What is the Defence Logistics Agency (US)?


The Defence Logistics Agency (DLA) is a combat support agency in the United States Department of Defence (DoD), with more than 26,000 civilian and military personnel throughout the world.

Located in 48 states and 28 countries, DLA provides supplies to the military services and supports their acquisition of weapons, fuel, repair parts, and other materials. The agency also disposes of excess or unusable equipment through various programs.

Through other US federal agencies, DLA also helps provide relief supplies to victims of natural disasters, as well as humanitarian aid to refugees and internally displaced persons.

Brief History

Origins (1941 to 1954)

The seeds of the DLA were planted in World War II, when America’s military needed to get vast amounts of munitions and supplies quickly. During the war, the military services began to coordinate more when it came to procurement, particularly of petroleum products, medical supplies, clothing, and other commodities. The main offices of the Army and Navy for each commodity were collocated.

After the war, the call grew louder for more complete coordination throughout the whole field of supply – including storage, distribution, transportation, and other aspects of supply. In 1947, there were seven supply systems in the Army, plus an Air Technical Service Command, and 18 systems in the Navy, including the quartermaster of the Marine Corps. Passage of the National Security Act of 1947 prompted new efforts to eliminate duplication and overlap among the services in the supply area and laid the foundation for the eventual creation of a single integrated supply agency. The act created the Munitions Board, which began to reorganise these major supply categories into joint procurement agencies. Meanwhile, in 1949, the Commission on the Organisation of the Executive Branch of the Government (Hoover Commission), a presidential commission headed by former President Herbert Hoover, recommended that the National Security Act be specifically amended so as to strengthen the authority of the Secretary of Defence so that he could integrate the organisation and procedures of the various phases of supply in the military services.

The Munitions Board was not as successful as hoped in eliminating duplication among the services in the supply area. Congress became disenchanted with the board, and in the Defence Cataloguing and Standardisation Act of 1952, transferred the board’s functions to a new Defence Supply Management Agency. The Eisenhower Reorganisation Plan Number 6 (1953) abolished both this agency and the Munitions Board, replacing them with a single executive, an Assistant Secretary of Defence for Supply and Logistics. Meanwhile, the Korean War led to several investigations by Congress of military supply management, which threatened to impose a common supply service on the military services from the outside.

Integrated management began in 1958 with the formation of the Armed Forces Supply Support Centre. For the first time, all the military services bought, stored, and issued items using a common nomenclature. The Defence Department and the services defined the material that would be managed on an integrated basis as “consumables”, meaning supplies that are not repairable or are consumed in normal use. Consumable items, also called commodities were assigned to one military service to manage for all the services.

Early History (1955 to 1961)

The pressure for consolidation continued. In July 1955, the second Hoover Commission recommended centralising management of common military logistics support and introducing uniform financial management practices. It also recommended that a separate and completely civilian-managed agency be created with the Defence Department to administer all military common supply and service activities. The military services feared that such an agency would be less responsive to military requirements and jeopardize the success of military operations. Congress, however, remained concerned about the Hoover Commission’s indictment of waste and inefficiencies in the military services. To avoid having Congress take the matter away from the military entirely, DoD reversed its position. The solution proposed and approved by the Secretary of Defence was to appoint “single managers” for a selected group of common supply and service activities.

Under a Defence directive approved by the Assistant Secretary of Defence for Supply and Logistics, the Secretary of Defence would formally appoint one of the three service secretaries as single manager for selected group of commodities or common service activities. The Army managed food and clothing; the Navy managed medical supplies, petroleum, and industrial parts; and the Air Force managed electronic items. In each category, the single manager was able to reduce his investment by centralizing wholesale stocks, and to simplify the supply process by persuading the services to adopt the same standard items. Over a six-year period, the single manager agencies reduced their item assignments by about 9,000, or 20 percent, and their inventories by about $800 million, or 30 percent. Proposals were soon made to extend this concept to other commodities. The single manager concept was the most significant advance toward integrated supply management within DoD or the military services since World War II.

The Defence Cataloguing and Standardisation Act led to the creation of the first Federal Catalogue, completed in 1956. The federal catalogue system provided an organised and systematic approach for describing an item of supply, assigning and recording a unique identifying number, and providing information on the item to the system’s users. The initial catalogue, containing about 3.5 million items, was a rough draft, full of duplications and errors, but it effectively highlighted the areas where standardisation was feasible and necessary.

Defence Supply Agency (1961 to 1977)

When Secretary of Defence Robert S. McNamara assumed office in the spring of 1961, the first generation of single managers were handling roughly 39,000 items by procedures with which the Services had become familiar. Yet, it was clear that the single manager concept, though successful, did not provide the uniform procedures that the Hoover Commission had recommended. Each single manager operated under the procedures of its parent service, and customers had to use as many sets of procedures as there were commodity managers. Secretary McNamara was convinced that the problem required some kind of an organisational arrangement to “manage the managers”. On 23 March 1961, he convened a panel of high-ranking Defence officials, and directed them to study alternative plans for improving DOD-wide organisation for integrated supply management, a task designated as “Project 100.” The committee’s report highlighted the principal weaknesses of the multiple-single-manager supply system.

After much debate among the service chiefs and secretaries, on 31 August 1961, Secretary McNamara announced the establishment of a separate common supply and service agency known as the Defence Supply Agency (DSA). The new agency was formally established on 01 October 1961, under the command of Lieutenant General Andrew T. McNamara (no relation to Robert McNamara). McNamara, an energetic and experienced Army logistician who had served as Quartermaster General, rapidly pulled together a small staff and set up operations in the worn Munitions Building in Washington, D.C. A short time later, he moved his staff into more suitable facilities at Cameron Station in Alexandria, Virginia.

When the agency formally began operations on 01 January 1962, it controlled six commodity-type and two service-type single managers:

  1. Defence Clothing & Textile Supply Centre, (formerly the Philadelphia Quartermaster Depot);
  2. Defence Construction Supply Centre, Columbus, Ohio;
  3. Defence General Supply Centre, Richmond, Virginia;
  4. Defence Medical Supply Centre, Brooklyn, New York;
  5. Defence Petroleum Supply Centre, Washington, D.C.;
  6. Defence Subsistence Supply Centre, Chicago, Illinois;
  7. Defence Traffic Management Service, Washington, D.C.; and
  8. Defence Logistics Services Centre, Washington, D.C.

Officials estimated that the consolidation of these functions under DSA and subsequent unified operations would allow them to reduce the workforce by 3,300 people and save more than $30 million each year. The results far exceeded these expectations. The agency, made up primarily of civilians but with military from all the services, would administer the Federal Catalogue Programme, the Defence Standardisation Programme, the Defence Utilisation Programme, and the Surplus Personal Property Disposal Programme.

During the first six months, two additional single managers – the Defence Industrial Supply Centre in Philadelphia and the Defence Automotive Supply Centre in Detroit, Michigan – came under DSA control, as did the Defence Electronic Supply Centre, Dayton, Ohio. By 01 July 1962, the agency included 11 field organisations, employed 16,500 people, and managed 45 facilities. The Defence Industrial Plant Equipment Centre, a new activity, was established under the agency in March 1963 to handle storage, repair, and redistribution of idle equipment. By late June 1963 the agency was managing over one million different items in nine supply centres with an estimated inventory of $2.5 billion. On 01 July 1965, the Defence Subsistence Supply Centre, Defence Clothing Supply Centre, and Defence Medical Supply Centre were merged to form the Defence Personnel Support Centre in Philadelphia.

The DSA was tested almost immediately with the Cuban Missile Crisis and the military build-up in Vietnam. Supporting US forces in Vietnam was the most severe, extensive test of the supply system in the young agency’s history. The agency launched an accelerated procurement program to meet the extra demand created by the military build-up in Southeast Asia. The agency’s supply centres responded in record time to orders for everything from boots and lightweight tropical uniforms to food, sandbags, construction materials, and petroleum products. Between 1965 and 1969 over 22 million short tons of dry cargo and over 14 million short tons of bulk petroleum were transported to Vietnam. As a result of support to the operations in Vietnam, DSA’s total procurement soared to $4 billion in fiscal year 1966 and $6.2 billion in fiscal year 1967. Until the mid-1960s, the demand for food was largely for non-perishables, both canned and dehydrated. But in 1966, thousands of portable walk-in, refrigerated storage boxes filled with perishable beef, eggs, fresh fruits and vegetables began arriving in Vietnam, a logistics miracle.

As the build-up continued in Southeast Asia, on 01 January 1963, the agency acquired Army general depots at Columbus, Ohio, and Tracy, California, and the Navy depot at Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. Acquisition of Army depots at Memphis, Tennessee, and Ogden, Utah, on 01 January 1964, completed the DSA depot network.

In addition to the depot mission, the agency became responsible for administering most Defence contracts – both those awarded by DSA and by the military services. In 1965, the Defence Department consolidated most of the contract administration activities of the military services to avoid duplication of effort and provide uniform procedures in administering contracts. Officials established the Defence Contract Administration Services (DCAS) within DSA to manage the consolidated functions. The agency’s new contract administration mission gave it responsibility for the performance of most defence contractors, including some new weapon systems and their components. Yet, the services retained contract administration of state-of-the-art weapon systems.

The expanded contract administration mission significantly altered the shape of DSA. The agency that had begun operations three years earlier with more than 9% of its resources devoted to supply operations had evolved to one almost evenly divided between supply support and logistics services. As part of a streamlining effort, in 1975, the eleven DCAS regions were reduced to nine. The following year, officials reorganised the DCAS field structure to eliminate the intermediate command supervisory levels known as DCAS districts.

As the move to consolidate Defence contracting progressed, a congressional report in 1972 recommended centralizing the disposal of DoD property for better accountability. In response, on 12 September 1972, DSA established the Defence Property Disposal Service (later renamed the Defence Reutilisation and Marketing Service) at the Michigan Battle Creek Federal Centre, (now renamed the Hart-Dole-Inouye Federal Centre) as a primary-level field activity.

During 1972 and 1973, the agency’s responsibilities extended overseas when it assumed responsibility for defence overseas property disposal operations and worldwide procurement, management, and distribution of coal and bulk petroleum products (1972), and worldwide management of food items for troop feeding and in support of commissaries (1973). One dramatic example of the agency’s overseas support role was during the Middle East crisis in October 1973 when it was called upon to deliver, on an urgent basis, a wide range of vitally needed military equipment. Responsibilities for subsistence management were expanded in 1976 and 1977 with improvements required in the current wholesale management system and the assumption of major responsibilities in the DoD Food Service Programme. By 1977, the agency had expanded from an agency that administered a handful of single manager supply agencies to one that had a dominant role in logistics functions throughout the Defence Department.

Defence Logistics Agency (Since 1977)

In recognition of 16 years of growth and greatly expanded responsibilities, on 01 January 1977, officials changed the name of the Defence Supply Agency to the Defence Logistics Agency (DLA). The next decade was a period of continued change and expanded missions. Officials published a revised agency charter in June 1978. Major revisions included a change in reporting channels directed by the Secretary of Defence which placed the agency under the management, direction, and control of the Assistant Secretary of Defence for Manpower, Reserve Affairs, and Logistics.

As part of various organisational changes during this period, officials eliminated depot operations at the Defence Electronics Supply Centre in 1979 and began stocking electronic material at depots closer to the using military activities. The Defence Industrial Plant Equipment Centre was phased out in the late 1980s when responsibility for managing the Defence Department’s reserve of industrial plant equipment was transferred to the Defence General Supply Centre in Richmond, Virginia.

Another major mission came in July 1988 when, by presidential order, the agency assumed management of the nation’s stockpile of strategic materials from the General Services Administration. Soon after, DLA established the Defence National Stockpile Centre as a primary-level field activity. In 1989, the military services were directed to transfer one million consumable items to DLA for management.

The 1980s brought other changes as well. On 01 October 1986, the Goldwater-Nichols Reorganisation Act identified DLA as a combat support agency and required that the selection of the DLA Director be approved by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The act also directed the Office of the Secretary of Defence to study the functions and organisational structure of DLA to determine the most effective and economical means of providing required services to its customers. It helped the agency’s mission evolve from functional concerns (e.g. inventory management, contract administration) to operational concerns (e.g. enhancement of materiel readiness and sustainability of the military services and the unified and specified commands).

Further implementation of reorganisation recommendations, especially from the Goldwater-Nichols Act, resulted from Secretary of Defence Richard Cheney’s Defence Management Review report to the President in July 1989. The report emphasized improving management efficiencies in the Defence Department by “cutting excess infrastructure, eliminating redundant functions and initiating common business practices”. After the implementation of the Defence Management Review decisions, DLA assumed some of the military services’ responsibilities, such as inventory management and distribution functions.

A Defence Management Review-directed study recommended the consolidation of DoD contract management. Although DLA had received responsibility for administering most defence contracts in 1965, the military services had retained responsibility for administering most major weapons systems and overseas contracts. On 06 February 1990, DoD directed that virtually all contract administration functions be consolidated within DLA. In response, the agency established the Defence Contract Management Command (DCMC), absorbing its Defence Contract Administration Services into the new command. The military services retained responsibility for contracts covering shipbuilding and ammunition plants. In June, however, the services’ responsibility (5,400 personnel and 100,000 contracts valued at $400 million) for managing the majority of weapons systems contracts was transferred to the Defence Contract Management Command.

Reorganising for the 1990s

During the 1990s, the agency’s role in supporting military contingencies and humanitarian assistance operations grew dramatically. Operation Desert Shield began in August 1990 in response to an Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Soon after President George Bush announced the involvement of the US military, the agency was at the centre of the effort to support the deployment to the Middle East and later the war. In those first critical months, most of the supplies transported to Saudi Arabia – from bread to boots, from nerve gas antidote to jet fuel – came from DLA stock. During this operation and the subsequent Operation Desert Storm, the agency provided the military services with over $3 billion of food, clothing, textiles, medical supplies, and weapons system repair parts in response to over 2 million requisitions. The mission execution included providing supply support, contract management, and technical and logistics services to all military services, unified commands, and several allied nations. The quality of supply support that DLA provided American combat forces during these operations earned it the Joint Meritorious Unit Award (JMUA) in 1991.

DLA support continued in the Middle East long after most US forces had redeployed. As part of Operation Provide Comfort, in April 1991 the agency provided over $68 million of food, clothing, textiles, and medical supplies to support a major land and air relief operation designed to aid refugees – mostly Kurds in Iraq.

DLA supported other contingency operations as well. In October 1994 DLA deployed an initial element to support operations in Haiti and established its first Contingency Support Team. In December 1995, the first element of a DLA Contingency Support Team deployed to Hungary to coordinate the delivery of needed agency supplies and services to US military units deployed in Bosnia and other NATO forces. Closer to home, the agency supported relief efforts after Hurricane Andrew in Florida (1992) and Hurricane Marilyn in the US Virgin Islands (1995).

An even more dominant theme for the 1990s was the agency’s efforts to reorganise so that it could support the war fighter more effectively and efficiently. In August 1990, Defence Contract Management Regions Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia were re-designated as Defence Contract Management Districts South, Northeast, North Central, West, and Mid Atlantic respectively. Defence Contract Management Regions Cleveland, Dallas, New York City, and St. Louis were disestablished. Defence Contract Management Districts Mid Atlantic and North Central were disestablished in May 1994.

Throughout the 1990s the agency continued its effort to eliminate managerial and stockage duplication, reducing overhead costs. In April 1990 Secretary Cheney directed that all the distribution depots of the military services and DLA be consolidated into a single, unified materiel distribution system to reduce overhead and costs and designated DLA to manage it. The consolidation began in October 1990 and was completed 16 March 1992. The system consisted of 30 depots at 32 sites with 62 storage locations, which stored over 8.7 million spare parts, subsistence, and other consumable items worth $127 billion in 788 million square feet (73 km²) of storage. Until September 1997, two regional offices – Defence Distribution Region East (DDRE) in New Cumberland, Pennsylvania, and Defence Distribution Region West (DDRW) in Stockton, California, managed a vast network of distribution depots within their respective geographic boundaries. They later merged into Defence Distribution Centre, New Cumberland.

The Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process instituted in 1993 significantly affected the way the agency organised for its contract administration and supply distribution missions. As a result of BRAC 1993, officials merged, realigned, or closed several DLA primary-level field activities. Specifically, they closed two of the five contract management districts and Defence Electronics Supply Centre. Defence Distribution Depot Charleston, Defence Distribution Depot Oakland, and the Tooele Facility, Defence Distribution Depot Ogden, Utah, were disestablished. Defence General Supply Centre became Defence Supply Centre, Richmond. In response to BRAC 1993, in 1996 officials merged the former Defence Construction Supply Centre Columbus and the former Defence Electronic Supply Centre Dayton to form Defence Supply Centre Columbus. On 03 July 1999, Defence Industrial Supply Centre was disestablished and merged with Defence Personnel Support Centre (DPSC) to form the new Defence Supply Centre Philadelphia. Also on 27 March 2000, Defence Contract Management Command was renamed Defence Contract Management Agency and established as a separate agency within the DoD to operate more efficiently.

Meanwhile, DLA headquarters underwent a major reorganisation. In March 1993, the agency re-engineered its headquarters to form integrated business units for Supply Management, Distribution, and Contract Management. As a result, only 6 organisations, rather than 42, would report directly to the Director. In 1995 the DLA headquarters and Defence Fuel Supply Centre (renamed Defence Energy Support Centre (DESC) in January 1998) moved from Cameron Station to Fort Belvoir, Virginia. In October 1996, Defence Printing Services, renamed Defence Automated Printing Service (DAPS), transferred to DLA. In late December 1997 and early January 1998, the headquarters was again realigned, and the agency’s Defence Materiel Management Directorate became Defence Logistics Support Command under Rear Admiral David P. Keller.

In November 1995, DLA launched a $1 billion project called the Business Systems Modernisation (BSM) programme to replace the Defence Department’s cache of aging procurement software programmes with a DoD-wide standard automated procurement system that supported electronic commerce. The EMall (electronic mall) approach to ordering supplies was developed in 1993, before many organisations were using the internet for electronic commerce. In 1996 the agency received a JMUA for saving DoD and the taxpayer $6.3 billion by using EMall but a 2004 GAO report questioned the value of the programme. Since its establishment in 1961, the agency has successfully standardised, procured, managed, and distributed DoD consumable items throughout the military services, thus eliminating wasteful duplication. The agency assumed a major logistics role previously performed by the military services. The reorganisation, move to electronic commerce, and other changes in the 1990s better positioned the agency to support the war fighter in the next century.


DLA is headquartered in Fort Belvoir, Virginia. contains numerous offices responsible for supporting the overall agency.

The agency has several major subordinate activities operating in the field:

  • DLA Aviation, headquartered in Richmond, Virginia, primarily supplies aircraft parts and expertise.
  • DLA Disposition Services, based in Battle Creek, Michigan, helps the military dispose of excess items.
    • In addition to typical military materiel, such as vehicles and uniforms, Disposition Services also helps the military donate computers to primary schools, through the DoD Computers for Learning programme.
    • Refer to the Law Enforcement Support Office (LESO).
  • DLA Distribution, headquartered in New Cumberland, Pennsylvania, transports and stores items for DOD and other customers.
  • DLA Energy provides fuel for aircraft, ships, and even the US space programme, as well as commercial space exploration.
    • It has also provided helium for the US Border Patrol surveillance aerostats.
  • DLA Troop Support, headquartered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, supplies uniforms, meals, medical, construction equipment, and other items to deployed military members.
    • It also supports the US Department of Agriculture, and helps provide fresh fruits and vegetables for some US primary schools and eligible Indian reservations.
  • DLA Land and Maritime, headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, provides parts and maintenance for military ground vehicles and some ships.

DLA also operates three full-time organisations embedded with three Combatant Commands (COCOMs) of the US military:

  • DLA Europe & Africa.
  • DLA Indo-Pacific.

DLA Police

DLA has its own police department that provides police services, physical security, emergency response and counter-terrorism protection.

DLA Police Officers are federal officers who were trained at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Centre (FLETC) (in Georgia) or at the Army Civilian Police Academy (ACPA) (in Missouri) and then further on-the-job training.

DLA Police Officers wear a dark-blue typical city-style police uniform, with a ‘campaign hat’ and are armed with a Beretta 92 pistol. Officers can be promoted up through the ranks.

Civilian Award

The Defence Logistics Agency Civilian Award is a medal awarded to civilian employees of the United States Department of Defence working worldwide and supporting the logistical needs of the Department of Defence.

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