DOD adopts digital signature for travel system

The Defense Department this month approved the use of digital signatures as part of the Defense Travel System a major re-engineering and automation of DOD processes for approving and reimbursing travel expenses.

If it proves successful the same technology might be applied to other programs departmentwide DOD said.Digital signatures enable individuals to attach a verifiable electronic "signature" to digital documents that will remain with that document through a workflow process. The signature encapsulates data preventing any unauthorized personnel from tampering with the data without voiding the signature.

Such a capability will be a necessary component of the Defense Travel System which will process DOD's estimated $3 billion in annual travel expenses. In recent years the department has been criticized for having a process that took too long and cost too much to manage.

Embracing EC

"Historically this has been a paper-based process " said Ancel Hendrix a management analyst in DOD's comptroller's office and a certified public accountant. "We are moving out of paper and into electronic commerce. In order to do that and give some insurance that the data is protected you have to have digital signature."

Internally DOD plans to use the federal standard for digital signatures - Federal Information Processing Standard 186. However the department also plans to develop interfaces that support encryption technology developed by RSA Data Security Inc. or other commercial standards.

The digital signature process is based on a public-key infrastructure in which a signer generates a signature using a private key controlled only by the signer. The signer also generates a public-key certificate that any other party can use to verify the signature.

Hoping to Follow Suit

"We hope to prove this concept will work and can export it to other applications " said Hendrix. "There is a lot of interest throughout DOD in eliminating paper as much as possible " including paper used in personnel systems contractor payments and other functions.

The technology will be incorporated in a Defense Travel System pilot beginning in April 1998. The pilot will cover Region 6 one of DOD's 12 Defense travel regions. Region 6 supports 200 000 potential travelers in 11 Midwestern states.

Once installed travelers will be able to submit travel requests with estimated travel costs for approval. That request and its information will travel through the review process. The same request also will be used to launch the request for reimbursements.

The goal is to provide employees with reimbursements in two days. The current process can take from two weeks to a month according to DOD.

"This project is potentially one of the most dramatic improvements we have seen in many of our federal clients " said Jim Goodridge group director for management consulting at Soza Corp. which is working with DOD on the project. "When the business case is published it is going to be very dramatic in terms of return on investment."

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