Warfighter Support:

DOD Has Made Progress, but Supply and Distribution Challenges Remain in Afghanistan

GAO-12-138: Published: Oct 7, 2011. Publicly Released: Oct 7, 2011.

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In fiscal year 2010, the Department of Defense (DOD) spent billions of dollars to move troops and materiel into Afghanistan, a mountainous, land-locked country with poorly developed infrastructure. The increase of 30,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan as of August 2010, along with thousands of civilians and contractors supporting U.S. efforts, have required further development of DOD's already-complex distribution network to support and sustain U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. GAO conducted this review to assess distribution issues in Afghanistan, including (1) DOD's oversight of distribution operations; (2) DOD's performance in providing supplies and equipment; and (3) challenges that have affected DOD's ability to provide supplies and equipment. GAO reviewed joint doctrine and DOD policies on distribution, analyzed DOD delivery data, and interviewed DOD officials in the United States and in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kuwait, Qatar, and Bahrain.

Although U.S. Transportation Command (TRANSCOM) has established some processes for oversight, it does not have full oversight of the distribution of supplies and equipment to the warfighter in Afghanistan. DOD's distribution pipeline includes four legs--intracontinental, intertheater, intratheater, and point of employment--and involves numerous organizations responsible for various aspects of the distribution process for delivering supplies and equipment to Afghanistan. TRANSCOM, as DOD's Distribution Process Owner, is responsible for overseeing the overall effectiveness, efficiency, and alignment of DOD-wide distribution activities. However, as applied and interpreted by DOD, TRANSCOM's oversight role does not extend all the way to final delivery to warfighters at forward-based combat outposts. Instead, its oversight efforts terminate at major logistics bases in Afghanistan. The oversight from these bases to combat outposts is carried out at varying levels and without uniformity by U.S. Forces-Afghanistan and its component services. As a result of this fragmented structure, TRANSCOM does not have the ability to conduct its oversight role all the way to final delivery to the warfighter, nor does it have the visibility over distribution performance from major bases to outposts necessary to fully oversee the effectiveness of the DOD-wide distribution system and coordinate potentially necessary improvements to the system. DOD has not always met delivery standards and timelines for shipments to major logistics bases in Afghanistan, and it cannot conduct a full assessment of its delivery performance for surface shipments due to incomplete data. DOD has more frequently met delivery standards for shipments transported by airlift than for shipments transported on surface routes, due in large part to the various difficulties in transporting cargo on surface routes through neighboring countries and inside Afghanistan. For example, from December 2009 through March 2011, surface shipments of requisitioned supplies did not once meet the time-definite delivery standard that calls for 85 percent of shipments to arrive within 97 days of being ordered. In contrast, commercial air shipments from the United States met DOD's delivery standard six times over that time frame. DOD has taken some steps to mitigate challenges in distributing materiel to forces operating in Afghanistan, but GAO identified several challenges that continue to hinder the Department's distribution efforts: (1) DOD does not have adequate radio-frequency identification information to track all cargo movements into and within Afghanistan. (2) DOD does not have a common operating picture for distribution data and integrated transportation systems in support of Afghanistan operations. (3) Complex customs clearance processes in Afghanistan and Pakistan continue to delay shipments of supplies and equipment. (4) DOD continues to face difficulties in collecting information on all incidents of pilferage and damage of cargo. (5) DOD is not effectively tracking and managing cargo containers for Afghanistan operations. Collectively, these issues will likely continue to affect supply operations in Afghanistan and limit DOD's oversight of the supply chain. As a result, DOD's ability to identify and address gaps in distribution to support current deployments and redeployments, sustainment of deployed units, and any future drawdown efforts may be limited. GAO makes 15 recommendations for DOD to clarify its distribution policy, improve documentation of performance, and address several other challenges. DOD concurred or partially concurred with 11 of GAO's recommendations, but did not concur with four recommendations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DoD non-concurred with the recommendation to revise Joint Publication (JP) 4-09 and the instructions for the DPO, to include the fourth leg of distribution. The DPO''s authority and oversight responsibility extends to the point of need, not to the point of employment. According to DOD, this distinction is clearly made in the Joint Logistics (Distribution) Joint Integrating Concept (JL(D) JIC) and promulgated throughout doctrine and policy by way of reference to the JL(D) JIC. DoD Instruction 5158.06 defines the roles and responsibilities of the DPO and establishes the scope of "end to end" distribution as origin to point of need (not point of employment) in accordance with the JL(D)JIC. DOD's analysis of these documents, combined with the responsibilities of the Services under Title 10 of the United States Code, supports the position that distribution from the point of need to the point of employment is the responsibility of the Regional Combatant Commander/Joint Forces Commander, Service Components and Services, not USTRANSCOM.

    Recommendation: To enable TRANSCOM to carry out its Distribution Process Owner responsibility to oversee the overall effectiveness, efficiency, and alignment of DOD-wide distribution activities, and to include delivery from major logistics bases to outposts in Afghanistan, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, to revise the instructions for the Distribution Process Owner.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD non-concurred with this recommendation. However, since the issuance of our report in 2011, the geographic combatant commands (COCOMs) meet quarterly with U.S. Transportation Command (TRANSCOM) and other distribution stakeholders to review distribution performance within the respective COCOM's area of responsibility. Discussions at quarterly meetings include service-level distribution performance, modes of transportation, operational priorities, operational need performance, and identified challenges at the tactical leg. By collaborating with the COCOMs on distribution performance within a theater of operations, TRANSCOM obtains visibility and is able to provide oversight to address distribution challenges at all legs of the distribution system.

    Recommendation: To enable TRANSCOM to carry out its Distribution Process Owner responsibility to oversee the overall effectiveness, efficiency, and alignment of DOD-wide distribution activities, and to include delivery from major logistics bases to outposts in Afghanistan, the Secretary of Defense should direct U.S. Central Command to direct U.S. Forces-Afghanistan to provide regular reports to TRANSCOM on delivery performance for shipments within Afghanistan.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD non-concurred with the need for USCENTCOM to provide USTRANSCOM metrics. USTRANSCOM already tracks Time Definite Delivery Standard metrics that include Logistics Response Time from requisition receipt in the Defense Automatic Addressing System to item receipt in theater via a D6S transaction.

    Recommendation: To enable TRANSCOM to carry out its Distribution Process Owner responsibility to oversee the overall effectiveness, efficiency, and alignment of DOD-wide distribution activities, and to include delivery from major logistics bases to outposts in Afghanistan, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Commander of TRANSCOM to incorporate the delivery performance reports from U.S. Forces-Afghanistan into the command's review of distribution metrics, in order for TRANSCOM to measure the performance of DOD's entire distribution system.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation and in 2017, DOD approved and implemented a suite of metrics to track distribution performance across the supply chain pipeline. For example, U.S. Transportation Command tracks the distribution of materiel with its Time-Definite-Delivery metric. This metric measures shipments against identified delivery standards, which include the expected number of days for a delivery to get through each segment of the distribution system from the time an order is placed until it is delivered to the point of need. In addition, the combatant commands track performance of distribution at the tactical leg. For example, the U.S. Central Command's distribution and deployment operations center tracks tactical distribution using metrics, such as the latest arrival date and required delivery date. According to U.S. Central Command officials, these metrics enable the command to prioritize deliveries and determine the cause of any distribution delays within the theater of operations. As a result, DOD can accurately assess its delivery performance for and maintain accountability of cargo shipments.

    Recommendation: To ensure that DOD can accurately assess its delivery performance for and maintain accountability of cargo shipments to Afghanistan, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Commander of TRANSCOM to develop an ongoing, systematic approach to identify the reasons why delivery dates for delivered shipments are not documented and implement corrective actions to improve the documentation of delivered shipments.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation and in September 2018, the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) implemented its Logistics Common Operating Picture (LOGCOP) to achieve enterprise-wide logistics visibility and to establish a common operating picture that relies on near real-time data from authoritative joint data sources across DOD. LOGCOP aggregates logistics data and measures, monitors, and establishes joint logistics situational awareness to support the decision-making process across CENTCOM's area of responsibility. LOGCOP obtains information from systems such as the Global Combat Support System - Joint, implemented in 2015, which aggregates information from 34 disparate authoritative data sources, including data from the Integrated Data Environment/Global Transportation Network Convergence (IGC), to provide visibility of data to help the joint warfighter plan, execute, and control logistics operations. Data from IGC gives users near-real-time, in-transit visibility information of shipments along DOD's distribution system. In addition, the time-definite delivery metric assesses delivery performance from the point-of-origin to the point-of-need across all DOD services, components, and the geographic combatant commands, including cargo shipments to Afghanistan. The U.S. Transportation Command collects monthly reports on time-definite delivery data which relies on delivery dates to measure performance from across the distribution system. As a result of the availability of these systems and reports, DOD is able to collect data, assess distribution performance across multiple levels of the distribution system, and maintain accountability of cargo shipments.

    Recommendation: To ensure that DOD can accurately assess its delivery performance for and maintain accountability of cargo shipments to Afghanistan, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Commander of TRANSCOM to develop an ongoing, systematic approach to investigate cases of undelivered shipments to determine their status and update the database with the most current information.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  6. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD non-concurred with the recommendation to develop necessary policies and procedures to ensure that content-level detail is entered onto radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags. The Department stated that adequate policy and procedures already existed regarding content-level RFID requirements. According to DOD officials in September 2018, the Department has since moved away from data-rich RFID tags with content-level detail and toward license plate RFID tags that contain only a unique ID number to reduce tag cost and to secure cargo/commodity data. Consequently, we are closing this recommendation as not implemented.

    Recommendation: To enable DOD to gain better visibility over cargo in transit using RFID technology, the Secretary of Defense should direct U.S. Central Command to develop necessary policies and procedures to ensure that content-level detail is entered onto radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  7. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD partially concurred with the recommendation to implement required data entry training for all deploying units. DOD did not concur with tasking U.S. Central Command for this requirement, stating the Command was not sourced or required to provide this training, and that training was the responsibility of the services. According to DOD officials in September 2018, the Department has since moved away from data-rich RFID tags with content-level detail and toward license plate RFID tags that contain only a unique ID number to reduce tag cost and to secure cargo/commodity data. Consequently, we are closing this recommendation as not implemented.

    Recommendation: To enable DOD to gain better visibility over cargo in transit using RFID technology, the Secretary of Defense should direct U.S. Central Command to implement required data-entry training for all deploying units.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  8. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD partially concurred with the recommendation to ensure that periodic inspections of RFID data entries are performed. While the Department acknowledged the need to periodically inspect RFID data and that U.S. Central Command had a role in ensuring compliance, it stated that primary responsibility had been assigned to U.S. Transportation Command, which was monitoring and reporting violations. According to DOD officials in September 2018, the Department has since moved away from data-rich RFID tags with content-level detail and toward license plate RFID tags that contain only a unique ID number to reduce tag cost and to secure cargo/commodity data. Consequently, we are closing this recommendation as not implemented.

    Recommendation: To enable DOD to gain better visibility over cargo in transit using RFID technology, the Secretary of Defense should direct U.S. Central Command to ensure that periodic inspections of data entries are performed.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  9. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD partially concurred with this recommendation. The U.S. Transportation Command (TRANSCOM) identified a commercial software package to seamlessly integrate planning and execution of global operations in order to enhance support to the combatant commands, services, and strategic partners by providing them with visibility, predictable delivery performance, and cost-informed options. In 2017, TRANSCOM determined that this software package achieved its required capabilities. In addition, in 2014 the Defense Logistics Agency's Asset Visibility (AV) system, which provides global visibility of assets, was integrated into TRANSCOM's Integrated Data Environment (I)/Global Transportation Network (G) Convergence (C) (IGC) system, which provides the joint logistics community with an integrated set of networked, end-to-end visibility, deployment, and distribution capabilities. Integration of AV into IGC provided users with a single portal for viewing integrated supply and transportation data. IGC receives data from logistics systems from all services and provides data to many common operating picture and visibility systems currently used by logisticians from all the Services and many Defense Components. TRANSCOM offers fully functional web services capability to IGC customers, making it possible for customers to view data collected by IGC either directly by accessing IGC or through their system of preference. The result of this effort is 7,500 users have access to near-real-time, in-transit visibility information of shipments in the Defense Transportation System along with wholesale and retail stock levels in all classes of supply.

    Recommendation: To enable DOD to gain more comprehensive visibility over the status of supply and equipment, the Secretary of Defense should direct TRANSCOM, in consultation with the combatant commands, the military services, and other DOD distribution stakeholders, to evaluate the feasibility and costs of alternative approaches for developing a single user-friendly common operating picture that integrates transportation systems from the strategic, operational, and tactical levels and that is accessible by personnel at each of these levels to provide timely in-transit visibility data.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  10. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD partially concurred with this recommendation and in 2017, DOD revised its 2017 Strategy for Improving DOD Asset Visibility serving as its cost-effective approach for improving visibility. The Strategy provides direction on how to explain and document cases where the funding for the initiatives is embedded within overall program funding. The updated Strategy notes that there may be instances where asset visibility improvements are embedded within a larger program, making it impossible or cost prohibitive to isolate the cost associated with specific asset visibility improvements. In these cases, the document outlining the initiatives will indicate that cost information is not available and why. However, if at some point during implementation some or all costs are identified, information about the initiatives will be updated.

    Recommendation: To enable DOD to gain more comprehensive visibility over the status of supply and equipment, the Secretary of Defense should direct TRANSCOM, in consultation with the combatant commands, the military services, and other DOD distribution stakeholders, to select and implement a cost-effective approach for improving visibility.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  11. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD concurred with the recommendation to develop and implement training for units on customs processes for export cargo to instill best practices for documenting cargo according to customs policies. However, as of September 2018, DOD has not taken action and this recommendation will remain open.

    Recommendation: To enable DOD to expedite its processes for delivery of cargo to its final destination, the Secretary of Defense should direct Surface Deployment and Distribution Command (SDDC) to develop and implement training for units on customs processes for export cargo to instill best practices for documenting cargo according to customs policies, which may mitigate customs clearance delays that cause cargo backlog.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  12. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD partially concurred with the recommendation to require units to complete mandatory training on how to report, document, and complete a transportation discrepancy report. The Department acknowledged the need to improve training on the transportation discrepancy report process, but did not concur with tasking U.S. Central Command for this requirement, stating in September 2018 that training is the responsibility of the military services. While we agree that the military services have a significant role in developing and implementing any training to address our recommendations, we continue to believe that U.S. Central Command has the ability to coordinate with the services on training specifications and requirements necessary to conduct the Command's missions, and to ensure that training is provided to units assigned to the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility. Consequently, this recommendation will remain open.

    Recommendation: To enable DOD to gain better visibility over the incidence and cost of pilferage and damage of cargo in transit to, within, and out of Afghanistan, the Secretary of Defense should direct U.S. Central Command to require units to complete mandatory training on how to report, document, and complete a transportation discrepancy report.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  13. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD partially concurred with the recommendation to include host nation truck complaints in the reported pilferage and damage calculation. DOD acknowledged the need to implement this recommendation, but did not concur with tasking TRANSCOM because U.S. Central Command and U.S. Forces-Afghanistan administer host nation contracts from the point of need to the point of employment. As of September 2018, DOD has not taken action and this recommendation will remain open.

    Recommendation: To enable DOD to gain better visibility over the incidence and cost of pilferage and damage of cargo in transit to, within, and out of Afghanistan, the Secretary of Defense should direct TRANSCOM to include host-nation truck complaints in the reported pilferage and damage calculation.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  14. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation and in 2017, DOD updated Instruction 4500.57, Transportation and Traffic Management, which requires the use of the U.S. Transportation Command's Joint Container Management System for all DOD components in theater. Additionally, the instruction provides guidance on implementing DOD policies to maintain and track containers moving in the Defense Transportation System from origin to destination, to include containers originating at vendor locations. As a result, DOD can better manage its processes for managing and using cargo containers.

    Recommendation: To enable DOD to better manage its processes for managing and using cargo containers, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, to select a single container-management system for all DOD entities and contract carriers to track container status.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  15. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation and in 2017, DOD updated Instruction 4500.57, Transportation and Traffic Management, which establishes policy, assigns responsibilities, and provides procedures for various modes, methods, and programs for transportation and traffic management, including reporting requirements and procedures for tracking containers in theater. According to the instruction, U.S. Transportation Command provides overall container management support to the combatant commands, and the combatant commands provide operational support while the containers are within their area of responsibility. The instruction requires the timely reporting of data on containers once they reach their final destinations. Specifically, U.S. Transportation Command and the DOD components will maintain procedures and systems to track containers moving in the defense transportation system from origin to destination, to include containers originating at vendor locations. As a result, DOD can better manage its processes for managing and using cargo containers.

    Recommendation: To enable DOD to better manage its processes for managing and using cargo containers, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, to create, implement, and enforce reporting requirements and procedures for tracking containers in theater.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  16. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD did not concur with the recommendation to revise Joint Publication 4-09 and the instructions for the Distribution Process Owner (DPO) to include the fourth leg of distribution since the DPO's authority and oversight responsibility extends to the point of need, not to the point of employment. While Joint Publication 4-09 was revised in 2013, it did not include the fourth leg of distribution. Consequently, we are closing this recommendation as not implemented.

    Recommendation: To enable TRANSCOM to carry out its Distribution Process Owner responsibility to oversee the overall effectiveness, efficiency, and alignment of DOD-wide distribution activities, and to include delivery from major logistics bases to outposts in Afghanistan, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Joint Staff to revise Joint Publication 4-09, to provide clear guidance on how TRANSCOM is to oversee the overall effectiveness, efficiency, and alignment of DOD-wide distribution activities, to include the fourth leg of distribution.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Joint Chiefs of Staff

 

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