Over the past decade, the U.S. federal government has deployed more than 10,000 civilians to Iraq and Afghanistan, providing services in logistics, intelligence, stabilization and reconstruction.
Still, the effectiveness of this work force has been impeded by unique demands, limited resources and lack of visibility across deployment operations, or what we call "the deployment chain."
According to John Nagl, president of the Center for a New American Security and member of the Defense Policy Board, "the civilian side still needs to develop some of the doctrine, some of the organization, and some of the force structure that's required to meet the demands."
To address this classic supply-and-demand problem, organizations can leverage supply chain practices where operational efficiency promotes effective delivery of service. Improving the deployment chain will sharpen service levels by sending the right civilian to the right place at the right time.
Too often, organizations find themselves lacking a deployment plan. Those that do plan often use static information to estimate the personnel needed. A study conducted at a Department of Defense (DoD) agency revealed that, on average, job descriptions for deployed civilians matched only 26 percent of the actual work performed in theater.
Even with a plan, finding qualified civilians who are willing to deploy to a combat zone is an ongoing struggle. For those who are selected, most undergo training courses that tend to be inconsistent with actual skills needed in theater.
At one particular agency, only 55 percent of the courses reflected the actual work performed. Ultimately, the quality of service delivered depends upon the quality of training provided.
Inefficiencies continue to persist even after civilians are deployed. According to the Government Accountability Office, various executive agencies have not fully implemented policies, procedures or specific mechanisms to identify or track location-specific information on deployed civilians. This hampers the government's ability to react promptly to civilian health issues or security incidents.
So how can the federal government better prepare itself? Interestingly enough, a strong parallel can be drawn between a deployment chain and a supply chain. In both, the ultimate goal is to deliver the right service, to the right place at the right time.
To plan for customer requirements, leading manufacturers implement supply chain processes such as demand planning. Accordingly, to plan for civilian services, organizations should generate a forecast by analyzing the factors that drive demand. The underlying requirement is the service provided, not the civilian.
By moving the focus from an estimation exercise to a demand plan, a DoD agency developed a future picture of not only how many civilians are needed, but also when and where they're needed, and what specific skills are required.
By translating customer needs and lessons-learned into training requirements, the U.S. Department of State's Civilian Response Corps established an improved training program that reflected the actual needs of the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the end, civilians were better equipped to meet customer expectations.
Modern distribution centers employ systems to track critical information such as delivery status, location and lead time. Incorporating such supply chain technology for a deployment chain is equally critical, if not more so.
One particular agency established a system that enabled civilians to update their deployed location and record their time, valuable information in the event of a security incident.
As the withdrawal of military forces continues, there is no expectation the civilian requirement will follow suit. President Obama continues to declare the need for a civilian expeditionary force, and the DoD supports this stance.
Moreover, according to a State Department official and former PRT adviser, Michael Keays, the need for civilian services in Afghanistan is likely to persist for another five to 10 years. By applying supply chain practices to the deployment chain, opportunities to "lean out" operations and increase service quality can be realized. In the end, the federal government will be better equipped to address this enduring demand. Ë
Jim Lee is a senior manager at Deloitte Consulting LLP. Amy Clements is a consultant at the firm and Harry Wilmer is an analyst.