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Amid congressional fury, DoD official defends ditching multi-million dollar travel system

July 27, 2023

Jaspreet Gill

Breaking Defense

Members of the North Carolina (NC) and Louisiana (L) Air National Guard (ANG) sort suitcases out after flying in a C-17 Globemaster III June 11, 2019. (DVIDS)

By Jaspreet Gill, Breaking Defense / July 27, 2023

WASHINGTON — The Defense Department decided to scrap its new multi-million dollar travel management system because of very low adoption rate, as well as slower than anticipated return to travel after the COVID-19 pandemic, a DoD official recently told a testy group of House lawmakers.

During a contentious House Oversight and Accountability subcommittee hearing on Wednesday, Jeffrey Register, director of the Defense Human Resources Activity, said the new MyTravel system, meant to replace the decades-old Defense Travel System (DTS), reported only a 12 percent usage by the end of April. 

“MyTravel was intended to be a cost savings for the department but that has not been the case,” Register said, adding that the Pentagon is studying what went wrong. “Until our analysis is complete, DoD will continue to utilize DTS, which is already used for the majority of the department’s temporary duty travel and has been significantly improved to include many of the cost-saving features originally envisioned for MyTravel.”

Register did not elaborate on when DoD’s analysis would be complete, and lawmakers on the cybersecurity, information technology and government innovation subcommittee didn’t seem to buy Register’s explanation, with Chairwoman Nancy Mace, R-S.C., saying she had enough of Register’s “bullshit excuses.”

“I mean, you’re coming up here and you can’t even answer two of the first three questions,” she added. “And you’re now giving me some BS answer. I don’t understand it. How much money was wasted on this?”

Last October, DoD issued a memorandum requiring all of its components to ditch DTS in favor of MyTravel. Washington-based travel management software firm SAP Concur was initially awarded a contract worth $374 million to develop the system, but it’s unclear how much money DoD spent before pulling the plug on MyTravel. A report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), released Wednesday, summarized problems associated with the DTS. 

“DTS was intended to reduce DOD’s annual travel costs by more than $50 million, but this savings estimate was not based on reliable information,” GAO alleged. “Further, the implementation of DTS was problematic— particularly in the area of testing key functionality to ensure that the system would work as intended. DOD’s travel pay program has consistently been found to have significant improper payments, and some of those can be attributed to DTS.”

In May, DoD issued a memorandum [PDF] repealing the mandatory use of the new MyTravel system, saying it would cease operations in September this year because it was “no longer in the best interests of the Department,” but provided no further explanation.

The GAO noted that while it currently had “limited information” on why DoD discontinued MyTravel, the report said that “the abrupt cancellation of a years-long effort raises questions about DOD’s management of business process reforms.”

During the hearing, Elizabeth Field, director of defense capabilities and management at GAO, said the “multi-year, multi-million dollar effort to replace DTS is just one example of unsuccessful attempts department officials have made to roll out new enterprise-wide systems or to fundamentally change how the department does business.”

Notably, a key witness was missing from the hearing: Gilbert Cisneros, under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness, who spearheaded the department’s implementation of the new MyTravel system. Instead, Register took Cisneros’ place during the hearing, triggering harsh comments from subcommittee members who weren’t satisfied with Register’s answers to their questions.

Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., called it “unacceptable,” and Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D-Md.) said there was “really no explanation” for Cisneros’s absence. 

“I don’t even know if I have any questions because my questions won’t be able to get answered,” Mfume said.