Defense Travel survives Senate axe

The Defense Department’s embattled Defense Travel System (DTS) survived a Senate vote this morning that could have killed future funding for the comprehensive, paperless travel system.

The Senate voted 65-32 to table Coburn Amendment No. 2005, which seeks to curtail waste under DTS. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) wanted the amendment added to the 2006 Defense Appropriations bill under debate in Congress.

“He’s glad we had a vote to focus the public’s attention,” said John Hart, Coburn’s spokesman.

Hart said Coburn wants government, including DOD, to operate efficiently. He said Coburn believes DTS has failed to do that.

Hart said Coburn has not decided his next course of action. He said the senator may decide to hold more congressional hearings.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee’s Investigations Subcommittee held a hearing last week on possible waste, fraud and abuse at DTS. The eight-year, $474 million initiative automates DOD travel authorizations, reservations, processing, accounting, payments and archiving of transactions.

Critics including the watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste, which released a report on DTS last year, assert that each of its transactions costs $1,500 and excludes the cost of the ticket to travel. Northrop Grumman, the company building the system, describes the assertion as an “exercise in fuzzy math.”

“It is akin to calculating monthly housing costs by dividing a 30-year mortgage only by the first 12 months of home ownership,” said Northrop Grumman in a statement today.

The company said DTS has successfully processed more than 1 million authorizations, including more than 90,000 last month. Northrop Grumman said the system, which uses a modified version of Gelco’s Travel Manager software, works at more than half of DOD’s 11,000 sites and that the department has paid the company about $244 million of the $263 million it will receive. That is only a part of the $474 million that actually decreased from the original $492 million in fiscal 1998.

Rich Fabbre, DTS program manager at Northrop Grumman, said he believes someone gave Coburn misleading information. He said DOD officials expect DTS to substantially reduce travel voucher processing costs.

For example, the Defense Finance and Accounting Service charges about $32.50 for each voucher processed by existing systems. DTS should cut that fee to about $5.25 when fully deployed, Fabbre said.

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