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How does the Department of Defense keep track of the millions and millions of items in its inventory? One answer is 2D data matrix barcodes. It's all detailed in the Department of Defense (DoD) Guide to Uniquely Identifying Items: Assuring Valuation, Accountability and Control of Government Property.
The challenge is laid out in fairly straight-forward language: "The Government Accountability Office (GAO) and other auditors have repeatedly found that the federal government lacks complete and reliable information for reported inventory and other property and equipment, and can not determine that all assets are reported, verify the existence of inventory, or substantiate the amount of reported inventory and property...Further, the lack of reliable information impairs the government's ability to (1) know the quantity, location, condition, and value of assets it owns, (2) safeguard its assets from physical deterioration, theft, loss, or mismanagement, (3) prevent unnecessary storage and maintenance costs or purchase of assets already on hand, and (4) determine the full costs of government programs that use these assets."
In times of war, it's even more important, the DoD says. According to the Joint Total Asset Visibility Strategic Plan, January 1999, "In every troop deployment this century, DoD has been plagued by a major difficulty—the inability to see assets as they flow into a theater and are in storage. This situation has led to direct and significant degradation in operational readiness. When assets in the pipeline are not visible, they are difficult to manage. Property is lost, customers submit duplicate requisitions, superfluous materiel chokes the transportation system, and the cycle continues. Assets at the retail level that are not visible and, therefore, not available for redistribution, further compound the degradation of operational readiness."
The key to making this system work is the Unique Identification (UID) standard. "UID is item-level tracking of certain classes of equipment in the DoD inventory or delivered to DoD by vendors," explains Kyle O'Brien, UID Product Manager of Siemens Energy & Automation in Nashua, N.H. "It's almost like a Social Security number on these items." Siemens latest UID verification product is its UID Compliance Verifier.
The DoD policy is that "all relevant business, warfighter, intelligence, and enterprise information environment mission area transactions, among the Department of Defense, Federal and State Agencies, non-governmental organizations, and domestic and foreign persons and organizations will use UI standards for discrete entities."