Defense Travel System set to launch despite funding shortfall

A long-awaited paperless travel system at the Defense Department is on target to be up and running in 10 locations by September despite a $10 million cut in funding, Pentagon officials say. While Pentagon officials asked for $86 million to fund the Defense Travel System (DTS), a program that enables Defense employees to request authorization to travel, make arrangements and submit claims from their desktop computers, Congress declined to fund the project at the amount requested. Defense awarded a contract for developing DTS to TRW Inc. in May 1998 with an initial launch date of December 2000. Several delays kept the project from coming online, including a series of unsuccessful tests by travelers at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., which found that system set-up and help desk operations needed improvement. While the $10 million cut will affect the program, DTS officials said it will not have an impact on the project's launch date. "We do not expect any delays in fielding pilot sites in [fiscal 2002]," a DTS spokesman said. However, the cut may have an impact on software updates, according to Rich Fabbre, TRW's program manager for DTS. "The [Defense Appropriations] bill talks about re-programming authority, so there are some avenues available to potentially recover some of that money," Fabbre explained. "There will be an impact and we are right now assessing and evaluating, but our goal is to keep the deployment schedule on track." TRW recently completed testing at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., and is preparing to expand the program to 10 pilot sites, including Beaufort Marine Corps Air Station, S.C., Fort Campbell, Ky., Minot Air Force Base, N.D., and Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md. The travel system should be up and running at those sites by Sept. 30, Fabbre said. Once implemented, DTS should streamline everything involved in taking a business trip, from the number of approval signatures required to the auditing and processing of vouchers. The program was developed in 1994 after a report by the Clinton administration's National Performance Review called for an overhaul of the entire Defense Department travel system. Pentagon officials estimate the system will save $99.6 million a year within three years of deployment. "[The Ellsworth test] validated the fact that the system works very, very well," Fabbre said. "It does exactly what it is supposed to do, which is automate the system from end to end. I think everything is poised to roll out very well."
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