Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is expected to take a close look
at defense agencies to assess how well they contribute to the nation’s
military objectives. One of those agencies certain to be scrutinized
is the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA).
DLA is responsible for ensuring that soldiers, sailors, airmen
and Marines receive their weapons and supplies in a timely manner.
Its mantra is “the right item, at the right place, at the
right time, at the right price.” The agency’s director
believes his organization will remain a key player in serving the
warfighters, despite potential cutbacks.
“I don’t know that anybody can rest on their laurels,”
said Army Lt. Gen. Henry T. Glisson, DLA director, during an interview
at his office, in Fort Belvoir, Va. “Every administration,
I think rightfully so, comes in and tries to find areas where you
can become more efficient and more effective, and we’ll be
part of that.”
But Glisson was quick to point out that DLA already is undergoing
a major realignment and consolidation process. Since he was appointed
director in 1997, he has watched the number of DLA employees drop
significantly. In fact, from 1992 to present, DLA personnel have
decreased from 62,000 to 28,600. That number is expected to fall
to 20,000 over the next four years, said Glisson. The agency also
faces the challenge of trying to maintain a competent staff as it
faces a potential retirement crisis. With the average age of a DLA
employee currently at 47, the agency expects to lose large numbers
of employees in an oncoming retirement wave.
“One of the issues we’re facing is not unique to me.
I think it resides throughout the Department of Defense,”
said Glisson. “It has to do with how do you take an aging
workforce and refresh it? How do you recruit, how do you retain,
and how do you retrain? You’re doing it with fewer people.
You’ve imported all of these new ideas and changes in the
way that they do business, but you realize that the strength of
our organization is people. Nothing happens without a world-class
workforce. That’s the bottom line.”
To tackle this problem, DLA established its vision for the 21st
century, or DLA-21. “We’ve tried to make a template
and say ‘what kind of workforce do we need to do this?’
And we’ve gone back to our current workforce and said, ‘resident
within this workforce, how do you retain and retrain what you have?’
Because clearly you’re going to need less inventory-management
skills, because business rules will take care of a lot of that resident
in your new systems.”
DLA is implementing business-systems modernization, under DLA-21,
to institute a common supply-chain management system that will work
across military-service lines. The system will run on commercial,
off-the-shelf software that will automate the process, ultimately
requiring less manpower than previous methods of tracking supplies.
“But you probably do need some people who understand the
market sector, who can stay current with what’s going on,”
Glisson acknowledged. “I know you probably do need some more
DLA recently has taken measures to address personnel shortfalls.
First, the agency established two academies—one in Richmond,
Va., the other in Columbus, Ohio—designed to train personnel
with the necessary skills. The agency also set up an internship
program to recruit younger people and what Glisson calls an “executive
management plan, ... an opportunity for our senior leaders to work
in private industry for six months to a year.” DLA has learned
lessons in modernizing its business processes from the private sector.
Its leaders have received valuable hands-on experience working in
the commercial sector, said Glisson.
“The fourth thing we’re trying to do [to fix the workforce
problem] is we’ve chartered a group to take a look at the
entire workforce issue and to come back with a series of initiatives
on how we might be able to improve what we’re doing,”
he said. “But the key for us is the internship program and
making sure that we’re recruiting the right people and allowing
them to have the mobility to where they can move among the different
parts of the business.”
But even though DLA has had to downsize, it is working more efficiently,
In fact, a recent report commissioned by the Joint Chiefs of Staff
said, “that we served as a model for the other combat agencies,”
said Glisson. “I think that’s a real tribute to the
workforce that we have here. [Despite the personnel cuts], the mission
of the workforce has probably increased 3,000 percent. You don’t
do that and support those kind of results, I don’t believe,
without a world-class workforce.”
DLA has taken some flack from critics, who claim that the agency
bases equipment-purchasing decisions on lessons learned from past
conflicts. But Glisson defended his organization, saying that his
people work directly with the military services to determine their
“I think we have a good focus on the future, on how to do
that even better and leverage information technology and other technical
solutions to our problem and to continue with reengineering,”
said Glisson. “We’ll be part of the [Rumsfeld review]
process, but I feel confident we can show the progress we’ve
made, and show that we’re an investment worth keeping around
for the long term for the Department of Defense. I think we’re
Glisson was confident that DLA could demonstrate that business
practices have become more efficient and will continue to improve.
“We’ve reduced our inventory at times,” he said.
Supply chain management techniques have been designed to eliminate
excess inventory. The goal is to provide supplies on demand and
avoid overstocking, he said.
“We’ve reduced our response times by over 50 percent
on how fast we fill customer orders,” said Glisson. “We’ve
put into place some major prototypes, I think, for the department
in terms of acquisition and supply-chain management.” Although
military operations such as Desert Shield/Storm and the NATO air
campaign over Kosovo proved successful in a military sense, getting
supplies to the battlefield in a timely fashion was not always achieved.
A commercial-style supply-chain management system could provide
a solution, said Glisson.
‘Mikey Likes It’
“One of the pluses we have in DLA is we have become the prototype
for the department when it wants to try new procedures and operational
concepts,” said Glisson. In cases such as these, DLA is Mikey,
a character from a popular 1970s television commercial for Life
cereal. “When you don’t know what to do with it, give
it to Mikey, and let Mikey have it,” he said.
“A good example,” Glisson cited, “is the Department
of Defense Electronic Mall,” an online shopping center that
brings many Pentagon vendors together for one-stop buying. The E-Mall
is run by the Joint Electronic Commerce Program Office (JECPO),
which falls under the DLA umbrella and was formed in 1998, during
Glisson’s command. “We tried that out for the department.
We were able to put that in place very, very fast. Because we are
able to work everyday and look across all the military services,
we are able to take the best business practices and procedures from
all and blend them together for the department to allow things to
occur much faster. If it works for DLA, then [the department] can
export it to other parts within. I think that’s one of the
benefits we bring.
“So I think it’s a value-added proposition that we
provide. ... I think it would be impossible to separate DLA from
the military services today. With the exception of ammunition, procurement
of major weapon systems, repaired parts and major weapon-system
assemblies, we virtually provide everything else to allow the military
services to perform their mission today. So I don’t know how
you could separate that today. None of the logistics organizations
in the Department of Defense today could do what they do alone.
We’ve become really a team, and we leverage each other. So
you’ve got to balance that, as you take a look at what the
DLA has a $17 billion budget. This figure has remained relatively
steady, said Glisson. Of that, $13 to $14 billion is spent on materiel
acquisition or replacement. One percent of the budget goes to salaries.
The rest is allocated to research and development, modernization
of legacy systems and electronic commerce.
Glisson said he does not expect to take a major budget hit, because
most of that money pays to restock supplies that the military services
“From the standpoint at what my budget is, there’s
not necessarily a relationship between how cost effective I am and
what my budget is, because most of my budget goes with buying what
customers want,” said Glisson. “So it’s a replenishment,
as opposed to an indicator of whether I’m more efficient or
DLA is working directly with the military services to better serve
them, Glisson said. “We’ve partnered very closely with
the military services and warfighting CINCs (commanders-in-chief),
trying to become an integral part of their team, so that we have
a knowledge management base,” he commented. “That’s
one of the things you’ll hear us talk about: customer focus
and knowledge. What that means is understanding what they do today,
how they operate, and where they’re going in the future. In
order to do that, we’ve made an investment in people, and
we’ve put customer-support representatives on site at most
of our major customer locations, at all of our warfighting CINC
In the past, Glisson said, it was not likely that DLA workers would
be deployed to battle areas. Today, they can be found in Bosnia,
and they also assisted in Albania.
“We’ve become an integral part of the warfighting team,”
Glisson asserted. “We don’t want [the military services]
to go to war without us. We hope that we have added enough value
to their logistics base that they would not be able to go to war
without us, and they’d want us there. And I think that’s
a major, major change for us.
“If you look at recent history over the last three years,
if you asked somebody five years ago, ‘would DLA ever be in
a combat zone in Bosnia?’ the answer would have been a resounding
‘no,’ but we were one of the first people in there.
We’ve been there since the start. We’re still there
today. When the air campaign in Kosovo started, we supported that.
We were one of the first people in Albania. So we’re forward
today and integrated today with the military services. ... We’ve
created a way to keep that presence there and, I think, to improve
on that presence.”
During his tenure, Glisson said he has overseen changes in business
processes such as the elimination of paper, the emergence of electronic
commerce and the development of the supply-chain management system,
which is required to be in place in four years. Glisson, whose term
runs out in July, believes DLA will accomplish that goal.
“We’re going to change the metric on how we determine
response time, and we’re going to do something called customer
wait time,” he said, “which is from the time a customer
puts in a requirement to the time you deliver. We’re going
to go to time-definite delivery, which is analogous to FedEx. [This]
means if the customer says he needs it in three days, you’re
going to get it there in three days, and you’re going to measure
your performance against that standard.”
The supply-chain management system must take advantage of Internet
capabilities and provide for “total asset visibility,”
he said. This means that system users should be able to keep track
of items from raw materials to finished products at all times.
“I predict that four years from now, you’re going to
see all of that, and you’re going to see this relationship
[between DLA and the warfighter] that I think is essential for the
department to provide focused logistics support.”