The demands of the warfighter are like cheese processed through the lactose intolerant digestive tract that is military supply; though digestion is a vital process, it can be unspeakably painful and smell of rotten eggs. End-users already plagued by rapidly decreasing manning and time are now interrupted by long backorder lead times, artificial constraints on off-the-shelf solutions, and funding. Personnel are known to skip the supply system altogether, purchasing parts or equipment out of pocket when an inspection is on the line. This both hides the problem and takes from the pockets our sailors. The military has forgotten that supply exists for the utility the operator, not the ease of the audited. For the military supply system to regain the trust and capabilities necessary to serve the end-user, reforms to the way supplies are selected, commercial purchases are managed, and funding requested are necessary.

The first major problem is the Coordinated Shipboard Allowance List (COSAL). COSAL is a process by which the navy’s supply system determines what supplies it should stock on the shelves; items are ordered through the in-house supply system and the hits in the system raise the priority to stock. Unfortunately, COSAL is reactive rather than predictive and cannot meet the needs of either the new aches of an aging fleet or the growing pains of new ships. As ships grow long-in-the-tooth, parts and equipment once reliable require replacement or repair. New ships find casualties in systems meant to last several years. Equipment lists also change, leading to fleet-wide demands for devices only in limited, if any, supply. The non-COSAL items are suddenly in great demand but nowhere to be found. Critical casualties have month+ long wait-times for repairs as parts are back-ordered from little COSAL support. Commands attempt to fill their time-sensitive need by open purchasing these items from the external market, which are not COSAL tracked. This leads to either supply forcing the workcenter to order through supply and end-users waiting potentially months for critical backordered items, or the open purchase being accomplished and COSAL staying unchanged. Although difficult, the supply system should be more flexible to open-purchasing stock item equivalents due to time constraints while integrating open purchase equivalence tracking into the COSAL process. This bypasses the faults of COSAL’s reactionary nature while still updating the supply system with the changing demands.

Split Purchasing:
The limitations on open purchasing (buying commercial off-the-shelf) create artificial shortages of material easily available on the street. Namely, when items are not under General Services Administration (GSA) contract, single vendor purchases or purchases for a single purpose cannot exceed $3,000, no matter how the critical need or short the deadline. This further exacerbates the problems from an unsupportive COSAL; if requirements exceed purchase limitations, requests are sent through a lengthy contracting process which wastes more time than money saved. The contracting requirement ignores the fact that from the work-center supervisor to the supply officer, everyone now has the ability to search the internet for companies and can compare quotes. Purchasers need not be encouraged to spend less money, since they have the natural deisre to stretch their budget as far as possible. Contracting opportunities also become more scarce as the end of the fiscal year approaches, since money “dedicated” to a contracting purchase is lost if the clock turns over and no resolution is found. This means money lost to the command and vital equipment left unpurchased. For deployed/deployable units, this can be unacceptable. The supply system exists to fulfill the operational needs of the training/deployed demand-side, not to streamline the risk-averse audit demands of the supply side. If not raising the price-ceilings of non-GSA purchases for operational commands, the rule against split purchasing by spreading single-type purchases across multiple vendors should be removed. Breaking out a single purchase amongst several vendors alleviates the risk that large purchases are being made to single vendors due to kick-backs. This would call for more diligence on the part of Supply Officers, but that is why they exist.

Finally, the recent Presidential Debates have shown the military’s poor ability to communicate the message that funding is becoming an increasingly critical issue force-wide. To many, the defense budget is so large that cuts are academic, savings no doubt hiding throughout the labyrinthine bureaucracy. However, for those of us who had no money to buy everything from tools to toilet paper for a month, it’s a more practical problem. Long before sequestration, Secretary Gates started the DoD on the path of making pre-emptive cuts before outside entities made those choices for the DoD. However, the military has made a poor show of communicating that these cuts have become excessive and are now cutting into the muscle of the force. Obeying the directive to cut funding does not require quietly accepting these cuts; now the Commander and Chief believes the military not even in need of a cut freeze, let alone a funding increase. With Hydra of manning, material, and training issues constantly growing new heads, the strategic communicators must come out in force to correct this misconception. While administrative savings can be found, our capabilities are paying the price for the budgetary experiment. Military leadership should, in part, involve advocacy; obedience requires the resources to execute the mission.

The supply system is a painful process, but with rather humble reforms, that pain can be both lessened and taken off the shoulders of whom the system exists to serve. With a reformed COSAL tracking open purchases, a loosened open-purchase limit that puts the stress on the supplier rather than operator, and better strategic communications about funding, we can apply a bit of lactaid to an otherwise painful process.

Posted by LT Matthew Hipple in Homeland Security, Navy, Soft Power, Tactics

You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

  • I have given some thought to procurement in DOD and have the following opine: First the systems can become more predictive however that would be as a consequence of the Data-Disposition-Scheduling being amended to allow for storage of Data on logistic material support to be analyzed. A system that performs this task could be coupled with existing cataloged parts lists to do a few things: Provide superseding information, as an example a capacitor is used from an initial OEM supplier, by keeping all of the historical data of parts, when an original OEM is no longer available the appropriate superseding part information is available as information of possible subsequent root cause analysis of failure. Hadoop technologies now make this large data challenge possible. Then there is the crowd sourcing benefits of storing information of what is a superior alternative at less cost. The ability of engineers to have input on if the part is better, can be added to the parts list, if an AOA or ECB has approved the acquisition, etc.. can be leveraged. Again Hadoop can make this information available and the Requirements Traceability and costs coupled for a complete historical view. Where was part XYZ123 used 15 years ago in conjunction with part 6655443a? Then there is authorization and here is where it gets iffy and where corporate culture gets iffy.. The DOD is a command centric logistics org… Let me say that if I purchase a auto part and look at the exploded parts schematic and see that the OEM part is superseded, I could get all the other parts I needed for a repair and be missing a critical component of the kit. If the authorization is made once for the procurement does it need to made repeatedly? And this authorization chain impacts the EDI itself from prime vendors, would not a detailed 999 response that offers alternative parts information be superior to a 997? If the information was available and authorized would the system in live time include that as a valid option next time? It would be a shame to have a kit procurement rejected and have to go through re-authorization because one minor OEM vendor part was missing, and this process to repeat itself until GSA and the Catalog table was updated? And then there is lot adjustment, can cost formulas be utilized to look at a superseded part and based on historical utilization provide an indicator if buying on credit card is dumb and instead provide an incentive to spend the budget money on high utilization items of superior value? The areas where the challenges lie are data retention of costs, parts, lot adjustment, time on shelf, time to shelf, and cost of delivery along with technical superseding data. In addition the command management authorization process in some areas of procurement might need to be rethought? And finally there needs to be a multilevel authorization based on CAC access where social media crowd sourcing within the DOD can be leveraged in respect to the parts or alternatives. It is always a challenge but the tools are getting better to address them.

  • Matthew,

    Your post echoes frustrations that every SWO – myself probably even more than others – has experienced with the Supply system at one time or another. But the lack of flexibility of the Supply system does not simply exist to “streamline the risk-averse audit demands” as you suggest; it serves to jealously protect every dollar the American taxpayer trusts us to spend.

    I welcome the changes you suggest, but it will be a delicate balance to reform the system while keeping strict accountability of funds and fulfilling the codified requirements of government purchases given us by Congress.

    Your instincts are spot on: keep pushing as hard as you can for your requirements within the bounds of the system and resist the urge to take matters into your own hands. Engage the squadron when you’ve pushed as hard as you can, properly track your status via CASREPs and 8’s, and you will fly through any inspection.

  • Neo

    I need an expert on this house to solve my problem. Maybe that’s you! Having a look ahead to peer you. Sure i will come back for more information.

  • disqus_x2iIXd12YZ

    I was the SUPPO on a new LPD and you are right—there are many casualties on new ship systems meant to last several years. The ship is far from being perfect after delivery and the repair parts to support that ship need to adjust based on the high failure items. High failure items for these new ships are best identified by the maintainers for their Supply Department in order to
    make COSAL changes. Nonetheless, I view the supply system as flexible. You can order more of the parts needed for deployment based on previous deployers in your ship class and you can open purchase emergent repair part requirements. Items open purchased can be documented in the R-Supply system to show the demand and get into the COSAL as long as your communicate this with your SUPPO. The COSAL is a starting point to continually add to or delete unnecessary parts.