GAO: Serious freight logistics woes linger in Iraq war
A U.S. Government Accounting Office official told Congress in a recent report that while American military forces were largely successful in the war in Iraq, serious transportation logistics problems lingered.
Compared to previous military engagements, Operation Iraqi Freedom is considered one of the largest logistics supply and support actions in U.S. history. Of the $28.1 billion spent on the war, $14.2 billion covered operating support costs and $4.9 billion was spent on transportation.
At the request of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, GAO began studying the logistics activities of the war in April. The agency visited logistics support operations in Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar, and met with senior military officials in the United States and Europe.
“Although major combat operations during the initial phases of OIF (Operation Iraqi Freedom) were successful, our preliminary work indicated that there were substantial logistics support problems in the OIF theater,” wrote William M. Solis, GAO’s director of defense capabilities and management, in his report.
The GAO report pointed out:
* A “backlog” in “hundreds” of containers and pallets of material at various distribution points.
* A discrepancy of $1.2 billion between the amount the Army shipped for OIF and what was received for those activities in the field.
* A potential cost of the Defense Department in millions of dollars to cover leased container late fees and replacement of lost Defense Department-owned boxes.
* “Cannibalization” of equipment because of insufficient parts availability for repairs.
* Duplication of equipment orders and circumventions of the supply chain.
* Accumulation of containers and pallets in Kuwait, and improperly documented cargo.
The GAO contributed these logistics problems largely to poor asset visibility, insufficient distribution capability, and failure to apply “lessons learned” from previous military operations.
In one case, the Defense Department’s U.S. Central Command issued a policy requiring the use of radio frequency identification tags to track shipments to Iraq and within the war zone.
“These tags were not used in a uniform and consistent manner,” Solis wrote. “In addition, units operating in the theater did not have adequate access to, or could not fully use, DOD’s logistics and asset visibility systems in order to track equipment and supplies because these systems were not fully interoperable and capable of exchanging information or transmitting data over required distances.”
The GAO report concluded that not much was learned by the military in the area of asset management since Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in the early 1990s. “Based on the preliminary observations from our current work, it appears that the same or similar problems continue to exist in OIF,” he said.
The GAO will provide Congress with a complete report on its logistics findings in this recent Iraq war in 2004.
Meanwhile, U.S. Transportation Command officials vow to clean up distribution problems. “When everyone in the pipeline can see what’s in it, performance to customer improves; the warfighter’s confidence in sustainment increases; suppliers assume financial risks based on real consumption and eliminated duplications in services save taxpayer money,” said TRANSCOM commander Gen. John W. Handy in a recent statement.
TRANSCOM has so far moved more than 2.75 million tons of cargo in support of the global war on terrorism.