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.
200 unmanned aerial vehicle is an example of an item
that would be listed in a user-created catalog because
it is non-type-classified.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
above defines the proposed NSLIN structure for a
centralized non-type-classified item catalog.
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
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.
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.