Defense Travel System Expands, Earns Greater Customer Approval
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 6, 2009 The Defense Travel System has expanded its reach and gained ground in customer satisfaction, the director of the Defense Travel Management Office told a congressional panel yesterday.
“In terms of improvements, the department has focused its efforts on expanding DTS usage, making DTS more user friendly, and improving customer satisfaction,” Pamela S. Mitchell told the House Armed Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation. “Currently, DTS operates at over 9,500 sites and organizations worldwide and fielding is 96 percent complete.”
DTS is a travel management system enabling Defense Department travelers to create travel orders, make reservations, and create travel vouchers to generate payment of authorized charges to their government travel cards and per diem entitlement to their bank accounts.
The department is moving forward to field the system with reserve components and the National Guard, Mitchell said while reading from a joint statement prepared by herself and David M. Fisher, director of the Business Transformation Agency. Most of the sites fielded are Army and Air Reserve, and National Guard.
DTS also will be expanded to ships afloat, if technology allows, Mitchell said.
“This has been a challenge, particularly with respect to bandwidth concerns and the need for persistent connectivity,” she said. “The Navy is currently conducting a pilot to determine the most feasible option to complete this transformation.”
As system usage has grown, so has its usage for voucher processing. More than 5 million vouchers for temporary duty travel were filed in fiscal 2008. More than 3.2 million were processed through DTS -- a rate of 64.8 percent. That represents a 36.5 percent increase over fiscal 2007, Mitchell said.
The trend has continued this year with a year-to-date processing rate of 73.2 percent, Mitchell said. The average time between signing a voucher and receiving payment has averaged 8.7 days, more than three times faster than the requirement for reimbursement, she said.
The cost to process vouchers decreases as more vouchers are processed electronically. The Travel Management Department looked at the cost associated with manually processing Army and some defense agencies’ paper vouchers through the Defense Finance Accounting Service and compared that with processing them electronically through DTS. The finding was that DTS processing resulted in a more than 40 percent cost reduction from fiscal 2007 to fiscal 2008.
The Defense Travel Management Office has taken steps in the last year to address customer concerns and make DTS more user- friendly, Mitchell said.
“The department is aware of traveler issues with using DTS, and increasing the system’s usability remains a top priority,” she said.
A DTS Usability Review, contracted by the department, focused on areas where users had the most difficulty and involved nearly 300 participants at 10 installations, including military and defense agencies.
Completed in September, several recommended changes are being implemented through a two-phase approach. The first phase, planned to start in February 2010, will revise DTS screens and navigation buttons to make the system more intuitive, Mitchell said.
The second phase, planned for May 2010, will include more expensive systemic enhancements to improve usability, such as easier interoperability with graphics, she said.
Updates in this phase are a result of direct input from the DTS user community, she added.
This kind of input will continue now that the travel community has access to what Mitchell described as a “meaningful customer satisfaction program.” The 2008 results of the QuickCompass survey, a key component of that program, showed that more than half of all travelers found DTS easy to use when making airline or rental car reservations.
“The ease of use is expected to lead to increased preference for using DTS over other methods of reservations,” Mitchell said.
DTS training also will undergo an overhaul, Mitchell said.
“The department is revamping all of its training programs to provide the knowledge and skills necessary for successful and efficient travel,” she said. “Since July 2008, the department has launched five online training modules for DTS users. Over 24,000 travelers have taken advantage of this training since inception of these five modules.”
As DTS continues to gain capability to support more defense travel, the number of legacy travel systems will decrease, resulting in cost savings, Mitchell said.
“The department’s projected sunset date for all identified systems that can be shut down is 2013,” she said. “DTS functionality will continue to be enhanced to support capabilities of the legacy systems through 2012.”
While the Defense Travel Management Office presented many gains in DTS, the Government Accountability Office pointed out areas needing improvement.
The GAO made 14 recommendations in reports issued in January and September 2006 aimed at improving the Defense Department’s management oversight and implementation of DTS and related travel policies. Based on the Defense Department’s work, GAO considers seven of those recommendations unmet, Asif A. Khan, GAO’s director of financial management told the subcommittee.
Of those seven recommendations, three relate to inadequacies in DTS’ management and system testing and three to the system’s underutilization.
Still, Khan acknowledged the daunting challenge in overhauling the Defense Department’s financial management and business operations.
“With 3.3 million military and civilian personnel as potential travel system users at approximately 9,800 locations around the world, the sheer size and complexity of the undertaking overshadows any such project in the private sector,” he said.