Defense Logistics Agency Ready for Y2K
By Paul Stone
American Forces Press Service
FORT BELVOIR, Va., July 21, 1999 It's probably one of the biggest battles DoD has fought in its war against Y2K, but the millennium bug will not stop the Defense Logistics Agency from delivering whatever, whenever and wherever supplies are needed when 1999 becomes 2000.
That's the assessment from Carla von Bernewitz, DLA chief information officer and Y2K program manager. And that's good news for service members. For as von Bernewitz pointed out, DLA's complex worldwide supply, distribution, logistics and acquisition systems are responsible for delivering nearly every item service members use, whether for combat readiness, emergency preparedness or just day- to-day operations. From food to fuel, from clothing to construction materials, from buttons to bolts and badly needed spare parts, it's all there in the DLA system.
The Year 2000 problem, nicknamed "Y2K" and the "millennium bug," refers to a past computer industry practice of programming years with just two digits -- 1999 would be "99." The shorthand means some computer systems and equipment on Jan. 1, 2000, might read "00" as "1900." The error could generate inaccurate data or even cause systems to shut down. Systems that won't handle the year change correctly must be fixed or replaced; those that will work correctly are called Y2K-compliant.
Von Bernewitz said DLA's early jump on the Y2K problem back in 1995, combined with the agency's top to bottom emphasis on solving any potential Y2K glitches, have resulted in an agency that will be prepared to do business come the Year 2000. The magnitude of the effort is evident in just a few examples of the challenges DLA faced in its battle with Y2K.
- DLA uses 86 standard systems, and for example, just one, the Standard Automated Materiel Management System, contains 30 million lines of coding that had to be checked.
- Some systems are more than 30 years old, making them difficult to fix or repair with automated Y2K repair technology.
- DLA does business with more than 5,000 vendors.
- The agency has offices, depots and supply centers in all 50 states and in Europe and the Pacific region.
- The agency interfaces with all the service branches, right down to the unit level.
Despite the complexity and depth of the Y2K challenge, von Bernewitz said, all 86 of DLA's standard systems have been repaired and certified as Y2K-compliant. The last to be certified, the Electronic Commerce Mall, is also one of DLA's newest initiatives. Begun in 1998, the "E-Mall," as it is known, allows customers right down to the individual units to order supplies over the Internet simply by using a government credit card or standard requisitioning procedures.
The critical need for DLA's systems to function properly into the Year 2000 is a large reason it was a central player in DoD's largest Y2K test ever, conducted from May through July in Fairfax, Va. That test, involving all the services, DLA and logistics systems spread out over 22 locations, was designed specifically to ensure that Year 2000 problems do not prevent delivery of supplies to the troops. DoD plans to release results of the test by the end of July.
The agency even has a "Y2K War Room" filled with complex charts and graphs, all of which depict both the depth of the Y2K challenge and the progress to date.
In addition to the supplies that service members can see and touch, DLA, through the Defense Energy Support Center, also assesses the readiness of electrical power to all U.S. installations. DLA has already assessed all 220 utility companies that serve installations and will continue to track their progress throughout the year.
"Right now there's not an identifiable problem with utility companies, but there are some that haven't been rated 100 percent compliant," von Bernewitz said. DLA is working with Department of Energy, the National Energy Reliability Council and the president's Year 2000 Conversion Council to monitor the progress.
DLA's Y2K compliance is critical not just because it supplies more than 4 million items to the services, but also because DoD has long been out of the business of maintaining huge warehouses of stockpiled items. Instead, much of what the services order is on an "as-needed" basis through what is known at the Prime Vendor program.
Von Bernewitz explained that Prime Vendor allows DLA to contract with one full-service distributor of commercial products, such as for certain food supplies, instead of with individual vendors. The vendor, under a long-term contract, provides all material in a product line to major or regional customers on a "just-in-time" basis, eliminating the need for stockpiles. DLA currently has 58 vendors in the program.
Von Bernewitz said extensive Y2K testing is ongoing with those in the Prime Vendor program. "These vendor tests are not simulations," she emphasized. "They are tests in which we are passing information into their systems and back again. Our goal was to have all these tests done in August. But we're probably going to be slipping into the first few days of September."
She said that even if DLA cannot guarantee the Y2K compliance of all the more than 5,000 vendors it has assessed, that still will not hinder operations. "We have a whole range of options, such as accelerating deliveries," she said.
"For example, let's say there's a critical part that's delivered in an increment of 100 each quarter, and we look and see we have 50 on hand and the next delivery is in September. We might up that order to 200 because we're not confident the vendor would be able to deliver come Jan 1, 2000."
Von Bernewitz said DLA also can provide customers with alternative sources for products and already has a computer model in place that matches alternative parts for specific repair needs.
Indeed, contingency planning and testing has been a large part of DLA's Y2K efforts. The three megacenters running the agency's systems have back-up power supplies. Critical DLA personnel have been provided cellular phones to use in case standard phone service is temporarily interrupted. The contingency plans list has detailed information about DLA operations, including specific points of contact, as well work, home phone and FAX numbers -- anything and everything that will allow DLA customers to continue getting what they need, when they need it.
Although she's confident DLA's systems and contingency plans are in good shape to handle any glitches the millennium bug might still pose, von Bernewitz is still concerned the awareness level of the Y2K problem has reached down far enough.
"Everybody who's working on this has been committed to making sure everything works," she said. "But it's the end user who has to be there on Jan. 1 to work the contingency plans if something fails. By then, Y2K is no longer a technical problem. It's the end users and their ability to implement contingency plans. I don't have a comfort level that everyone understands that yet."
She emphasized that all DLA customers need to be prepared for system failures, Y2K or otherwise. "Systems can fail because of a lightning strike as easily as they can from a Y2K problem. We all have to understand and be able to implement contingency plans at any time."