Defense Digital Service looks to overhaul travel system

The Pentagon's digital "SWAT" team has a new mission: overhaul the much-maligned system that Defense Department officials use to book travel.

Shutterstock image: software development.

The Defense Department's digital "SWAT" team has a new mission: overhaul the much-maligned system that defense officials use to book travel.

The Defense Digital Service is working on a pilot for a travel system that is a cloud-based software-as a service , DDS Director Chris Lynch said June 10 at the Defense One Tech Summit in Washington. Lynch is the hoodie-donning, blunt-talking entrepreneur whom Defense Secretary Ash Carter brought in to disrupt a DOD business process that has often been beholden to program requirements.

Lynch's goal for the new travel system is clear: make it easy to use, like corporate travel systems are. He is also clear-eyed about the incumbent system. DTS is "a piece of shit," Lynch told FCW after his remarks, adding that he is eager to get feedback on the SaaS system that's being tested.

DTS has long drawn the ire of lawmakers, auditors, and DOD officials. Nearly a decade ago, the Government Accountability Office determined that DOD had overestimated savings for DTS and failed to fix implementation problems with the system. Back then, DTS created added fees for the user and prevented travelers from quickly making changes to their reservations.

It is unclear exactly how much has changed in recent years with DTS. There is already a "change management process" for making the system easier to use, according to a DOD website, but Lynch's team needn't pay heed to that process.

About 100,000 unique users access DTS daily, according to the DOD website.

Lessons from the Pentagon's bug hunt

DDS recently helped carry out "Hack the Pentagon," a first-of-its-kind bug bounty program in which vetted hackers were allowed to probe DOD websites for vulnerabilities. Hackers found about 90 vulnerabilities in the process that included the ability to manipulate website content. 

Lynch said the bug bounty program was a reminder that DOD spends "a lot of time focused just on the networks themselves, and not necessarily the applications or the things that are running on top of it."

Lynch cast his team of about 15 entrepreneurs and tech hands as outsiders recruited to do a "tour of duty" in government. They are not deeply familiar with the mission-specific aspects of DOD programs, but they do know how to build and ship secure software, he added.

"It's great to pair us with the people who actually have the mission knowledge, and that is I think where the actual magic starts to happen," Lynch said. 

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