Bill would put brakes on DTS' travel portion

Editor's note: This story was updated at 10:20 a.m. March 6, 2007. Please go to Corrections & Clarifications to see what has changed.

Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) has made good on his promise to introduce legislation to remove funding from the travel portion of the long-embattled Defense Travel System. He introduced a bill March 2 that would ban the use of DTS for travel planning while preserving the system’s back-end functions.

DTS was originally commissioned in 1998 to be the Defense Department’s all-in-one travel management program. But it has ballooned into an ongoing effort that has cost taxpayers more than $500 million. The program, currently managed by the Defense Travel Management Office (DTMO) and contracted out to Northrop Grumman, has faced criticism for failing to deliver promised savings and being difficult to use.

“Simply put, DTS does not work and has proven to be a waste of taxpayer dollars,” Coleman said in a press release. “This bill will right this wrong by eliminating the travel planning component.”

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), another vocal critic of DTS, co-sponsored the bill.

If passed, the bill, the Defense Travel System Simplification Act of 2007, would prohibit DOD employees from using DTS to search for or book flights, hotel rooms and rental cars. The secretary of Defense would be required to convene a task force to determine the way ahead for DOD travel. The U.S. comptroller general would have to test and certify any new system, according to the bill.

Also, Coleman’s legislation would force DOD to rename DTS the Defense Travel Accounting and Voucher Processing System.

Meanwhile, DOD’s Business Transformation Agency is conducting a study to determine whether separating the front- and back-end portions of DTS is even possible. That study won’t be ready until May, said Elizabeth McGrath, principal assistant deputy undersecretary of Defense for business transformation.

“Scrapping this portion of the system while we streamline the travel process is our best option,” Coleman said. “The answer is not to continue throwing money at the problem.”

At Senate hearings last November, Coleman and Coburn highlighted repeated implementation delays and DTS managers’ inability to produce verifiable statistics to support their claims of high usage and savings.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which Coleman headed until recently, released a report late last year that found that DTS was being used for only 17 percent of 700,000 travel transactions at 42 major DOD facilities surveyed.

The DOD Inspector General’s Office reported in November that it could not produce a cost benefit analysis of DTS because DTMO and the DTS program office couldn’t provide reliable usage data. DOD IG Thomas Gimble told the senators he was unable to provide any assurance that DTS is the best travel solution for DOD.

In September 2006, the Government Accountability Office said the projected cost savings for DTS are questionable and cannot be justified. In one example, the DTS program office published a usage claim that was based solely on a news article in a trade publication.

The role of commercial travel offices interacting with DTS is the subject of an ongoing legal battle. Several companies have repeatedly protested the travel services contracts that DTMO has awarded. They claim DTMO is forcing them to bid using fictional statistics, thereby corrupting the competition.

Coleman and Coburn agree with DOD that the accounting and voucher processing portions of DTS work reasonably well and should be saved. A DOD spokesperson declined to comment publicly on bills in the middle of the legislative process.

Coburn twice tried to remove all DTS funding through amendments to the 2006 and 2007 Defense authorization bills, both of which were removed by the respective joint conference committees.

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