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: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    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: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    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: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    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: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    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: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    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: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    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: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    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: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    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: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    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: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    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: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    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: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    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: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    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: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    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: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    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: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    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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