Lawmakers grilled the Pentagon on Wednesday over the decision to abandon its MyTravel program, a $374 million effort to modernize an aging travel management system used by service members and civilians that the department said failed to get off the ground.
The decision to discontinue the program was based, in part, on a low adoption rate and slower-than-expected return to travel that ultimately couldn’t justify carrying out the price tag, according to a Pentagon official who testified on behalf of the Office of the Under Secretary for Defense for Personnel and Readiness.
“While our decision may appear abrupt, the department had been discussing the challenges and potential courses of action for MyTravel for some time prior to the announcement,” said Jeffrey Register, director of human resources activity at the Pentagon, at a hearing on Capitol Hill. “MyTravel was intended to be a cost savings for the department, but that has not been the case.”
Rep. Nancy Mace, R-S.C., who chairs the House Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Information Technology, and Government Innovation, called the hearing to examine why the department was scrapping the planned upgrade to the travel management system, which for years has come under fire for malfunctioning and being difficult to use.
This “IT acquisition failure,” as Mace called it, raises other questions about how prepared the Pentagon is to tackle other modernization initiatives aimed at replacing aging technology without significant cost and time overruns. And against the backdrop of fifth consecutive failed financial audit, the unsuccessful venture also raises concerns about the agency’s ability to make efficient business decisions, lawmakers said.
The attempt to revamp and address pre-existing deficiencies of the Defense Travel System means that the department is back where it started: with a legacy program that is still in need of improvements.
“I have personally had really, really bad experiences with DTS,” said South Carolina Republican William Timmons, who is also a Air National Guardsman. “I have multiple times had to use my own resources to get to trainings because flights were canceled.”
Timmons said that one improvement to DTS in the interim could be to give service members real-time updates or notifications on their itineraries and voucher approvals.
‘Legion of inefficiencies’
Watchdogs at the inspector general office and the Government Accountability Office have pinpointed that for 12 years in a row, the Pentagon failed to be in compliance for addressing improper payments in part associated with DoD travel.
“Due to a legion of inefficiencies, DTS generated nearly $1 billion in improper payments from fiscal years 2016 through 2018, according to a 2019 [GAO] study,” Mace said in a previous letter to the Pentagon.
GAO also found that 16 of 25 major IT business programs experienced cost or schedule changes since January 2021.
“Cross-cutting agency reform is hard, especially at an agency as large and complex as the Department of Defense,” said Elizabeth Field, GAO’s director of defense capabilities and management, at the hearing. “DoD’s 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.”
Democratic and Republican lawmakers also called out the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, Gilbert Cisneros, who was specifically invited to testify but did not appear at Wednesday’s hearing.
Cisneros issued the May 24 memo that pulled the plug on MyTravel, though it was a joint decision by defense offices, Register said.
Molly Weisner is a staff reporter for Federal Times where she covers labor, policy and contracting pertaining to the government workforce. She made previous stops at USA Today and McClatchy as a digital producer, and worked at The New York Times as a copy editor. Molly majored in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.