Defense Logistics:

Efforts to Improve Distribution and Supply Support for Joint Military Operations Could Benefit from a Coordinated Management Approach

GAO-07-807: Published: Jun 29, 2007. Publicly Released: Jul 10, 2007.

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During Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Army and the Marine Corps experienced problems with the delivery of supplies to the warfighter. Such problems highlight long-standing weaknesses in the Department of Defense's (DOD) supply chain management. DOD has identified joint theater logistics as a key effort aimed at improving distribution and supply support. GAO was asked to examine DOD's efforts to develop and implement joint theater logistics. GAO assessed (1) the extent to which DOD's approach to managing joint theater logistics departmentwide encompasses sound management principles and (2) the progress DOD has made in implementing joint theater logistics initiatives. GAO reviewed DOD documents and interviewed officials from the Joint Staff, services, agencies, and geographic combatant commands.

DOD has not developed a coordinated and comprehensive management approach to guide and oversee implementation of joint theater logistics across the department. Efforts to develop and implement joint theater logistics initiatives have been fragmented among various DOD components due largely to a lack of specific goals and strategies, accountability for achieving results, and outcome-oriented performance measures--key principles of sound management. Further complicating DOD's ability to adopt a coordinated and comprehensive management approach to joint theater logistics are the diffused organization of DOD's logistics operations, including separate funding and management of resources and systems, and changes in DOD's overall logistics transformation strategy. DOD is currently testing a new approach to managing joint capabilities and is considering a realignment of capabilities in its long-term logistics strategy, which could affect the future of joint theater logistics. Without a more coordinated and comprehensive approach to managing joint theater logistics, DOD lacks assurance that it is on the right path toward achieving this capability and that individual initiatives will collectively address gaps in logistics capabilities. Further, DOD will have difficulty achieving improvements in theater distribution and asset visibility associated with joint theater logistics. DOD components have made progress developing and implementing joint theater logistics initiatives in the areas of distribution and supply support, but the department faces challenges that hinder its ability to realize the full benefits of these efforts. For example, while Joint Deployment Distribution Operations Centers have been established in each geographic combatant command to help manage supplies moving across the distribution system, senior commanders in Kuwait said achieving asset visibility has been difficult because of a lack of interoperability among information technology systems. Initiatives being developed to improve the coordination of surface transportation assets theaterwide also face challenges with issues of command and control, the availability of information technology tools, and potential duplication of responsibilities with other organizations. Unless DOD successfully addresses these and other challenges GAO identified, the initiatives are not likely to significantly improve the ability of a joint force commander to effectively and efficiently direct logistics functions, including distribution and supply support activities, across the theater of operations to accomplish an assigned mission. Moreover, without addressing such challenges, DOD is likely to continue to experience some of the same types of distribution and asset visibility problems that have occurred during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with our recommendation and in response, issued Joint Publication 4-09 "Distribution Operations" in February 2010. The department consolidated several other publications that addressed different distribution issues into a single source for joint doctrine. "Distribution Operations" serves several functions and addresses some of the challenges we identified. For example, it provides a doctrinal framework for planning, execution, and assessment of joint distribution operations during joint military operations. The publication sets forth doctrine governing joint activities to facilitate unity of effort during joint distribution operations, and describes authorities and responsibilities for those operations.

    Recommendation: To improve logistics and supply chain operations, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense (Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics), in his capacity as the Defense Logistics Executive, to develop and implement a coordinated and comprehensive management approach to guide and oversee efforts across the department to improve distribution and supply support for U.S. forces in a joint theater. This approach should encompass sound management principles, including developing specific strategies and goals, assigning accountability for achieving results, and using outcome-oriented performance measures, and should be aligned with the results of the ongoing joint capabilities portfolio management test, the proposed realignment of focused logistics capabilities, and the development of a "to be" roadmap. In considering options for implementing this recommendation, the Under Secretary should determine whether any changes should be made to DOD's organizational structure and control of resources for joint logistics support and identify the steps needed to make these changes, including changes to existing laws, such as Title 10.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In December 2007, a DLA study team completed an assessment of opportunities to optimize theater distribution in U.S. Pacific Command and U.S. European Command, and briefed the Distribution Transformation Task Force on its recommendations. For example, in Pacific Command, the DLA study team recommended establishing a Theater Consolidation and Shipping point at the defense distribution depot, Camp Carroll, Korea; consolidating redundant inventories held by different organization at Camp Carroll; and implementing the Joint Regional Inventory Material Management strategy on Guam. In Europe, the study team recommended streamlining the distribution network to support the Army's plans for restructuring in Germany, the draw down of troops and equipment from Central Command, and the logistics requirements of the emerging U.S. African Command; reducing intermediate levels of theater held inventory; and altering the distribution funding and billing constructs used by DOD components and joint commands that frustrate initiatives to optimize the supply chain.

    Recommendation: To make more economical and efficient use of shipping and storage facilities, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Director, Defense Logistics Agency, to evaluate existing storage and shipping arrangements within the geographic combatant commands and identify opportunities for consolidation.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense


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