In a biting November 2013 report drawing on testimonials from dozens of current and former Defense Department officials, Reuters’ Scot Paltrow asserts that the Pentagon’s supply lines are in a state of disrepair. According to Paltrow, defense agencies are struggling to forecast demand for the billions of dollars in weapons to the extent that certain combat units deployed overseas experience frequent equipment shortages, while others face the dubious task of disposing of unnecessary, excess supplies. Meanwhile fraud, waste, and abuse go unchecked.
Critics of the Pentagon’s logistics programs are quick to point out that the consequences of this dysfunction aren’t just financial; they threaten the very readiness of U.S. forces at home and abroad. Current Defense Department officials, perhaps grudgingly, also tend to agree.
Government Business Council released a study in December 2014, A 360 Degree View of Defense Logistics, drawn from survey responses from over 300 current DoD officials and uniformed military officers. 86 percent acknowledge that DoD’s logistics challenges are impacting the military’s readiness. 25 percent state that the impact is “severe.”
Echoing charges leveled by the Reuters report, 80 percent say their unit has experienced materiel or equipment shortages as a result of supply chain disruptions within the last year. Conversely, 67 percent say their unit has been forced to dispose of unnecessary equipment due to excess inventories.
When asked to provide more granularity on the factors that contribute to supply chain risk and result in disruptions, respondents consistently cite the ineffective data management systems currently in use by defense agencies. These systems -- the majority of which would be considered hopelessly outdated in the private sector -- often lack seemingly commonplace features that would allow users to search for data, combine historical data with current information to conduct trend analysis, or even to communicate with systems used by other defense agencies.
As a result, only 25 percent of DoD officials express confidence in their unit’s ability to draw insights from the supply chain data it collects, and only 26 percent are confident in their ability to reliably forecast demand for materiel and equipment. As one respondent put it simply: “forecasting is terrible.”
As Ashton B. Carter, President Obama’s choice to succeed Chuck Hagel, takes the helm at the Pentagon, he will have just over two years to prepare his department for an ambitious audit readiness deadline in 2017. But having spent more than two years as DoD’s chief weapons procurer prior to his tenure as Deputy Secretary, Carter's expertise and experience might make him the best possible candidate to address the department's onerous logistical challenges.