With budgetary uncertainty looming over the horizon, the Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command's Quality Assurance Branch, part of the Strategic Business Directorate, is focusing efforts now to advance their processes and gain efficiencies.

The branch is responsible for evaluating and monitoring more than 1,200 motor carriers from the transportation industry who are currently approved to transport government cargo for Department of Defense shippers.

Maureen Carlo, chief of the Quality Assurance Branch, and her team of 10 transportation experts manage a myriad programs designed to ensure carriers doing business with the government are compliant with Department of Transportation and DOD rules and regulations. If not, branch personnel are the first to inform carriers of their substandard performance. If left unchecked, the Quality Assurance Branch processes company "non-use" and "disqualification" standing on the DOD approved carrier list.

Managing more than 1,200 carriers for compliancy is no easy task. Branch members use a variety of checklists and programs to validate carriers for compliancy.

Some of the programs the branch uses include Freight Carrier Registration, Compliance Safety and Accountability; performance bonds; truck insurance; DOT sites; National Motor Freight Traffic Association sites; U.S. Bank; and mapping and review programs just to name a few.

"Just a few short years ago, our approved list was comprised of 1,800 carriers." Carlo said. "Now, we are up to speed and energized. We are able to do in-depth checks and are finding discrepancies. At the same time, we are exploring ways to gain more efficiency in our office and the way we do our job."

"When we did our first review of 1,800 carriers in early 2011, we found quite a few that did not meet the qualifications requirements for one reason or another." said Kathy Baker, traffic management specialist for the Quality Assurance Branch.

"After completing our first review last year," Carlo added, "we recommended disqualification of about 300 carriers from doing business with the government for substandard performance or qualifications."
Carriers who remain cognizant to certain aspects of their operations can minimize the chance of losing their government contract.

Compliance Safety and Accountability is a program the branch leverages to gain efficiencies from DOT's database to look for compliance or trends of the motor carrier's performance history. For carriers with questionable scores in tracked categories, the branch will ask the carrier to explain what they are doing to fix or improve their scores.

"DOT initiated this program in 2010 and we adopted it into our review process last year." Baker said.
"Prior to 2010," Carlo added, "DOT had a rating program called Safer System which gave us a good, conditional or satisfactory rating for the carriers. Now, DOT has revised their program to rate carriers. Also, industry is really working with DOT to make it a better program."

The Quality Assurance Branch also maintains a detailed compliance program for carriers that transport Arms, Ammunition and Explosives and other sensitive government cargo.

"Although the process is the same, we keep the Transportation, Safety and Security program separate because of the need to maintain higher compliance for safety," Carlo said. "We inspect about 65 carriers a month. This includes corporate and no-notice inspections as well."

The branch also monitors validation of truck drivers' insurance. SDDC requires trucking companies to maintain $150,000 cargo insurance on each truck used to move government cargo.

"We've even brought in Lean Six Sigma," Carlo said, "and created a project to study and improve our monitoring processes which is helping us to advance our efficiencies."

The branch also assists shippers when carriers exhibit poor performance or are negligent with government cargo.

Branch members will assist with writing carrier performance letters, letters of warning or letters of non-use placing a carrier in a non-use status for up to 90 days. The branch can issue nationwide carrier performance action letters for multiple or severe infractions, or hold a transportation review board -- a formal meeting with subpar performing carriers to determine cause, effects and solutions to performance problems as well as whether probation, suspension or disqualification is in order.

The branch also manages the DOD Government Cargo Recovery Effort, or GOCARE, program which has received considerable enhancement to gain efficiencies in recovering and preventing astray freight. The program manager coordinates, reviews, analyzes, and disseminates performance data to the military services, agency representatives, committee members, carriers and SDDC staff.

"An incident happened about three years ago involving an Air Force item that was being shipped and ended up getting lost," Carlo said. "We started reviewing the process and after making changes we actually gained efficiency to where the carriers are now calling us with items they find. Also, the shipping community is now making quarterly contact with local warehouses and installations."

The branch's mission is more than compliancy checks. The branch wants shippers and carriers to know they are also here to help.

The branch participates in transportation freight workshops for both government shippers and the carriers to enhance and promote sound traffic management business practices. The team also fields questions from shippers and industry throughout the year and provides guidance and clears up disputes.

"Our office fields about 10,000 questions each year from service members and carriers with questions ranging from detention fees to fraud, waste and abuse," Carlo said.

"As an example," Carlo added, "a carrier may arrive at an installation with cargo and, for one reason or another, they can't offload their truck. So the carrier has to leave. We'll answer questions like, is the carrier entitled to storage? Or, is the carrier entitled to detention or re-consignment fees? We'll examine the paperwork involved in each query, talk to both parties if necessary and recommend a solution."

Carlo also mentioned the branch has made great strides in implementing improvements into their processes since their 2010 relocation from Fort Eustis, Va., to Scott Air Force Base, Ill.

SDDC's primary focus is timely and accurate support to the Warfighter and the command leverages services from the best of U.S. transportation industry to accomplish its missions. SDDC provides expeditionary and sustained end-to-end deployment and distribution solutions for surface shipping of DOD equipment and supplies to Warfighters worldwide.