The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

Pentagon’s Travel System Still Grounded

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


There are a lot of reasons to complain about air travel:  overbooking, rising costs, delays, cancellations, uncomfortable seats, and rude passengers, among others.  With all of these hassles, travelers do have a plethora of online travel services to try and obtain the cheapest flight.  With the immense of amount of travel undertaken by the federal government and especially the Department of Defense, an online travel system sounds like a marriage made in heaven.  Unfortunately, combining logic and the federal government is as easy as putting a square peg in a round hole.

In 1995, the Pentagon sought to acquire a software-based travel system, the Defense Travel System (DTS), which would make business travel “quicker, easier, and more efficient by providing automated commercial and government travel support services to DOD travelers,” according to an April 2008 Government Accountability Office report.

In May 1998, DTS competitively awarded a contract estimated to cost $263.7 million to BDM, which was subsequently purchased by TRW, Inc., which in turn was purchased by Northrop Grumman (Northrop).  Northrop was required to develop an “e-travel system” which would provide for the “end-to-end” or total travel management needs of the DOD.

In 2004, CAGW reported that “DTS has failed operational testing and ended up costing more than expected.  Originally, DOD was supposed to pay a fixed price of $64 million for the DTS after it had been operationally deployed at 11,000 DOD sites worldwide and a $5.27 fee each time the DTS was used for an official trip by DTS travelers. The total cost for five years with full usage by 3.2 million DOD travelers and approximately 5 million trips a year was supposed to be $263.7 million.  But the DTS has already cost more than $400 million to date and one Pentagon estimate places the final cost at $537 million.”

Four years later, the situation hasn’t gotten any better.  According to an April 20, 2008 article in the Federal Times, “The Defense Travel System is still plagued with problems, and Pentagon officials admit it will take at least three years before it is fully functional.” According to Defense Department officials and congressional auditors, “The system often lacks enough commercial data needed by travelers to make hotel and rental car arrangements, which prompts many to use a travel agent, real-time assistance is not always available or responsive for people using the system or encountering complications during their trips, the system follows strict travel rules that require additional bureaucracy when flexibility is needed.”

The Pentagon has claimed that once the system is in place it will save $56 million annually.  The GAO report questioned that assertion: “Two cost components represented the majority of the over $56 million in estimated net savings—personnel savings and reduced commercial travel office fees. GAO’s analysis found that $24.2 million in personnel savings related to the Air Force and the Navy were not supported.”  For example, “Air Force and Navy DTS program officials stated that they did not anticipate a reduction in the number of personnel, but rather the shifting of staff from the travel function to other functions,” and “the Naval Cost Analysis Division stated that the Navy will not realize any tangible personnel cost savings from the implementation of DTS.”

Finally, the Federal Times noted that, “The Government Accountability Office also criticized the system for what it called ‘rigid rules’ that created extra bureaucracy.  For example, DTS requires managers to manually approve any difference between the travel authorization and the actual cost of the trip.  The size of the difference doesn’t matter: If a manager approves $500, and the actual cost is $495, that requires a manual approval.”

The Pentagon now estimates that the software will be fully functional by 2010.  If that timeframe is credible, perhaps by then DTS can be used for a timely trip to buy some swampland in Florida.

-- David Williams

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