Study says Defense Travel System isn't user-friendly

The Defense Department's almost-completed automated Defense Travel System is not user-friendly, and fewer than half of the users of the system report a successful experience, according to a new study.

The department started developing the travel system in 1998 to provide an integrated, automated system to generate travel authorizations, reservations and vouchers to replace legacy paperwork travel systems. Its implementation to all 9,800 locations is to be completed this year.

However, the system is confusing and unwieldy for users, according to a new study by the Logistics Management Institute that was given to the House Armed Services Committee March 5.

Military travelers’ overall average success rate in using the system is only 42 percent, according to the institute’s study, which was done September 2008.

“In general, we found that many ordinary tasks are demonstrably difficult, inappropriately require users to understand complex underlying business processes, invite confusion and errors, lack significant online help, and are hampered by poor interface design,” William Moore, vice president of the institute, said in prepared remarks at the hearing.

However, defense travel professionals had an easier time with the system. Lead and organizational defense travel administrators had a success rate of 61 percent, financial defense travel administrators were successful 73 percent of the time, and routing officials succeeded 88 percent of the time, Moore said. The institute made 42 recommendations to improve usability of the system.

The defense travel office commissioned the institute’s study because it takes usability very seriously, Pamela Mitchell, director of the defense travel management office, told the committee. “The department is aware of traveler issues with using the Defense Travel System and increasing the system’s usability remains a top priority,” she said.

DOD is taking a two-phased approach to implement the institute’s recommendations, starting in February 2010 to revise the travel system screens and navigational buttons to make them more user-friendly.

The second phase, planned for May 2011, will include more extensive systemic enhancements including a graphical user interface update to make navigation easier, she said.

Also at the hearing, the Government Accountability Office reported that the cost of processing a travel voucher through the defense travel system is only $2.50 vs. $37 through the legacy manual systems.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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