DTS officials look down road

DOD, disputing GAO, says savings will come with increased use of travel system

Executives of the Defense Travel System program office, its prime contractor and the Defense Department are defending the program against criticism from the Government Accountability Office.

GAO, in a report issued late last month, termed 'highly questionable' DOD's claim that its travel booking system will save $56 million per year. The report also slammed DTS for lacking metrics to measure system usage and for failing to address 'the underlying problems associated with weak requirement management and system testing.'

This is not the first time GAO has targeted DTS, nor will it be the last. Earlier reports, issued in September 2005 and January 2006, focused on DTS implementation problems. The program also has met with congressional ire. In the fiscal 2007 Defense spending bill, lawmakers slashed DTS' funding by $28 million, and ordered yet another GAO audit of the program.

The most recent GAO report issued four recommendations, largely agreed to by Defense officials, which included improving management oversight and initiating periodic reporting on DTS utilization.

But DTS' program manager, Air Force Col. Lynne T. Hamilton-Jones, said the system is working well, noting that more than 50,000 users log in to DTS every day, and that the system processes 7,000 travel authorizations and 6,500 vouchers daily.

DTS usage 'continues to increase significantly,' she said. 'The more users we have for the system, the more costs will be reduced overall for DOD.'

DTS prime contractor Northrop Grumman Corp. also disputed GAO's conclusions regarding requirements management.

GAO concluded that 'DTS' requirements are still ambiguous and conflicting,' and that 'until DOD improves DTS' requirements management practices, the department will not have reasonable assurance that DTS can provide the intended functionality.'

DTS has had glitches, Northrop Grumman spokesperson Janis Lamar said, but, 'like other development programs, DTS is an evolving system.'

'When glitches have been identified in the past, they've been promptly corrected,' Lamar said. 'Acting on GAO's previous recommendations, potential issues are now tested more thoroughly and verified to work properly before being fielded. Any remaining glitches will be similarly and promptly remedied.'

This month, DTS officials plan to introduce more upgraded features, Hamilton-Jones said, which will simplify processes for travelers.

DOD plans to upgrade the reservation module in order to provide a better interface to future DTS users. The full implementations of those plans are currently under review, said Stewart Upton, a DOD spokesman.

'We believe that by integrating the travel reservation process with improved financial-management processes, DTS will increase savings in ticket processing while providing for better auditing and control of travel expenses,' he said.

Some of DTS' problems can be blamed on a 'convoluted and cumbersome' management system, according to Paul Brinkley, co-director of DOD's Business Transformation Agency.

Army Maj. Gen. Carlos D. Pair, BTA's Defense business systems acquisition executive, and David S. Chu, undersecretary of Defense for personnel and readiness, jointly manage the project.

Congressional dissatisfaction means that DTS will have to face yet another GAO audit. The House-Senate conference report on the Defense Appropriations Bill accused DTS of noncompliance with the Improper Payments Act, and directed the Government Accountability Office to assess why and make recommendations. That report is due by May 31, 2007.

About the Author

Peter Buxbaum is a special contributor to Defense Systems.

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