News | Dec. 9, 2020

Partnerships, innovation enable medical material availability

By John Dwyer III DLA Troop Support Public Affairs

Vendors rolling out new items they want to sell to the Defense Department need stock numbers assigned to those supplies so customers and government systems have a common reference. The Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support’s Medical Supplier Support Team normally handles this for items like surgical and hospital equipment.

When the nation’s market for personal protective equipment and specialized testing equipment for COVID-19 boomed with new manufacturers and items, the job got busy – fast. The team responded by finding a faster way in March to assign stock numbers so acquisitions could take place in hours instead of days, allowing defense and federal partners to quickly take advantage of new offerings.

“We were trying to catalog material and help buyers as fast as possible, because if we didn’t do it, we’d lose the material,” Supply Support Division Chief Maryann Bickel said.

Acquisition specialists normally can’t award contracts for new items without a national stock number. But since the NSN creation process wasn’t fast enough for the demand, Bickel’s team used a lesser-known process to create local stock numbers in just one hour.

LSNs aren’t widely used because of the manual work required to process them compared to the more automated processes of NSN-coded items, said Thomas Heleniak, a medical tailored vendor logistics specialist.

“We had to jump in and figure out how to work the new ordering process for LSNs,” he said. “It came down to the team – with help from the folks in our Electronic Catalog Division – reviewing and manually processing online orders twice a day.”

Once an order is created in ECAT with LSN-coded items, the digital “cart” is suspended since it’s built to process only NSN orders. The ECAT team then sends the list of suspended carts to Heleniak’s team for processing.

Coordination between DLA Troop Support and DLA Distribution to get material moving is no small task, Bickel added.

“The tracking effort is massive,” she said. “In the beginning, we would meet five times a week to update all info and orders between us and DLA Distribution. Now it’s down to three. But at any given time, we could track where an order was in our process.”

Order tracing has been key in meeting priority orders and shipments determined by the Defense Medical Logistics Priority Allocation Board, she continued.

“We didn’t have infinite materiel, but there were almost infinite orders,” Heleniak said. “COVID was really popping up everywhere, and prioritization was more important than ever. We had to make sure the items went where they were needed it most, and the PAB made those calls.”

Bickel said she was surprised and humbled by the level of teamwork by DLA employees, PAB members and customers.

“We all just rolled up our sleeves and worked together as one big team,” Bickel said.

For their success, Bickel and her team were awarded the DLA Director’s Strategic Goal Award for the third quarter of 2020.