Resilience, hard work keystones of clothing, textiles team’s support for COVID-19

By Beth Reece

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Editor's note: This is part of a series of 11 stories highlighting individual and team contributions to DLA’s pandemic support.

Steve Merch can count on one hand the number of offers his team gets in response to a typical solicitation for clothing and textiles items, two hands for a robust solicitation. Over 100 bids was unheard of – until the request went out for vendors to produce millions of protective gowns for the nation’s pandemic response.

“Pouring through and processing proposals from over 100 firms was quite a challenge, especially considering the urgency we needed to get these gowns under contract and delivered,” said the director of supplier operations for the clothing and textiles supply chain at Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support.

Merch and his team of contracting specialists and technical staff have worked overtime since March to procure textiles-based items ranging from nitrile gloves to face masks for the Defense Department, Department of Health and Human Services, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. They provided millions of reusable face masks, several versions of disposable coveralls and non-surgical gloves to DOD customers, as well as disposable protective gowns and protective coveralls for FEMA and surgical face masks and isolation gowns to replenish the HHS-managed Strategic National Stockpile.

The pressing need for supplies throughout the nation and tight delivery requirements have become cornerstones of DLA’s COVID-19 support, which has been provided predominately by DLA Troop Support’s clothing and textiles, construction and equipment, and medical supply chains. Detailing precise requirements for items that come in numerous varieties has been a priority for clothing and textiles experts, Merch said.

“Determining exactly what customers need, to include how they want it packaged and labelled, has been a key part of our process. Our technical staff has gone through a lot of back and forth with HHS and FEMA so we could include these details in our solicitations,” he said. “It’s all about ensuring customers get exactly what they’re expecting.”

Merch is proud of the work he and his staff have done to build a stronger U.S. industrial base for clothing and textiles items previously made mostly overseas. Gowns for the Strategic National Stockpile are just one example of American-made personal protective equipment the team has provided, and contracting specialists are also educating business owners working to shift production lines to new products.

“It’s rewarding to work with businesses to bring jobs and capability back to our country,” he said. “Not only are we having a positive impact on the economy, but you can see the difference we make in helping our federal partners support the need for supplies during this ongoing pandemic.”

The agency’s success reflects employees’ resilience and ability to adapt to socially distanced work environments while continuing to collaborate on priority programs, he continued.

“The most impressive thing about what we’ve accomplished throughout this is the expertise and hard work our people have put into it. Many of my people have worked 60-, 70- and even 80-hour weeks to get things done in the timeframe they were needed,” he said. “It’s been worth it, but we’re all also looking forward to things slowing down.”