News | Oct. 8, 2021

Celebrating 60 years: DLA traces roots to DOD creation

By Colin J. Williams DLA Public Affairs Historian

Editor’s note: “Celebrating 60 years” is a series of seven articles highlighting DLA’s support to America’s military since the agency was created Oct. 1, 1961.

Those aware of the services’ resistance to the Defense Logistics Agency’s founding as the Defense Supply Agency in 1961 may be surprised to learn the agency was the result of a decade and a half of supply chain integration rather than a total reimagination of defense logistics. Its creation – more evolutionary than revolutionary – transformed military logistics.  

Photo of Herbert Hoover
Herbert C. Hoover poses for a presidential photo during his administration from 1929 to 1933. Hoover conducted investigations that led to the creation of the General Services Administration and Defense Supply Agency. Library of Congress photo
Photo of Herbert Hoover
Celebrating 60 years: DLA traces roots to DOD creation
Herbert C. Hoover poses for a presidential photo during his administration from 1929 to 1933. Hoover conducted investigations that led to the creation of the General Services Administration and Defense Supply Agency. Library of Congress photo
Photo By: Courtesy
VIRIN: 210526-D-D0441-1003
The Defense Department’s establishment in 1947 was a precursor to DSA’s creation. While the Army and Navy sometimes worked together, they developed separately, defended the nation differently and had their own command and supply systems. Congress made service unity official after World War II by merging the Army and Navy into a single joint department, adding the Air Force as a separate branch and formalizing the joint chiefs of staff.

Although DOD provided joint leadership, it didn’t address problems with conflicting logistics until former President Herbert C. Hoover released his second post-presidency report on the efficiency of the federal government. Hoover highlighted instances of mismanagement such as the Army shipping 807,000 pounds of tomatoes from California to New York in 1951 while the Navy shipped 775,000 pounds from the east coast to California. To prevent future waste, he suggested DOD establish an independent supply and service administration that acquired and distributed commodities in the continental United States for all three services.

Instead, DOD formed the Armed Forces Supply Support Center and assigned services the responsibility of managing certain commodities and services to the entire military. The Armed Forces Supply Support Center combined the Defense Standardization Program, Defense Utilization Program and Federal Supply Catalog and assembled logisticians from the services to study logistics problems. In 1955, the Army received the first single-manager assignment, becoming responsible for supplying subsistence to all the services. In following years, it added clothing and textiles, general supplies, construction supplies and oversight of traffic management. The Navy assumed responsibility for medical supplies, petroleum, oceanic transportation and industrial supplies while the Air Force provided airlift services.

Three gentlemen conduct a food inspection.
Employees inspect produce early in DSA's history. The subsistence supply chain, part of then-Defense Personnel Support Center, bought food items for every military service to keep prices low, ensure quality and prevent the services from competing with each other. DLA photo
Three gentlemen conduct a food inspection.
Celebrating 60 years: DLA traces roots to DOD creation
Employees inspect produce early in DSA's history. The subsistence supply chain, part of then-Defense Personnel Support Center, bought food items for every military service to keep prices low, ensure quality and prevent the services from competing with each other. DLA photo
Photo By: Courtesy
VIRIN: 210525-D-D0441-1002
Integration continued in 1958 when Congress authorized the defense secretary to create agencies independent of the services “for the carrying out of any supply or service activity common to more than one” of them. With little objection from the services, DOD formed defense agencies for atomic control, intelligence and communications. With single managers saving them money, however, it was less obvious to service leaders that supply – the reason for the authorization – needed more integration. Their complaint was loss of savings but their real concern was loss of control. And although previous defense agencies reported to the joint chiefs of staff, Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara took Hoover’s recommendation when he formed DSA in 1961 and had it report directly to him.  

The only thing new about DSA was its headquarters since component commands all came from the services or DOD. Soon after the agency formed, its director assumed control of the previously established Armed Services Supply Support Center. He added the center’s planners to his staff and renamed the rest of the organization the Defense Logistics Services Center, then took command Jan. 1, 1962, all single managers save oceanic transportation and airlift services. He combined the capital funds of these managers and consolidated their contract administration offices but otherwise left them as-is. 

If DSA was just a new headquarters for exiting centers, how did it improve military logistics? The answer: integrated management. The next story in the series will describe that process.