End of the line?

Plagued by myriad problems, the Defense Department's key program for digitizing its massive travel management system within the armed services may be on the chopping block.

The Defense Travel System, being developed by TRW Inc., is intended to digitize temporary duty travel for DOD's 3.2 million personnel, including active-duty personnel, civilians and reservists, and is also designed to take advantage of simplified DOD travel regulations. Properly used, the system would enable each traveler's boss to approve trips. The system also would allow installation-level travel offices that traditionally had minimal direct contact and understanding of travelers' needs to be disbanded.

Plagued by slow response times, data entry, ease-of-use and training problems, DTS failed an operational test late last year at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo. Its fate now rests at the Pentagon, according to Rich Fabbre, TRW program manager for the system.

Air Force Col. Pamela Arias, DTS program director, will give a briefing on DTS by early April to Ed Elgart, acting deputy assistant secretary of the Army for procurement, and Mary Lou McHugh, assistant deputy undersecretary of Defense for transportation policy, said Air Force Maj. Brent Calderwood, a DTS spokesman.

Elgart and McHugh will then decide whether to continue the program, Fabbre said. If the program dies, it could create difficulties for those installations that were anticipating DTS and have cut travel offices from their budgets.

The Pentagon meetings with Elgart and McHugh have been delayed because collecting and analyzing data on DTS has taken longer than expected, Calderwood said.

In addition, a report to the House Armed Services Committee about DTS was completed in November, but "put on hold" pending completion of the Whiteman review and reports on DTS technology and how it functions, Calderwood said.

TRW is paying most system development costs and would charge DOD about $5 for each ticket booked through the system, Fabbre said. Along with the tests at Whiteman, the Marine Corps is using a limited version of DTS at Beaufort, S.C.

TRW won the five-year, $275 million contract to develop DTS in May 1998, and the company geared its efforts to passing laboratory tests at the Defense Information Systems Agency's Joint Interoperability Test Command at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., as well as the six-week pilot program tests at Whiteman. DTS passed the Fort Huachuca tests in late summer, but the "results were not very good" at Whiteman, Fabbre said.

Officials at Whiteman have yet to file a report on the pilot tests, Fabbre said. DTS had 4,000 users at the base, who booked more than 300 trips, he said.

"Every [temporary duty] traveler used the system and got paid on time," Fabbre said. A public affairs officer at Whiteman referred questions about the tests to Calderwood.

Early results indicate that DTS "is performing to [the Office of the Secretary of Defense's] vision, and technical performance — particularly response time — appears not to be an issue," Calderwood said. But during a Dec. 8 briefing before the DTS test review board, Whiteman officials said they had problems involving data entry, training and ease-of-use, as well as response.

"This business of response time has been a bit of a thorn," Fabbre said, particularly after the Whiteman tests. Pentagon officials want to drastically reduce the 151-minute average time it now takes to fill out a travel form and get it approved. Neither Calderwood nor Fabbre would say how long it took DTS to respond to Whiteman users.

Fabbre blamed DTS' slow performance at Whiteman on three issues: training, slow response times caused by the base network's T-1 connection to the Non-Classified IP Router Network, and the base's data entry work.

To improve performance, Arias has been working with TRW to simplify the DTS set-up process and training, Calderwood said.

DTS has lacked a high-level supporter since John Hamre left his job as deputy Defense secretary in January 2000. And because DTS program management falls under the DOD comptroller's office and the Bush administration has yet to name a new comptroller, the program may be lacking key support at a crucial time.

If DTS continues, the U.S. Transportation Command at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., would manage the program, according to a January memo from former Comptroller Bill Lynn, Calderwood said.

Although DOD has eliminated some of its cumbersome travel regulations, the department probably set too many requirements for TRW, said a Pentagon official familiar with the program.

For example, DTS must interface with 43 accounting systems within DOD, Fabbre said.

"It's a complex process. They don't make things easy for you," said Philip Odeen, executive vice president for TRW's Washington operations.

During a demonstration last month at TRW in Fairfax, Va., company officials showed a reporter that round-trip airplane tickets and rental car and hotel reservations could be booked through DTS in less than 10 minutes. "We don't have a response [time] problem" when operating with a decent network infrastructure, Fabbre said.

DOD has made two big changes — simplifying its voluminous travel regulations and allowing immediate supervisors to authorize travel — Fabbre said. Previously, most installations had their own travel offices that handled travel requests.

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