News: DLA field activities continue warfighter support despite government shutdown
Story by Amanda Neumann
WASHINGTON - With more than 27,000 employees worldwide, the Defense Logistics Agency’s most essential mission is to support American warfighters. When the federal government shutdown threatened to jeopardize that mission in early October, senior officials across the agency’s six field activities quickly sprang into action.
During the 16-day shutdown, DLA had four critical focus points: keep taking care of employees, keep customers informed, work with suppliers to ensure uninterrupted support and, most importantly, continue the mission despite any challenges brought on by the shutdown.
As a Department of Defense working capital fund organization, the agency's operating expenses are funded by money made through customer purchases, allowing it to continue to operate temporarily, DLA Human Resources Director Brad Bunn wrote in an Oct. 1 message to the workforce.
“Although DLA will continue to operate, we are taking steps to curtail expenditures on efforts that are not absolutely mission-critical (i.e., non-mission essential travel, training, overtime/compensatory time, and other non-mission essential support costs),” Bunn wrote in his message. “These cash conservation steps will assist DLA in maintaining a solid financial footing and allow us to continue supporting our customers.”
With personnel actions under tight scrutiny, DLA Distribution quickly implemented a resource board to review its employee hiring and overtime requests, said Stacy Umstead, public affairs officer for DLA Distribution. Still operating in place post-shutdown, the board, which includes directors from DLA Distribution headquarters, as well as employees from DLA Human Resources and DLA Finance, continues to provide guidance regarding overtime and hiring requests.
Due to the potential for furloughs, DLA Aviation held informative seminars for employees on how to deal with financial issues, said Air Force Brig. Gen. Mark Johnson, commander of DLA Aviation.
“In advance of the furlough, as part of our preparation, we sought to inform our employees as much as possible,” he said. “We held both Web-based and live seminars on how to save money and cut personal costs and how to manage stress, and we utilized the Employee Assistance Program for personal counseling.”
In DLA Disposition Services, employees not only focused on taking care of the mission, they also focused on caring for other employees, said Twila Gonzales, former director of DLA Disposition Services and current DLA Distribution deputy commander.
“My main takeaway during the [sequestration-related furloughs during the summer] and subsequent government shutdown was how our team members took care of each other,” she said. “We stopped all overtime, nearly eliminated travel and continued our hiring freeze, ... [but] our workforce clearly understood why these measures were taken and continued to perform brilliantly. I was moved to hear stories from our sites about how people were taking care of each other. One person contacted me directly to see if there were people in need. I [later] learned she sent gift cards to people who needed help through their tough times. I am still moved today to think about that example of selfless service.”
In addition to taking care of its employees, taking care of DLA Disposition Services’ customers remained a high priority, Gonzales said.
“[DLA Disposition Services] received no customer complaints about lack of support during the furlough period,” she said. “It was a testament to how we took care of our customers. People handling property, people working face to face with customers and our team leaders pulled together to make sure critical support was provided when needed.”
In DLA Aviation, coordinating work schedules with the furloughed military service employees helped better serve customers, Johnson said.
“Our six industrial support activities worked closely with their customers at the air logistics complexes and fleet readiness centers to support their maintenance operations when they were working, adjusting to their reduced schedules,” he said. “Furthermore, DLA Aviation had recently fielded inventory management and stock positioning in San Diego supporting [Fleet Readiness Center] Southwest. In order to provide post-production support, DLA Aviation matched our employee furlough days, where needed, to our customers' furlough days to continue support. In DLA Aviation Mapping, we did our best to mitigate delays to our non-DoD customers who experienced a slightly longer customer wait time due to the furlough’s impact on the National Geospatial Agency's control and release process.”
To ensure uninterrupted support to suppliers, DLA Troop Support worked diligently with its vendors, including one that couldn't afford to go without pay during the shutdown.
The new vendor, which had just started supporting military activities in southern Europe in August, had been relying on other sub-contractors to provide support to its Navy customers in Souda Bay, Greece, and all of the military operations in Turkey. But, with the vendor and sub-contractors being small businesses and with the shutdown occurring relatively early in their implementation, neither had the available funds to continue to support those customers without payment, said Kevin Dupuis, contracting officer for DLA Troop Support Europe & Africa.
“By not paying them, we risked not getting service to our customers,” he said. “Working together with [DLA Troop Support’s] Philadelphia office, the vendor was able to get paid and the customer continued to receive their fresh fruits and vegetables during the shutdown.”
For military customers, the government shutdown meant fuel could only be purchased with specific funds and could only be used for activities authorized to continue in the absence of appropriation authority, known as excepted activities, said Kathryn Fantasia, an executive adviser in DLA Energy.
“Fuel is listed as an exception, meaning you can use fuel for certain things but not for other things,” she said. “So [the military could only] make its purchases from DLA Energy using appropriated money. Then it came down to what the fuel was being used for, whether it was an excepted activity or not, and that was the military’s decision.”
As the shutdown continued, communication with vendors became even more essential as DLA Finance decided to delay payments to vendors for up to 21 days. In DLA Energy, an Oct. 9 town hall was held for suppliers to update them on the status of the agency, said Gabby Earhardt, director of supplier operations in DLA Energy.
“We had the actual call with about 100 suppliers,” she said. “On the call, [Air Force Brig. Gen. Giovanni Tuck, DLA Energy commander] said we appreciated their support during this fiscal environment. We explained that we operated through a defense working capital fund, what that meant and that we were taking measures to keep the working capital fund solvent. The other point we talked about was a delay in payments [to them] that was starting that week. From a contractual standpoint, there wasn’t any change to their contracts. We just ensured them that they would get paid and we would be paying with interest.”
To help keep dialogue open, DLA Energy also held a Sept. 26 supervisor town hall, an Oct. 9 meeting with its three military service control points, and an Oct. 17 DLA Energy employee all-hands meeting, Earhardt said.
To help ease concerns over payment delays, DLA Land and Maritime also worked closely with its vendors, said Navy Rear Adm. David Pimpo, DLA Land and Maritime commander.
“While the government shutdown did not affect DLA Land and Maritime to the extent seen by our service partners, the event did give our workforce and vendor base quite a bit of trepidation and anxiety,” he said. “The vendor base … was also affected by the shutdown due to temporary delay of payments stemming from the government shutdown. In turn, DLA Land and Maritime acquisition personnel worked closely with our vendor base to alleviate their concerns and, when necessary, steps were taken to accelerate payment to vendors on a case-by-case basis.”
In addition to helping vendors, DLA Land and Maritime maintained a close watch on its shipyard sites, Pimpo said.
“We developed a list of capabilities and subsequent manpower required to continue supporting the acquisition of [repair part] spares,” he said. “In turn, we actively worked with our [repair depots] and shipyard sites to gauge the impact of the government shutdown on their activities and subsequently matched our manpower and capabilities, mirroring the level of support required to meet their workload and production expectations.”
Johnson said the hard work and effort of DLA Aviation employees echoes the entire agency’s efforts.
“DLA Aviation did a terrific job supporting our customers despite the fiscal constraints placed upon DoD this year, including sequestration and furloughs,” he said. “I couldn't be prouder of the workforce, who truly came together and met the challenges of the furlough head on, delivering great support to our customers, as they always do without hesitation.”
With DLA’s finances being carefully monitored, the agency was able to weather the shutdown, which ended Oct. 17, with minimal impact, said Carol O’Leary, director of DLA Finance-Energy.
“We did everything we could to conserve cash and prioritized so warfighter support was kept at the top,” she said. “Because the situation was changing every day, there were a lot of phone calls from customers and contractors who wanted to know, what is the status? Can we buy fuel? We don’t have money to pay for it so how do we do that? And we worked a lot of those issues in [DLA] Finance and in the customer operations side. So, was it stressful? Yes. Did we do things that we otherwise wouldn’t have done, like cancel a lot of [temporary duty travel]? Of course we did. There were actions taken but [they were] minimal compared to [agencies that had to shut down more operations]. So we were lucky.”