After fits and starts, Defense Travel System is nearly ready for the road

'The idea is that a DOD traveler can sit down at their desktop PC and log onto the system and book lodging, rental cars and transportation through our work force management system.'

'Col. Larry Schaefer

Air Force Col. Larry Schaefer inherited program management duties for the Defense Travel System about a year ago, when the Pentagon gave agencies permission to use the system to handle their travel needs electronically.

Before Schaefer's arrival, DTS had been riddled with software integration problems and start-up delays. The situation forced Defense Department leaders to halt the program until they could conduct a six-month review.

That review ended last July, just as Schaefer came on board, and DOD brass reinstated the program.

Since then, Schaefer said, the program has been operating smoothly at 12 pilot sites across the country. The goal is for DTS to help DOD employees arrange travel and receive reimbursement faster than the old paper system. And DTS is cheaper, Schaefer said. When the system is deployed departmentwide, DOD projects it will save $66 million a year.

'There was a concerted effort in place to resolve some of the software integration issues,' Schaefer said. 'There was a learning curve. We're re-engineering the way sites do travel. We didn't want to simply automate the way we did travel in the past.'

On tour

These days Schaefer is out touting the success of DTS. In late April, he met with commercial travel agents in Fair Lakes, Va., to show them the system's sophistication. Schaefer will host two more sessions in June and July.

Defense will issue a request for proposal in October to travel agents. Schaefer said DOD expects 3.2 million Defense employees to use the system once it is fully deployed by 2006. The rollout to users throughout DOD is slated to begin next year, he said.

'We've made some significant changes,' Schaefer said. 'The idea is that a DOD traveler can sit down at their desktop PC and log onto the system to book lodging, rental cars and transportation through our work force management system.'

Pete Aldridge, undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, and Dov S. Zakheim, Defense undersecretary and comptroller, last summer issued the memo reinstating the program. It offered an incentive for military agencies to deploy DTS ahead of the schedule Defense has set'they're allowed to keep whatever savings are generated.

Users of the system have seen, on average, a 70 percent reduction in the number of steps needed to make travel arrangements on DTS. For example, DOD workers at Fort Campbell, Ky., one of three Army pilot sites, used to have to take 50 steps to book travel. Now, it takes seven, Schaefer said.

The eight-year, $267 million contract was awarded to TRW Inc. in May 1998. Through DTS, TRW is automating all Defense travel documentation and merging multiple travel services into a single system with one interface. The paperless system lets travelers use DOD public-key infrastructure certificates to sign documents digitally.

The system will interface with more than 40 accounting and disbursing systems, the Defense table of official distances, a per diem rates database, a digital repository for records management and management information, and DOD's PKI program, all using the Non-Classified IP Router Network [GCN, May 15, 2000, Page 1]. The Defense table of official distances lets users compute mileage between sites for their expense reports.

Paper records

Despite some earlier modernization efforts, much of the travel approval process was done on paper. DOD organizations have more than 60 travel services contracts. As each expires, the organizations will convert to DTS, Schaefer said.

TRW will run DTS under Sun Microsystems Solaris 2.6 on a redundant cluster of Sun Enterprise 6000 servers. The system will store data in an Oracle8 Release 8.1.6 database and use a modified version of Travel Manager from Gelco Information Network Inc. of Minneapolis.

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