Warfighter Support: DOD Has Made Progress, but Supply and Distribution Challenges Remain in Afghanistan

October 7, 2011

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. 

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