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Centralization of Cataloging Procedures for Nonstandard Materiel

The Army, like many commercial businesses, relies on cataloging supplies and equipment to standardize requisitioning and accountability. When items are entered into the Federal supply system, they are cataloged and assigned specific codes that identify their characteristics. These items normally are assigned national stock numbers (NSNs) and, in some cases, line item numbers (LINs). However, it is often necessary to procure and account for items that are not in the standard catalog. These items are cataloged at various levels and entered in a nonstandard, or user-created, catalog. A nonstandard item is assigned a nonstandard LIN (NSLIN) instead of a standard LIN (S–LIN) and a management control number (MCN) instead of an NSN.

An item is assigned an NSLIN or MCN for one of three reasons. The first, and most common, reason is that the item is a commercially procured item requiring property book accounting; automation equipment falls into this category. The second reason is that the item has an NSN but not a LIN and requires property book accounting. In this case, the NSN can be used, but an NSLIN will have to be assigned. The third reason is that newly procured equipment is fielded before the item manager type-classifies it and enters it into the standard catalog.


A property book record cannot be established for a piece of equipment unless a standard or user-created catalog record exists for that item. Since commercially procured items and items that are not type-classified are not in the standard catalog, they must be entered in a locally developed catalog.

Type Classification

When an item is being considered for use, a materiel developer determines its acceptability, taking into account authorizations, procurement, logistics support, and asset and readiness reporting for the item.- Once this process is complete, the item is cataloged.- This procedure is known as type classification. Before this process occurs, the item is considered non-type-classified.

User-Created Catalogs

Under the accepted procedure for cataloging non-type-classified items, the local property book officer (PBO) creates a record in the user-created catalog (originally called the nonstandard catalog). At the division-level, a division-level catalog team performs this function. The use of decentralized cataloging procedures has led to the establishment of user-created catalogs that, although they may contain the same items, cannot be cross-referenced to determine what items the units have in common.

The Army National Guard adopted a policy of cataloging non-type-classified items at the state or territorial level at United States Property and Fiscal Offices. This reduced the number of user-created catalogs to 54—one for each state and territory. The Active Army and the Army Reserve cataloged these items at the PBO level, which resulted in thousands of distinct user-created catalogs.

Recognizing this tendency for duplication, the U.S. Army Reserve Command (USARC) decided to set up a centralized user-created catalog for all of its subordinate units in 2001. The agency designated to maintain the user-created catalog for the Army Reserve is the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, G–4, USARC. Around the same time, U.S. Army Europe (USAREUR) also decided to establish a centralized user-created catalog for the European theater. USAREUR assigned this task to the 200th Theater Distribution Brigade.

The Supply Policy Division of the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, G–4, Headquarters, Department of the Army, is studying the possibility of centralizing the cataloging of commercially procured and non-type-classified items at Army level for Active Army units. Various advances in technology now make the centralization of nonstandard-item cataloging more feasible and desirable.

The move from the stand-alone property book system, the Standard Property Book System-Redesign, to the Web-based property book system, the Property Book Unit Supply Enhanced (PBUSE), has made real-time asset visibility possible at the highest level. Soon the Army plans to change its current supply automation systems to an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system format developed by SAP, a software development company headquartered in Germany. A SAP NetWeaver brief, “Manage Rich Product Content,” stated—

Product data in most companies typically can be found in multiple systems, spreadsheets, and applications. As long as this data resides in disparate systems, the data in each system will continue to evolve independently and sometimes contradictorily. Decisions and processes based on unsynchronized master product data lead to a greater risk, greater waste, and greater consumer dissatisfaction.

Using the SAP software to consolidate and centralize catalog functions is more in line with recommended procedures and simplifies the migration process.

The Army Materiel Command’s Logistics Support Activity (LOGSA) is projected to get the Active Army nonstandard-item cataloging mission. This is a departure from the standard cataloging responsibilities and procedures defined in Army Regulation (AR) 708–1, Logistics Management Data and Cataloging of Supplies and Equipment. Although LOGSA does have some personnel with cataloging experience, their main function is to extract and organize catalog data from the Army Central Logistics Data Bank (ACLDB) for use in various Army publications. Since LOGSA usually does not enter catalog data into the ACLDB, it does not have employees whose sole function is cataloging supplies and equipment.

SLAMIS

LOGSA uses a system called SSN–LIN [standard study number-line item number] Automated Management and Integrating System (SLAMIS) to provide visibility and support the management of a system’s life-cycle process. A module has been added to SLAMIS that allows units in the field to request the LOGSA research cell to catalog nonstandard items.

SLAMIS provides PBOs with a completely automated, Web-based system for requesting NSLINs and MCNs. After a PBO enters information into SLAMIS and submits a request, the system sends an email message to the research cell. The research cell takes one of three actions: adds the item to the catalog, rejects the request because the item does not meet the criteria to be added to the catalog, or returns the request to the submitter for more information. The requester receives an email message informing him of the action taken.

Benefits of Centralized Cataloging

Having centralized cataloging procedures has several benefits. First, it provides visibility of nonstandard items at the highest levels. Using the current system, each person developing a catalog probably will assign different numbers to the same item. Although this is not a problem at or below the cataloging level, it makes it nearly impossible for managers at higher levels to determine the density of a particular nonstandard item. The ability to identify like items located in different commands can be especially useful if a unit has excess nonstandard items that might be used in other units. For example, the Army National Guard units in one state may have excess items that could be used by units in another state. However, since each state runs an independent catalog, it is virtually impossible for one state to know what is available in another state. Items that could be used by another command often end up being turned in to a local Defense Reutilization and Marketing Service center.

Another benefit of centralized cataloging is decreased strain on the server that stores consolidated data. The Army now uses a Web-based property accountability system, and all property data and catalog information normally are consolidated on a single server or in a server bank rather than on each using unit’s system. Having hundreds or even thousands of distinct records that identify the same item could put an unnecessary strain on the server. The Army plans to migrate its current logistics automation systems to an ERP system. Reducing the amount of data in the system before the migration to the new system will ease this transition.

The ability to track demand history for commercially procured items is another benefit of a consolidated, centrally managed catalog. If the trend shows that a particular type of item is procured on a regular basis by several different units, it may be worthwhile to add this item to the standard Federal catalog and centralize the procurement of the item.

Disadvantages of Centralized Cataloging

With any change comes the potential for problems. Implementation of the new system will be no different. The time lag that will occur between the time that the item is acquired and the time that it is cataloged could present a problem because an item cannot be added to the property book until it is cataloged. AR 710–2, Supply Policy Below the National Level, states that receipt processing time should be 1 to 3 days. If the cataloging agency is external to the unit procuring the item, there will be a time lag between the time when the item is received and the time when it is cataloged.

Another problem is the level of definition of the nomenclature. If an item description is too general or if the catalog research cell makes assumptions about an item that they have never seen, the nomenclature may not describe the actual item. Determining the level of definition also includes deciding if similar nonstandard items will be broken down by make and model. For example, will all laptop computers be assigned the same NSLIN and MCN or will the various models be identified with a distinct MCN? Consolidating like items will help control the size of the catalog. However, it will cause other problems.

The most noticeable problems will occur when one of these items is missing. AR 735–5, Policies and Procedures for Property Accountability, prescribes the use of “fair market” value to determine the value of the loss. However, the specific make and model of the item must be known to determine fair market value. Those who favor consolidating like items have stated that it is the G/S–6’s responsibility to track automation assets by make and model for life-cycle replacement purposes. However, if an automated system, such as PBUSE, already exists to perform this function, it is not sound business practice to add duplicate administrative burden in another section.


NSLIN Structure

The structure of the NSLIN needs to be carefully implemented. The typical structure of a NSLIN is based on whether it is more like a common table of allowances (CTA) item or a modification table of organization and equipment (MTOE) or table of distribution and allowances (TDA) item. The NSLIN structure for a CTA-like item is five numbers followed by a letter, and the NSLIN structure for an MTOE- or TDA-like item is two letters followed by four numbers. In an MTOE or TDA NSLIN, the first letter matches the first character of the LIN for a standard item that is similar to the nonstandard item. The second NSLIN character is the letter of the nomenclature of the item. By using this format, the nonstandard item will print out on the primary hand receipt in the same area as Army-adopted items that serve the same general purpose.

The table above shows the proposed structure of NSLINs that has been recommended in the draft standing operating procedure for assigning NSLINs to be used in the centralized catalog. Since researchers sometimes do not know why an item was purchased, it may not be possible to determine the publication that is authorizing the item unless it is provided in the request.

What Should Be Cataloged?

One of the most controversial issues is determining who will decide what will be cataloged. AR 710–2 allows items to be added to the property book at the discretion of the local commander and PBO. This provision gives the commander and PBO maximum flexibility in adapting their accounting system to the operational needs of their specific unit.

Many recent discussions have addressed the strict implementation of Department of the Army policies that establish dollar thresholds for property book accounting. In the article, “Durable Property Accountability,” in the Winter 2004 issue of the Quartermaster Professional Bulletin, Chief Warrant Officer (W–5) Leslie Carroll categorizes automation equipment as durable property based on the new $5,000 threshold. Although this may be an appropriate classification for some units, others may need to have the visibility of items that only the property book provides. For example, a laptop and a data projector used in a TDA-type activity may be considered an administrative piece of equipment; however, the same laptop and data projector in a unit deployed to a theater of operations may be used to project map data on the wall of an operations van. In this case, the equipment obviously supports the warfighter and a commander may want the equipment visibility that can be provided by having it on the property book.

Unfortunately, implementation of the increased dollar threshold has created some discord in the user community, where some believe that situational priorities override these policies. It is important to realize that, because the Army is such a diverse organization, it is not always advisable to implement absolute rules. A commander and PBO should be given the maximum latitude when presenting their case for inclusion of an item in the nonstandard catalog.

Changes to LOGSA Operations

Another challenge to centralized cataloging lies with the LOGSA research cell. Since LOGSA is generally not involved in the actual cataloging of supplies and equipment, centralizing the cataloging of nonstandard equipment would create the need for a substantial training period to bring the cell up to a level of proficiency that would enable its personnel to provide a timely response to requests. They also will need a training program for new employees.

Changes in technology require the Army to change the way it catalogs nonstandard items. It is important, however, that the Army not adopt new procedures without carefully evaluating the consequences. Before implementing a change of this magnitude, the Army must set up a comprehensive set of business rules based on input from all levels. Centralized cataloging of nonstandard materiel can work if implemented carefully and correctly. On the other hand, changing to a centralized cataloging system can be disastrous if poorly implemented or designed using one-dimensional thinking.

As the Army continues to move into the world of advanced automation technology, its leaders must keep in mind that it is the largest and most diverse “corporation” that exists today. Any change on the scale of the one described above must be well staffed and planned in order to minimize the effect on the warfighter and ensure a smooth transition.
ALOG

Chief Warrant Officer (W–5) David A. Dickson, USAR, is an Active Guard/Reserve officer serving as the Chief Supply Systems Technician for the 304th Corps Materiel Management Center. He has an M.S. degree in management information systems from Bowie State University and a master’s certification in applied project management from Villanova University. He is a graduate of the Warrant Officer Senior Staff Course.

The author would like to thank Chief Warrant Officer (W–5) Jeffrey Hodgdon, Chief Warrant Officer (W–5) Gary Lanier, and Chief Warrant Officer (W–4) Gene Baker for their assistance in preparing this article.