1999 Finalist
U.S. Department of Defense
Innovations in American Government Awards
Innovations in American Government Awards

"Waste not, want not." This familiar saying encouraging thrift is especially relevant to the federal government, which constantly cycles through massive amounts of material. If program budgets are tight—and in an age when tax increases are political suicide they usually are—clever reuse of existing equipment can mean the difference between a thriving government program and a bloated agency ripe for elimination.

The Defense Reutilization and Marketing Service (DRMS) of the U.S. Department of Defense provides worldwide recycling, reuse, and disposal support to the United States military. In 1998, DRMS managed an inventory valued at $23.5 billion, consisting of almost 3 million individual items, from tanks to telephones. In over 100 Defense Reutilization and Marketing Offices (DRMOs, or field offices) throughout the United States and in 26 foreign countries, DRMS employees control a vast logistical network of used equipment and supplies.

Historically, DRMS has scrapped about half of the property it receives due to specialized requirements, obsolescence, or condition. One third was sold to the general public at reduced rates, leaving less than a fifth that is requested by the military (reutilization), other federal agencies (transfer), or authorized donees (donation). The hassle of actually having to physically visit a number of DRMOs to determine what inventory is available kept caused inefficiencies within the system.

Taxpayers lose out when the government is forced to get rid of potentially useful property and buy new items. DRMS estimates that redistributed property increases the its life cycle by over 20%. Agency officials knew that someone, somewhere needed every single item in their inventory, but how to connect the dots between property and user over such a vast network?

In 1995, after months of planning, the DRMS introduced a new way of connecting their inventory supply to government demand, by introducing an online searchable database of their entire catalog. Since then, by electronically coordinating the DRMS with property-seeking parties, the agency has turned this portal into a "Virtual Worldwide DRMO," capable of serving clients large and small, anywhere in the world. Items can be found, ordered, and delivered through the site quickly, efficiently, and cheaply. The agency provides a help line and a full-time property-disposal technician devoted to assisting online clients.

Through the success of the Internet program, reutilization, transfer, and donation rates have increased by almost 20%. In 1998, DRMS processed over $1.5 billion of property via automated requisitions over the Internet. The website receives in excess of 4.5 million visits a month, with well over 6,000 hits every single day. As Internet businesses proliferate, the "Move Information, Not Property" initiative, and the Virtual DRMO it has created, remains a pioneer and a giant in the field, to the benefit of the American public.

Related Topics