David Fisher, director of the Defense Department's Business Transformation Agency, displays the stack of binders containing 2,000 pages of Joint Federal Travel Regulations on Tuesday. (Sheila Vemmer / Staff)
Fixing flaws in the Defense Travel System — still unfinished after 15 years of work — will be too difficult and expensive unless Defense Department travel regulations are simplified, Pentagon officials told lawmakers Tuesday.
"We'd have to spend millions and millions of dollars to get it right," David Fisher, director of the Defense Department's Business Transformation Agency, said. "We'd like to be able to continue that investment in a simpler world."
The Defense Department has defined 76 types of trips that its employees might take, Fisher told the House Armed Services subcommittee on oversight and legislation. DTS is equipped to handle 61 of those, and plans to cover four more. The remaining 11 — which include permanent deployment travel (PDT), deployed travel, and military entrance processing travel — are not so easy.
Pam Mitchell, director of the Defense Travel Management Office, said she thinks her office can get the number of trip types down to a more manageable 10.
She and Fisher asked for the subcommittee's help in navigating about 2,000 pages of sometimes contradictory rules and regulations that govern Defense travel. Reforming the system will require legislative action, she said.
"DTS should not be further transformed until revisions are made to travel legislation, policies and processes," Mitchell and Fisher said in a joint statement.
The subcommittee last year asked for a report and recommendations for legislative action on how to modernize DTS, but didn't get the answers they were looking for at Tuesday's hearing.
Subcommittee chairman Vic Snyder, D-Ark., chastised Mitchell and Fisher for not having specific legislative recommendations ready for review. The fiscal 2011 Defense authorization bill is scheduled to move forward soon, and "if you miss this train, we'll need another 13 months," Snyder said.
The subcommittee's ranking Republican, Rob Wittman of Virginia, also expressed his displeasure with the Defense Department's progress on revamping DTS, which has been subject to frequent complaints from users.
"It's discouraging: We never seem to get to the point where we're actually at the finish line," he said. "Developing and fielding an online travel system for [the Defense Department] is a daunting challenge. But 15 years does seem excessive."
At the end of the hearing, Snyder asked if the subcommittee could see the 2,000 pages of rules that Fisher and Mitchell had referenced. Fisher had come prepared: He dramatically unloaded white binders from a large gray suitcase and stacked them on the table in front of him, until the pile was about 2 feet tall.