Inventory Management
Sep 15, 2012

More than $80 billion in non-military aid has been given by the U.S. to Afghanistan in the past 10 years alone. Faced with the daunting task of accounting for this aid in a corrupt Afghan environment, U.S. forces are using a unique inventory management system to ensure American supplies reach their intended destination.

With Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent official designation of Afghanistan as a “major non-NATO ally” of the United States, the stage is set for continued cooperation between the two countries, as well as priority delivery of military hardware and aid, even as international troops are on a path to withdraw by the end of 2014.

The problem is, with the level of corruption present in Afghanistan, much of the $80 billion in aid delivered so far was unaccounted for. Fortunately, an inventory management system specified by the U.S. Department of Defense, the same as used by manufacturers throughout the United States to manage inventories, is now providing accurate tracking of a portion of that U.S. aid, helping to ensure it that it reaches its target destination.

In a country with as much corruption and rivalry as Afghanistan, tracking U.S. aid and ensuring that it reaches its intended recipients is no small challenge. First, there are ethnic rivalries among groups such as the Pashtuns, Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras, as well as between local tribal leaders and other authorities. There are also military pressures from the Taliban, compounded by a weak central government. Finally, up to half the economy is allegedly based on an illegal opium trade which supports criminal and insurgent elements.

Tracking aid to Afghanistan has been a challenge, as referenced in an August 2009 U.S. Department of Defense Inspector General report “Afghanistan Security Forces Fund Phase III – Accountability for Equipment Purchased for the Afghanistan National Army.” The report set out to determine “whether the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan (CSTC-A) could account for equipment purchased with the Afghan Security Forces Fund to support the Afghanistan National Army (ANA),” and whether CSTC-A properly transferred accountability for the equipment to the ANA.

Inventory software tracks U.S. aid to Afghanistan

“We identified internal control weaknesses in CSTC-A’s accounting for vehicles and radios provided to the ANA,” states the report. “CSTC-A did not have complete serialized inventory records of all vehicles and radios purchased for the ANA. Basic inventory controls were not established as required by DoD guidance, and therefore CSTC-A could not account for vehicles and radios in storage planned for transfer to the ANA.”

The report went on to say “We identified internal control weaknesses in the transfer of the equipment to the ANA. Specifically, CSTC-A lacked a formal process to transfer the accountability and physical control of vehicles and radios to the ANA in accordance with DoD guidance.”

While the U.S. Department of Defense had selected an automated inventory management system called CoreIMS to use in ANA Depots 1 and 2, it was not yet being used to its full capability. The software system by CorePartners, a Maryland-based computer software engineering company, had initially been selected by the U.S. Army in 2004 in conjunction with its Rapid Fielding Initiative, and had later been rolled out for use in the U.S., Kuwait, Iraq, then Afghanistan.

The commercial off-the-shelf inventory management system for small to medium-sized warehouses was adapted to fit the needs of the ANA, covering requirements from purchasing through receiving, managing inventory, orders, and shipping. Intended to streamline all aspects of ­inventory management, the software allows the user to manage vendor and customer contact information in one system, and can generate reports with customized management information. However, its full potential was not being realized by users.

According to the report, CSTC-A only tracked items allocated rather than each item received, and did not record the unique item identifiers such as VINs and serial numbers in the management software. “Instead, VINs were recorded in spreadsheets not connected to the inventory management system. ANA Depot 1 personnel did not record serial numbers for radios until the radios were allocated and prepared for issue to the ANA,” noted the Inspector General.

“Use of the hardcopy documents instead of CoreIMS, was inefficient and ineffective for tracking and accounting ­individual pieces of equipment,” continues the report, citing examples.

The report outlined a number of ­recommendations to improve inventory management and accountability. These included: “a wall-to-wall physical inventory of all equipment at ANA Depots 1 and 2 to establish a reliable baseline in the inventory management system; reconcile radio shipping and receiving documentation; use the Core Inventory Management System as the ­official system to track vehicles and radios issued to the ANA; and enter vehicle ­identification numbers for radios into the official inventory management system at the time the equipment is delivered.”

These recommendations were successfully implemented in March 2009. “Additionally, acceptance inspections and inventory for all U.S. contracted communications equipment and supplies are conducted at destination (Depot 1) which includes annotation of type, quantity, storage location, and serial number; information is recorded by U.S. military members and input into CoreIMS.”

Recently, ANA officers from Depot 1 conducted Core IMS training at Forward Operating Base Lightning, to help expedite the transition from a largely manual warehouse system to a completely automated warehouse management system.

The training provided real-time controls for receiving, storage, and material issue procedures. Built-in reports streamline warehouse management, general inquiry, and problem resolution.

Unlike more complex systems that can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars yet may use only a small part of their capabilities, CoreIMS is designed to be a flexible, easy to learn and use warehouse management system that offers accountability at a fraction of the cost. The automated system is capable of tracking how every item is shipped, received, stored, moved, issued, and returned, including details such as who did the issuing and why.

Information can be retrieved in seconds with just a few mouse clicks from any connected monitor and is designed for environments where there may be high personnel turnover, such as for frequent staff rotations. A multi-lingual version in English and Dari is also available.

All involved are now confident that the system is now being used effectively.

Peter Oykhman is the President of CorePartners, Inc.
© FrontLine Defence 2012