Frank Wood, Robotic Process Automation Program Manager, Defense Logistics Agency

Oct 09 2023

Tired of Monotonous Tasks? Federal Agencies Turn to Automation

DLA leads the way in RPA development; State and FAA are among the other agencies adopting the tool.

The Defense Logistics Agency provided more than $48 billion in goods and services for the U.S. military in 2022 as part of its mission to provide global logistics support. Managing that supply chain, as well as all of its contracts and paperwork, is a massive undertaking.

DLA uses robotic process automation to handle repetitive tasks, saving employees tens of thousands of hours a year, says Frank Wood, the agency’s RPA program manager.

“Our early adopters were the finance folks, who are often saddled with workflows involving redundant, never-changing work — the kind that chews up a lot of time,” Wood says.

Federal agencies increasingly are embracing automation to operate more efficiently, improve employee productivity, simplify IT management and reduce costs, among other benefits.

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Analysts say automation tools are available across the technology stack. Business process automation solutions, often customized for a particular organization’s needs, streamline tasks such as the hiring and onboarding of new employees.

Monitoring tools can identify network and application performance issues or security threats, make recommendations to remediate the problems, and in some cases, fix the issues automatically.

Software tools from companies such as HashiCorp and Red Hat enable IT organizations to automate the configuration of their infrastructure. Red Hat Ansible, for example, allows organizations to automate high-volume manual tasks, such as resetting passwords or adjusting compute and storage needs.

“IT organizations are tasked with doing two to three times more work with the same or less staff than they had just two years ago,” says Paul Nashawaty, a principal analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group. “If you use automation to eliminate remedial tasks, then you can potentially eliminate the IT skills gap.”

WATCH: See a Feds in the Field video on how the Defense Logistics Agency uses automation.

Automated Bots Cut Down on Repetitive Work

DLA began implementing RPA four years ago with 20 to 30 automations. Today, the agency has 161 active automations, 154 of which run unattended, Wood says.

The agency uses a low-code visual RPA tool that allows staff to build software bots and create workflows that integrate applications and processes by pointing and clicking on a graphical user interface, Wood says. The RPA tool runs on-premises on DLA’s private cloud.

DLA uses RPAs for transaction processing and reconciliation, which compares transactions from multiple systems, looks for discrepancies and errors, and resolves them. The agency also uses RPAs to comply with Freedom of Information Act requests.

“The early, low-hanging-fruit automations had an immediate impact in terms of saving people a lot of hours, so they can actually do the work they were hired to do,” Wood says.

More recently, DLA built a bot that is expected to save the agency millions of dollars annually by ensuring goods are shipped with proper packaging. Hazardous materials must be packaged correctly to meet safety regulations. Proper packaging also ensures goods are not damaged in transit.

Frank Wood
Our early adopters were the finance folks, who are often saddled with workflows involving redundant, never-changing work — the kind that chews up a lot of time.”

Frank Wood Robotic Process Automation Program Manager, Defense Logistics Agency

If goods are packaged incorrectly when they arrive in the warehouse, DLA staff repackages and ships them to the proper military branch if the cost to do it is $300 or less. If repackaging costs more than $300, vendors are asked to reship the items correctly.

To cut down on how often staff has to redo the less costly packages, the RPA bot automatically reaches out to vendors for each improperly packaged item. “It sends a notification on how to ship the items correctly going forward, so they do not repeat the packaging discrepancy,” Wood says.

Eliminating those smaller packaging problems could save one DLA component an estimated $17 million a year, he says.

Moving forward, DLA has begun to adopt hybrid solutions that integrate RPAs with business process automation; so far, about 10 percent of the RPA bots are integrated. “We have opportunities to combine workflows,” he says.

During the past two to three years, the DLA has allowed non-IT staff to develop RPAs. But Wood’s RPA team, which is made up of six federal employees and 15 contractors, reviews and tests their code and deploys them.

“When you mix in citizen developers, we must maintain auditability and cybersecurity assurance, which is nontrivial,” he says. “We have to stay in the mix.”

LEARN MORE: Automation can make DevSecOps more efficient.

Employees Benefit when Bots Take the Boring Jobs

The State Department is using RPA bots to automate financial systems, resolve trouble tickets, distribute equipment, report on acquisitions and administer passports.

“We are using RPA to reduce the repetitive, monotonous tasks done by our incredibly talented workforce so they’re free to work on high-value, important human work, such as strategic and creative tasks,” says State Department CIO Kelly Fletcher.

For example, the department’s Bureau of the Comptroller and Global Financial Services used RPA technology to eliminate a common process that required multiple individuals to spend 15 minutes a day reviewing and responding to a financial systems report. “Although the time savings are not significant, the removal of the task had a positive impact on morale,” Fletcher says.

The implementation of the RPA software “began with a strong understanding of manual, repeated and sequential tasks. We then reverse-engineered those tasks to build a pipeline of programmatic, scripted steps for automation,” Fletcher says.

The State Department is currently exploring whether to integrate artificial intelligence with its RPA technology. In the meantime, it’s working to create a multitude of new RPAs, including a new process to support the business need to charge back the cost of licenses to other divisions.

“The applications of RPA are near endless at State,” Fletcher says. “We are continually finding new ways to use the technology.”

READ ON: Use automation to boost the speed of vulnerability logging.

FAA Rides Automated Bots to the Cloud

As part of its digital transformation, the Federal Aviation Administration is modernizing applications and migrating to the cloud. The goal is twofold: upgrade FAA’s infrastructure and provide better service to its stakeholders, says FAA Acting CIO Melanie Boteler.

Automation is a cornerstone of the FAA’s strategy, Boteler says. “One of the primary advantages to investing in automated provisioning tools is our ability to substantially scale up the number of services we provide without increasing personnel.”

The agency has migrated numerous applications to the cloud since 2015, leveraging its FAA Cloud Services vendor partners. But FAA’s IT leaders realized that lifting and shifting every application to the cloud would not let them fully harness cloud potential.

FAA is now pursuing a cloud-native approach that uses technologies such as containers to build and run apps in the cloud, Boteler says. That means refactoring some existing applications and building new containerized apps using Kubernetes.


The percentage of nonmanufacturing workers exposed to automation technology.

Source:, “Three Results from Recent Research on Advanced Technology Use and Automation,” Sept. 11, 2023

The FAA uses automation to simplify cloud migration and its adoption of cloud-native apps. For example, the IT staff uses an infrastructure-as-code software tool that automates the provisioning of cloud resources.

“The ability to employ infrastructure as code was transformative, enabling us to replicate environments with both precision and speed,” Boteler says.

To further reduce complexity, the FAA uses specialized automation tools and a Kubernetes service-mesh platform that supports communication between microservices in an app, enables encryption and automates network tasks such as load balancing.

The upshot: The tools allow the FAA to set up reproducible infrastructure in the cloud, Boteler says. Automation ensures high levels of standardization across the infrastructure, which expedites the cloud migration process, significantly reduces errors and achieves a consistent, reliable and secure environment, she says.

Colin Lenton

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