Sustaining Supply Chain Precision Amidst Pandemic
The U.S. Naval Supply Systems Command Weapon Systems Support (NAVSUP WSS) is balancing supply chain and audit readiness despite enhanced DoD safety measures during the COVID-19 outbreak.
By Brian Jones, NAVSUP Weapon Systems Support
From Armor & Mobility, October 2020
At the U.S. Navy’s single Program Support Inventory Control Point, the 2,500 employees of U.S. Naval Systems Command Weapon Systems Support (NAVSUP WSS)manage an inventory worth more than $36 billion in support of the weapon systems that keep Naval forces mission ready.
May marked a change in leadership at NAVSUP WSS as Rear Adm. Doug Noble took the helm from Rear Adm. Duke Heinz.
“NAVSUP WSS’ accomplishments over the past several years have been amazing,” said Noble. “My goal is to build upon this legacy of success – sustaining the fantastic work already begun while exploring opportunities to take our culture of excellence and our performance to new levels.”
Ensuring Inspection-Ready Processes 24-7
What hasn’t changed is NAVSUP WSS’ focus on supporting the warfighter through effective end-to-end supply chain management and auditability.
Auditing is a necessary tool for evaluating an organization’s fiscal health. It is especially critical for NAVSUP WSS, where audits provide opportunities to ensure policies and practices provide proper accountability of one of the largest supply chains in the world managing more than 375,000 line items and executing more than 40,000 contract actions a year.
In 2018, NAVSUP WSS established an Inventory Operations Center while also implementing multiple audit-related initiatives. Among these initiatives was an oversight testing program that inspected more than 100 Navy ERP “plants” or material receiving, issuing and storing locations. In addition, the command developed, trained and implemented improved internal controls and expanded the Fleet Logistics Centers’ role in material accountability to increase the capacity and capability of oversight testing and audit support.
“Audit and NAVSUP WSS cannot stand independently; they are one in the same,” said Lynn Kohl, NAVSUP WSS vice commander. “Everything we do with inventory management, inventory auditability and accountability should be ingrained in every process we have.”
In addition to being ingrained in every process, audit should be rooted in every member of the NAVSUP WSS team according to Noble.
“Audit isn’t some obscure bookkeeping that only the folks in the comptroller shop worry about. It should be something everyone worries about, because we all have a part to play,” said Noble. “We’re responsible for the Navy Working Capital Fund and wholesale inventory that supports our operational partners, supports the warfighters and provides flight line readiness. Audit is the way of making sure we have good accountability and controls over our $36 billion inventory.”
Logistics as a Weapon
Noble views NAVSUP WSS as a weapon system delivering a payload of logistics readiness. That weapon system is powered by the professionals who accomplish the mission day in and day out.
“Professionals welcome scrutiny, and audit is a tremendous opportunity for an independent assessment,” according to Noble. “As a learning organization, we should analyze the findings from audit and recognize them as opportunities to improve.”
The Inventory Operations Center (IOC) and Integrated Supply Chain Control Tower are two platforms NAVSUP WSS utilizes to prepare for audit and ensure the entire supply chain is synchronized.
The NAVSUP WSS IOC is the brain and central nervous system to executing an audit, according to Kohl.
“We’ve put a lot of effort into standing up a robust IOC with the intent of monitoring our controls and executing an audit, as well as, training on any shortcomings that are exposed,” said Kohl.
The IOC has proven invaluable when sustaining a large supply chain.
“NAVSUP manages an inventory that’s positioned worldwide. It’s not stationary inventory. A certain amount of inventory is ready for use, a certain amount is in repair, and a certain amount is in storage,” said Kohl. “The infrastructure that NAVSUP manages is integral to sustainment of all platforms, equipment and systems.”
Ensuring all stakeholders have the same information and are working from the same data is essential to understanding the efficacy of the entire supply chain. NAVSUP WSS, in coordination with NAVAIR, is spinning up the Integrated Supply Chain Control Tower to address this challenge.
“One of the challenges historically is there have been different databases, different systems in different commands. Everyone has different data and perspectives based on that data. That can cause confusion,” said Noble.
The control tower will contain four elements of data evaluating the health of the supply chain at the depot level, on both the organic and vendor sides, as well as, the health of intermediate- and organizational-level repairs, according to Kohl.
“That’s how we are going to integrate everybody’s view of the performance of the supply chain, even though NAVSUP proper is not responsible for the execution of certain parts of the chain. We can still coordinate and facilitate changes to other entities so we can optimize supply chain performance,” said Kohl.
“It’s opening up possibilities to discover opportunities that we may not have caught before, because our processes weren’t agile or nimble enough to get after it,” added Noble. “Now we take advantage of what the control tower offers us to get a better handle on where there are opportunities to improve.”
Supply Chain Health During a Health Crisis
While audit is critical to assessing the effectiveness of NAVSUP WSS’ policies and procedures, it is just as important to understand the health of the command’s suppliers and vendors, the entire supply chain. Gauging the wellbeing of suppliers has been crucial during the COVID-19 pandemic.
NAVSUP WSS’ Strategic Supplier Management team leveraged their existing relationships with the command’s top suppliers sending surveys to evaluate their ability to meet fleet readiness requirements with the challenges of COVID and ensure the safety and continued good health of their employees.
“Early on, we were focused on whether or not they had the necessary Personal Protective Equipment. Did they have the artifacts to support that their employees were part of the Defense Industrial Base? That became the cornerstone of those early surveys,” said Karen Fenstermacher, NAVSUP executive for strategic initiatives.
A key aspect of the surveys was creating a feedback loop so NAVSUP WSS could step in and take action on behalf of the suppliers that were experiencing difficulties.
“If it was PPE-related for example, we worked back through the president’s White House Coronavirus Task Force. There were members of the Defense Logistics Agency on that task force, so they helped align suppliers with contracts to access PPE more readily,” said Fenstermacher.
As suppliers began to adjust and achieve the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control guidelines, the Strategic Supplier Management team shifted the focus of the surveys to the suppliers’ financial health.
“Our connection points back with the Office of the Secretary of Defense and Research, Development and Acquisition became helpful in this regard, because at that time the task force had worked to secure stimulus funding through the CARES Act,” said Fenstermacher. “We provided a number of recommendations on companies that needed help. Several were approved for CARES Act funding.”
Today, more than five months since the pandemic took hold, NAVSUP WSS continues to survey suppliers focused now on what Fenstermacher calls ‘downstream aftershock,’ understanding the effects of COVID-19 on the supplier base.
“What we’re digging into, and it’s not an exact science, is looking at the maritime supplier base and trying to determine if two, three years down the road, given what we know today, who may not be around,” said Fenstermacher. “We are kind of building the calculus as we go.”
This approach to assessing supplier health developed during the pandemic has built the framework to responding to future crises.
“What we learned from the COVID crisis is everybody is important, and every company makes a contribution,” said Fenstermacher. “If another crisis were to come around, we have a solid platform we can spool up quickly.”
Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, NAVSUP WSS continues to be a model of supply chain excellence and audit readiness, a fact acknowledged by the command’s new leader.
“I walked into an organization that had made that transition look easy. It wasn’t easy, and it took a lot of hard work. It’s impressive and something the team should be proud of,” said Noble. “Back in March when this started, who would’ve thought we’d still be managing our way through this? You won’t know all the answers as you start down the path, but that’s OK as long as you’ve got good teamwork, good communication and people evaluating and adjusting as we go.”
NAVSUP WSS is one of 11 commands under Commander, NAVSUP. Headquartered in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, and employing a diverse, worldwide workforce of more than 22,500 military and civilian personnel, NAVSUP’s mission is to provide supplies, services, and quality-of-life support to the Navy and joint warfighter. Learn more at www.navsup.navy.mil, www.facebook.com/navsupwss.