the effort to help meet national needs.

“DLA was integrated with all activities in support of COVID response operations since day one. Just like in other domestic disaster response, DLA does not need to be the lead agency to provide critical support,” he added.