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Closing the Loop on Property Accountability

As equipment in the Army inventory travels through its life cycle, the data associated with a single item affect several interconnected processes. Financial asset reporting, spare parts forecasting, force readiness, force development, future procurement, and even recruiting and training are all based on accurate visibility of the Army’s property.

Early Standard Army Management Information Systems (STAMIS) were specially designed to perform transactions, collect data, and generate reports for one process, such as maintenance, property accountability, financial reporting, or distribution management. These systems were often based on specific hardware or software applications, and they had difficulty interfacing with other systems.

As technology improves and the Army takes advantage of readily available commercial systems, the STAMIS we have used for over a decade are finally being integrated into the Single Army Logistics Enterprise (SALE). SALE is an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, a software suite designed to integrate all data and processes of an organization into a unified system. Each process has a module tailored to its specific needs, but a single database records all transactions from all processes, and every activity is able to view the same data. The SALE will eventually consolidate all data associated with an item into a single database that is accessible through modules. The modules are each designed around a specific business process, such as maintenance, property accountability, and finance.

Challenges of Implementing the SALE

Migrating data from the legacy STAMIS is one of the major hurdles in implementing the SALE. Since the early 1990s, the Army has had separate maintenance and property accountability databases, both of which feed data into the distribution and financial management systems. Maintenance data, such as mileage, spare parts demands, and repair man-hours, are generated from Unit Level Logistics System-Ground/Air (ULLS–G/A) input through the Standard Army Maintenance System (SAMS) and the Standard Army Retail Supply System (SARSS). Property accountability data are generated from the Standard Property Book System-Redesigned (SPBS–R) and reported to the Army Material Command’s Logistics Support Activity (LOGSA) through the Continuing Balance System-Expanded (CBS–X). Financial and asset managers collect reports of assets on hand through CBS–X reports and forecast spare parts requirements from SARSS.

ULLS–G/A, ULLS–S4 (for unit supply), and SPBS–R do not interface with other user-level systems until the data reach LOGSA, and none of the software is effective at validating the data when they are entered because the systems are too different. Using ULLS–G/A, the maintenance activity enters a vehicle’s serial number first and then its registration number (serial/registration). On the other hand, a SPBS–R user enters the registration number first and then the serial number (registration/serial). Both systems can accept the letters O and I, which are not used in LOGSA’s registration numbers in order to avoid confusion with the numbers 1 and 0. Exact duplicates are also a possibility between two SPBS–R users or two ULLS–G/A users since data validation does not take place below the LOGSA level.

The key to any successful ERP is having a comprehensive database, which the Army does not have yet. SPBS–R and ULLS–S4 users are in the process of migrating more than a decade of data into an Internet-accessible, centralized database called Property Book Unit Supply Enhanced (PBUSE). Premigration data validation tools allow the users to correct possible errors, such as serial number formats or duplicates with other items in the PBUSE database, before migrating. In the next few years, ULLS–G/A users will complete a similar migration of maintenance data to SAMS–E. As the two databases are combined and data errors or duplications are corrected, the Army will finally have a single database containing all relevant equipment data.

Tracking Equipment

Data integrity is an important part of the consolidated database. Ideally, a permanent database record will be generated for each new piece of equipment as it enters the Army inventory. As the equipment is accepted from the manufacturer at the depot, the program manager for standard items will enter the equipment into the database and build the initial equipment identification records.

With the current property accountability and maintenance records, asset visibility for a specific item is often difficult to maintain. For example, an item enters the inventory and is issued to the first using unit. If the equipment is shipped through the distribution system, it will be entered into SARSS, but not by serial number or any other information that is unique to that particular item. Until the gaining unit receives the item at the supply support activity (SSA) and the supporting property book officer (PBO) processes the receipt in PBUSE, there is no visibility based on the serial number of the equipment.

Once the initial unit receives the equipment, the information—including the serial number—is recorded into PBUSE. Before performing maintenance on the equipment, the owning unit must hand over the equipment’s data to its supporting maintenance activity, which manually enters the data into ULLS–G/A. Manual data entry is frequently a source of conflicting data between the property accountability and maintenance databases. The receipt provided to the PBO may have contained errors, or the equipment data plate may contain additional characters that were left off the receipt.

If the owning unit laterally transfers the equipment to a unit at another installation, line-haul transportation is frequently used to deliver the item. Normally, the losing unit still retains accountability for the item in PBUSE until the gaining unit accepts the equipment. Although the transportation officer entrusted with the equipment is designated as an accountable officer by Army Regulation 710–2, Supply Policy Below the National Level, no method currently exists for transferring formal accountability of property. If property is lost during transit, the bill of lading may serve as a receipt for the losing unit; but, it remains the losing unit’s responsibility to initiate property adjustment actions since the unit commander retains formal accountability.

Equipment in transit is normally tracked through the in-transit visibility system using radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags that contain a unique number for each item. RFID tags have been used very successfully for years, but malfunctions, improper tagging, and damage still occur. The losing unit still has formal accountability while the equipment is transported to the gaining unit.

The Future of Equipment Visibility

With a single database containing all relevant data for each item in the inventory, the Army could finally have a way to identify the location of property from acquisition, through operation, and to disposal. Each program manager and transportation activity could be assigned a unit identification code (UIC) for accountability. The database could use the UICs to identify the accountability and location of items that are waiting to be issued. In the database, these items may be labeled “awaiting fielding.” For equipment en route through the national supply system or as part of a lateral transfer, the database would note the equipment’s destination with a designation of “in transit to [gaining unit],” and then, “issued to [gaining unit]” once it is accepted.

The final piece in the system is the elimination of paper forms and translation errors that often result when data are manually entered. Route-delivery management systems using handheld computers or tablets with digital signature capability have dramatically improved the efficiency and accountability of commercial carriers. The Army could easily adapt those systems to close the accountability gaps that currently exist between the program manager or SSA and the using units.

With the implementation of the SALE and integration of a route delivery tablet computer system, data entry errors could be dramatically reduced. Successive owning units will not recreate and manually enter data with each transaction because new equipment will already have a permanent record in the database before it is issued to a unit. The gaining unit will sign the digital receipt on the program manager’s or SSA’s tablet, and, once the transaction data are uploaded to the database, both the losing and gaining units’ PBOs will receive a notice of the pending transaction. When the two PBOs validate and approve the transaction, the property will be transferred to the gaining unit. If a paper receipt is required, the unit can simply print it out on a standard printer. Since the database also will provide the maintenance module’s data, all associated maintenance records will automatically transfer to the gaining unit’s supporting maintenance activity and a notice will be sent to the maintenance officer.

Transportation activities will perform a similar transaction when accepting property items for an unaccompanied shipment. The unit shipping the item will create a transfer document on the tablet, the transportation representative will sign for the property, and the database will show the item as “in transit through [UIC].”

This concept easily could be extended to the unit level as well. For face-to-face lateral transfers between units, the losing unit’s supply sergeant would prepare the electronic transfer, both parties would digitally sign, and the property records would be uploaded to the database and transferred to the gaining unit’s PBO for approval.

The following are examples of what a typical equipment transaction with a single database for all activities could look like for new equipment, a transportation shipment of existing equipment, and a unit-to-unit transfer of existing equipment.

New equipment. The new high-mobility, multipurpose, wheeled vehicle (HMMWV) replacements come on line and are cataloged. As each vehicle is shipped from the factory and accepted into the Army inventory for fielding, its data—the national stock number and serial/registration number—are entered into the system under “distribution.” The HMMWVs are visible to asset managers and planners but not yet assigned to a unit.

If a HMMWV is en route to unit WAAAA0, the database will list the vehicle under the program manager’s UIC as “in transit, gaining unit: WAAAA0.” WAAAA0’s clerks will sign for the vehicle at the supply support activity. Using a route-delivery tablet computer to capture the receipt and signature, the equipment is automatically accepted into the unit’s property account and unit maintenance records. Usage reporting begins in the maintenance system.

This process eliminates the problem we currently have with property book items at the SSA, where paper copies may be lost before they reach the PBO or where accountability can be lost between fieldings. The automatic transfer of maintenance and accountability will also eliminate the current need for DA Form 2408–9, Equipment Control Records, since maintenance ownership is captured from the initial receipt through every transfer.

Transportation shipment of existing equipment. The transportation system can be improved to track the shipment of equipment to another unit and to have the transportation unit accept formal accountability during transit.

Let’s say that unit WAAAA0 receives a vehicle at the initial fielding, and, 2 years later, it receives a directive to transfer the equipment to unit WBBBB0.

The losing unit, WAAAA0, prepares the vehicle for shipment and uses an RFID tag for identification. The transportation officer’s representative signs for the transfer on the tablet and accepts the equipment for movement. The equipment is dropped from the losing unit’s accountability and transferred to the transportation activity’s UIC, so the database now shows the vehicle under the transportation unit’s UIC as “in-transit transfer from WAAAA0 to WBBBB0.” The shipment arrives at the gaining unit or the depot, and transportation personnel process the receipt on the tablet. The gaining unit accepts the shipment, and the tablet’s data form is uploaded to the database. The gaining PBO posts the transaction, and the accountability and maintenance data are transferred to the gaining unit.

Unit-to-unit transfer of existing equipment.
Face-to-face lateral transfers can use the same method, but without the transportation unit as a middle man. The losing unit, WAAAA0, prepares the equipment and the electronic transfer document and coordinates the transfer of property with the gaining unit, WBBBB0. WAAAA0 accepts the equipment and signs the electronic document, and WBBBB0 uploads the transaction to the database. The losing and gaining PBOs post the transaction, which moves the accountability and maintenance records to WBBBB0.

The key to success with a system like this is establishing a single database that contains permanent records for each item in the inventory. Implementing a tablet computer system to accept signatures will require additional training for supply personnel, but the hardware can easily replace the laptop computers that are already in use. Transferring formal accountability to transportation companies during transfer may prove to be the biggest obstacle. Transportation managers are more concerned with rapidly moving tonnage than with tracking specific items, and rightly so. Permanently affixed passive RFID tags or barcodes are one possible solution, allowing transportation personnel to process entire pallets of items with a scanner rather than physically inventorying items that they may not recognize.

The Department of Defense’s acquisition policy mandates total life-cycle management from the time an item is developed through its use and final disposal. The current system does not capture accountability or provide asset visibility until the item has already been fielded. As an item passes from user to user, an enormous potential exists for accountability gaps. By implementing a system to capture accountability at the time of transfer, tracking equipment with a permanent database record that is accessible by all related activities, and providing a route-delivery receipt system to record transfers of equipment between users, we can finally close the loop on property accountability.
ALOG

Chief Warrant Officer (W–2) Gregory W. Besaw is the Brigade Property Book Officer for the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. He has also served as a maintenance management and supply noncommissioned officer (NCO). He is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in transportation and logistics management from American Military University and is a graduate of the military occupation specialty 92A Automated Logistics Sergeant Basic NCO Course and the 920A Property Accounting Technician Warrant Officer Basic Course.