The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

A Victory for the Defense Travel System

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.


Since its initial creation in 1998, the Defense Travel System (DTS) has exhibited massive inefficiencies and waste.  The project, created by the Department of Defense (DOD), was meant to serve as a cost-efficient travel system for DOD employees.  The initial idea was to create an end-to-end electronic booking program.  Instead of paying a travel agent $25 per flight, booking online through DTS would cost each individual approximately $5.  According to DOD, the program was meant to save taxpayers $234 million in DOD travel costs, approximately $56 million annually.    

While the project appeared to be valuable on its face, seven years of delays and excessive inefficiencies started to raise doubts among members of Congress and the Government Accountability Office (GAO).  According to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, taxpayers are paying $37 billion per year for improper payments made my governmental departments.  While DOD does not report information regarding travel payments, an investigative GAO report details that DOD bought $21.1 million dollars worth of 58,000 unused airline tickets in 2000 and 2001.  The department also improperly reimbursed travel at an expense of $8 million to taxpayers.  According to a 2004 report released by CAGW, because DTS is so rarely used, the per-transaction cost falls around $33,000.  The wasteful spending and numerous delays have almost doubled the cost of the project.  While the original contract totaled $263.7 billion, the current cost of project lies around $474 million.

Department of Defense employees tend to not use DTS because it is not a user-friendly system.  While employees are supposed to book their reservations online, the information is usually incomplete.  Once users realize that their request for booking is not complete, they immediately request booking from a travel agent.  This use of a travel agent increases costs and defeats the purpose of DTS altogether.  If individuals continue to struggle with using the online system, the use of travel agents will remain necessary.

However, there is good news on the horizon for DTS.  After harsh criticisms arose from Congress and GAO, the Senate Armed Services Committee passed an amendment, sponsored by Senator Coburn (R-Okla.), to the fiscal 2007 National Defense Authorization bill.  The purpose of the amendment is to restrict DOD from spending more money on DTS by shifting the program from the current fixed- price service fee to a fee-for-service system.  The new fee-for-service system would allow the contractor to be paid only when the program is used.  According to Senator Coburn this new policy would ensure that the program is more efficient and more prevalently used by the department.  By giving Northrop Grumman, the prime contractor for DTS, more incentive to upgrade the system, usability and efficiency will rise.

Along with creating a fee-for-service policy, the amendment requires DOD to conduct assessments to determine whether travel expenses are at risk for improper payments.  The results of this assessment must be shared with Congress.  The department must also create and implement a statistically valid method for determining whether or not travel expenses are at risk and demonstrate that this method takes all travel payments into account.

- Katherine Walkenhorst

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