Fifteen Years Later, the Defense Travel System is Still a Mess | Citizens Against Government Waste
The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

Fifteen Years Later, the Defense Travel System is Still a Mess

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.


Some things never change.

Way back in September 2004, Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) published a report detailing the trials and travails of the Defense Travel System (DTS), which was meant to provide cheaper, more streamlined solutions for government travel.  At the time, the DTS had cost taxpayers $400 million and was six years behind schedule.  It competed, unnecessarily, with free-to-use websites that guaranteed the lowest cost for users.

Fast-forward nearly 15 years, and the DTS is still problematic.  An August 2019 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found that the Department of Defense (DOD) processed $965.5 million in improper travel payments between fiscal years (FY) 2016 and 2019.  This equates to 5.3 percent of the $18.3 billion that the DOD shelled out for travel over this timeframe.

According to the report, “Not all improper travel payments – such as legitimate payments that initially lacked supporting documentation – represented a monetary loss to the government.”  However, it appears a substantial percentage has been written off as a loss.  In FYs 2017 and 2018, the Pentagon identified $549 million in erroneously distributed funds.  Of this figure, $205 million was counted as a total loss.

Perhaps most distressing, the improper payments between FYs 2016 and 2018  identified in the report went forward despite the DOD’s attempt to fix the problem in 2016.  At that point, the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller), the Defense Finance and Accounting Office, and the Defense Travel Management Office began certifying that the regulations guiding the DTS were met.  Nonetheless, the rate of improper payments remained steady.

The GAO report noted that, despite the DOD’s attempt to fix the problem, “its approach may not manage risk sufficiently, many actions remain incomplete, and communication of requirements was lacking.”  The efforts to counteract the issue “do not clearly identify the root causes of these errors or the cost-effectiveness of addressing them.”

There is absolutely no justification for the existence of the DTS.  While this was true in 2004, it is even more so today, given the explosion over the past 15 years of private sector companies that facilitate cheap travel.  However, because of the struggles of the DTS over the lifetime of the program, and the inability of the Pentagon to admit a problem, it will surprise no one when, sometime in 2034, CAGW is again reporting on the inadequacies of the program.

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