The Secret to Solving Big Problems? LOGISTICS

  • Hi Everyone Talks Tactics and Strategy. Making Things Actually Happen Requires Logisticians


Save Us from Armchair Experts

I learned a valuable lesson as a young Army officer, a lesson that time proved to be valid over and over again. The lesson is as follows. Everyone thinks of themselves as great armchair generals. Everyone thinks they know what is needed for tactics, strategy, and priorities. Darn few people have a clue about what it actually takes to make all those great plans happen on the ground. Master logistics or its all talk, no action.

Victory or Defeat is in the Details
It’s a lesson that we see on full display in the pandemic fight. Those who succeed in this pandemic fight understand and apply the following guidelines:
  • Hope for the Best, Plan for the Worst

    It is not difficult to dial back if needed. It is almost impossible to dial up at the last minute. Effective leaders assume disaster is just around the corner. They have processes to catch problems early and have plans to allocate resources. they work intelligently and nimbly. Those lacking this approach? They have daily press conferences saying all will be well anyway, just drink some bleach.

  • Know What is in the Toolbox

    Among the most painful things has been Trump’s unfamiliarity with the Defense Production Act. Add to that his slowness to use it. Think of this tool as a “surgical hammer.” It is a very powerful tool, but only if used with precise focus and the earliest possible time. If Trump had pulled the trigger on this one back in February, we would be in immeasurably better shape.


  • Timing is Everything

    Having enough testing kits, respirators, etc. is the difference between life and death. Responsible officials see the need early, have multiple secure sources, and give timely orders. Doing the right thing too slowly, or not at all, leaves us where we are now. Decision making in crisis is a bit like a high-speed bobsled run. The decision maker has a narrow window for key decisions. They snooze, we all lose.

  • Understand Production

    Manufacturing is a complex process, even for simple products. Government and private sector producers cannot switch to making needed products overnight. Early and frequent conversations with stake holders makes for realistic goals and timelines.

  • Control Costs and Competition or Be Consumed

    The complete failure of the federal government to control production and distribution (see the next discussion point, below) is clear. This led to, as GOV Cuomo called it, a wild west of unfair competition among states and communities. It also led, inevitably, to unconscionable price gouging. The result is an ineffective and damaging distribution of critical assets. It also leaves us with extreme waste of needed funds.

    This will go down as one of the administration’s most critical failures. It had an effect on so many levels, including people dying who could have lived. Trump’s quotes that “we are not shipping clerks” and “it’s up to the states to order things” will haunt him. remembering these words should be in voters’ minds for the general election.

  • Allocation Control is a Top Down Responsibility

    When shortages are in multiple items of multi types across geographical boundaries, it is incumbent upon the first level of authority (in this case, the federal government) that spans those shortage boundaries to take responsibility for an allocation system. Such a system dampens abuse, allocates according to need, and squashes price gouging. It allows lower echelons of government to focus on the areas of concern they can influence. This avoids them flailing at impossible issues that they cannot hope to control.

  • Distribution and Delivery to the Last Mile
    Close behind production and allocation matters comes those of distribution and delivery. It is an axiom in the cable, telephone, and power industries that the “last mile of cable” is the hardest to service. So it is with pandemic resources.A crisis of this magnitude requires national and regional level planning. This is the only way to get material and supplies delivered to the right places in the right order. It provides visible tracking all along the way. There is expertise galore in this sector. Think of the US Postal Service, FedEx, UPS, Amazon, trucking companies, and others.Many local governments go for weeks not knowing whether the merchandise they ordered is coming or not. That is unconscionable. A nationally organized tracking system would not be that difficult to implant. Its absence is damaging.

    Imagine a small town that sunk what it had in money into a massive order of medical supplies. They wait and wait. Finally, after weeks they find out their order was bid out by a bigger buyer and they must start over. They did not have the resources to have two bids out at once, so now they start over. People die. Accountability and tracking could avoid this happening all over the country.

So What?
We know the feds flunked the logistics test many times over. So what? What do we do with that information now? I would suggest three things need doing:
  • REPORT. Feed all this into a first-rate after process review. Do so at the national and local levels (discussed an earlier post in this blog). Capture the lessons, lay out the repairs, follow up on implementation. Otherwise, all these extraneous deaths are truly lost without any meaning.
  • REPAIR. Put repairs in place right now where possible. We are not done with this thing (more accurately stated, it is not done with us). We also face a good probability of resurgence months down the road. Fix the damn system.
  • REJECT. Hold accountable. Look at the various levels of government in which you have a vote this coming Fall. Remember those who failed, who chose to fail, who chose to empower those who failed. To use a once popular phrase, Throw the Bums Out. No matter what else you may like about a candidate, know this. If he or she failed to meet their obligations to the country in this fight, show them the door without mercy.

  Bill Clontz

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