Senate threatens to cut DTS funding

The Defense Department must fix its Defense Travel System or federal funding will be cut off, senators told DOD officials today. The long-embattled system is not working despite costing almost $500 million in the past eight years, the senators said.

DTS was intended to be DOD’s all-in-one, Web-based travel management solution, but the system has faced repeated criticism over its lack of usability and delays in development.

“I am appalled that the Defense Department has spent half a billion dollars to develop a system that doesn’t work as required, that doesn’t save money as we were led to believe, and that isn’t being used by DOD personnel” said Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, at a hearing today.

Coleman said he plans to introduce legislation to kill the travel portion of the system. “The travel component of DTS is a failure and a waste of taxpayers’ money,” he said.

DTS’ travel-booking feature fails to find the best fares, and the interface is difficult to use, Coleman said. The system’s back end, including accounting, vouchers and connections to other DOD systems, works reasonably well, however, and should be preserved, if possible, he said.

David Chu, undersecretary of Defense for personnel and readiness, told the committee that DOD was not satisfied with the system’s travel functions. DTS is a means to an end, he said, and the goal is to find the best overall solution. The department is exploring all options for fixing DTS, Chu said.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) told Chu he would block further funding for DTS if the problems aren’t resolved. “There won’t be any money going to the Pentagon as long as I’m a U.S. senator until this is fixed,” he said.

The subcommittee found that DTS was used for only 17 percent of travel transactions between January and September at the 42 DOD locations it surveyed. At the Pentagon, only 19.8 percent of travel bookings were made through DTS during the same period, according to the subcommittee’s investigation.

The DTS program office also failed to keep records that would allow objective evaluations of DTS’ success, said Acting DOD Inspector General Thomas Gimble. The department could not produce the cost or savings documentation needed to judge the system, he said.

“It is not possible for us to determine whether DTS is the most cost-effective way to meet the department’s travel management needs or even to fully quantify cost savings,” Gimble testified.

Coburn introduced an amendment to the 2007 Defense Authorization bill that would have switched DTS to a fee-per-transaction program, but the amendment was taken out of the bill by the joint House/Senate conference committee.

In its place, the conferees mandated an independent study to determine the possibility of separating the travel and accounting functions of DTS, and to evaluate the program’s future. A federally funded research and development center will conduct the study, officials said.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said at the hearing that he would depend on the forthcoming study to inform him about DTS’ viability. Levin will become chairman of the subcommittee when the congressional leadership changes hands next year.

The DTS contract began as a fee-per-transaction contract in 1998 but was switched to a cost-plus-profit contract in 2001, shortly after Northrop Grumman acquired the company that was managing DTS. The government has paid out a total of $474 million for DTS, according to the Government Accountability Office, with $264 million going to Northrop Grumman.

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