Pentagon Travel System Hardly Being Used

The Associated Press
Thursday, November 16, 2006; 4:52 PM

WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon that gave taxpayers a $434 hammer and a $600 toilet seat cover now has a half-billion-dollar travel booking system that is bypassed by more than eight in 10 users.

Senate investigators found the Pentagon's Web-based product _ despite its high price tag _ fails to find the cheapest airfares, offers an incomplete list of flights and hotels and won't recognize travel categories used by the National Guard and Reserves.

While the investigators did their own survey of the system, the Defense Department's acting inspector general said Thursday the agency hasn't been able to monitor how it's working.

"The Department lacks an overall travel management strategy to guide it in achieving the benefits" of a streamlined system and cost savings, Acting Inspector General Thomas Gimble told a Senate panel.

"Until the Department develops a travel management strategy and improves its ability to measure efficiencies gained by implementing DTS (Defense Travel System), it will not know whether it could achieve such benefits" as a 40 percent reduction in time spent on booking travel.

The investigators found that Defense Department travelers are contacting professional travel agents to find their hotels, flights and rental cars, and then using the computer system to enter those choices. Once the system is activated at an installation, travelers must use it to make their reservations, the Pentagon said.

The result: a half-hour booking process that, according to testimony before the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, would take travel professionals only five minutes.

The Defense Travel System was designed as the Pentagon's moneysaving version of an Internet travel site, where a traveler can make reservations without the need for fee-based travel agents.

The subcommittee, in checks this year of 41 military installations and the Pentagon, found that 83 percent of travelers have been contacting professional travel agents before entering the information in the new system. Investigators said they checked 755,000 trips between January and September.

At the Pentagon, less than 20 percent of travelers used the Defense Travel System as intended, without the travel agents. Virtually no travelers used the system at Dugway Proving Grounds in Utah, and Fort Leavenworth, Kan., investigators found.

The investigators and Congress' Government Accountability Office are now questioning the Pentagon estimates of how much it saved by replacing the old paper form system with the expensive computerized one.

A senator plans legislation to force the Pentagon to use travel agents, saying military staff is wasting too much time using the cumbersome new system and therefore erasing any cost savings.

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