News | Oct. 15, 2021

Celebrating 60 years: DLA proves itself in the 1960s

By Colin Jay Williams, DLA Historian DLA Public Affairs

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.

The Defense Logistics Agency faced two questions when it formed as the Defense Supply Agency Oct. 1, 1961. Could it improve upon prior logistics management reforms to save money and resources? And could it be as responsive as the services in a crisis? DSA answered both questions affirmatively early in the 1960s and continued to grow, cementing its role in both the Defense Department and federal government as the decade closed.

DSA realized savings just by forming. Able to pick employees freely from the services, Army Lt. Gen. Andrew T. McNamara, the agency’s first director, built a lean staff and assumed less warehouse space and fewer items than the Army, Navy and Air Force had used for the same missions. And by operating one headquarters instead of three, McNamara shed 3,481 positions from government rolls.

DSA also created efficiency and simplified workloads by initiating standard transaction forms for supply clerks, who previously had to learn different procedures for every provider and service. The Military Standard Requisitioning and Issuing Procedures form, for example, replaced 16 other forms and used punch cards capable of being read by the computers of the day.

DSA achieved other efficiencies by focusing on supply classes. Service leaders thought they’d maximized all that could be gained in that area by adjusting to single-manager assignments, but they lacked understanding in supply chain integration. Only the Army’s subsistence center was fully operational by October 1961 and, although it purchased food for the entire military, it didn’t interact with other single mangers. By merging all single managers under DSA centers Jan. 1, 1962, McNamara combined their capital funds so the sales of one could support the purchases of another. Constructed in silos, single managers never had such flexibility.

A P2V Neptune U.S. patrol plane flying over a Soviet freighter during the Cuban missile crisis
A U.S. Navy P2V Neptune flies over a Soviet freighter Oct. 27, 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The Neptune and Air Force planes took pictures of nuclear emplacement with film provided by DGSC. National Archives and Records Administration photo
A P2V Neptune U.S. patrol plane flying over a Soviet freighter during the Cuban missile crisis
Celebrating 60 years: DLA proves itself in the 1960s
A U.S. Navy P2V Neptune flies over a Soviet freighter Oct. 27, 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The Neptune and Air Force planes took pictures of nuclear emplacement with film provided by DGSC. National Archives and Records Administration photo
Photo By: Courtesy
VIRIN: 121106-D-D0441-002
The long-term advantage of consolidating supply chains was automation, even though writing a computer program to integrate material management took time. DSA started the first Standard Automated Materiel Management System in 1964 but didn’t install it until 1971. When it did, however, the result was transformative, reducing back orders, increasing material availability and increasing on-time fill rate – all while requiring fewer people.

The savings SAMMS generated wouldn’t have mattered if DSA couldn’t respond to crises, however. The agency proved it could during the Cuban Missile Crisis one year after formation. It won service support by supplying photographic film to the Air Force, fueling Navy ships and assembling three Army divisions for a possible invasion.

Having established itself, DSA embarked on a massive expansion. It began by adding supply centers, warehouses and contract management regions. It continued by hiring enough seamstresses, material handlers and other employees to support President Lyndon B. Johnson’s 1965 Vietnam surge. By the end of the decade, the agency was expanding its reach as well as its size, becoming important throughout the federal government, most noticeably to NASA. 

DSA’s position was secure by Apollo 11’s July 1969 launch for which the agency provided 76 parts, including the antenna that transmitted man’s first walk on the moon. Even so, the agency wasn’t done winning service acceptance. While it had shown it could support a mission to outer space, it had yet to demonstrate it could operate beyond the continental United States. Learn how international politics in the 1970s gave it the opportunity to do so in the next article.