The Pentagon’s reasons for reverting back to its legacy Defense Travel System after seven months “don’t add up,” according to Rep. Nancy Mace, R-S.C.
House lawmakers criticized the Department of Defense on Wednesday for pulling the plug on its new multi-million dollar travel management system just months after directing all of its service branches to transition to the modernized software.
During a House Oversight Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Information Technology and Government Innovation hearing on Wednesday, lawmakers expressed bipartisan confusion about DOD’s sudden decision to terminate MyTravel, a $374 million effort to replace the Pentagon’s aging Defense Travel System, or DTS.
In addition to being criticized for its usability issues, a 2019 report from the Government Accountability Office noted that, from fiscal years 2016 through 2018, DTS “processed over $965 million in improper payments.”
Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Gil Cisneros ordered all DOD services to switch from DTS to MyTravel in October 2022, but later issued a May 24 memo repealing his directive and saying that department components “are no longer required to use the system.”
Jeffrey Register — director of the Pentagon’s Defense Human Resources Activity — told lawmakers that MyTravel was scrapped because of “a low adoption rate for onboarded organizations,” with “less than 12% system usage” by the end of April.
“While our decision may appear abrupt, the department has been discussing the challenges and potential courses of action for my travel for some time prior to the announcement,” Register said, adding that “the most fiscally sound way forward was to not exercise the next contract option period.”
Register also indicated that issues with the service branches integrating their enterprise resources planning — or ERP — systems into the new system played a pivotal role in its demise, noting they “needed to add more features to their ERPs before shifting to MyTravel.”
“Unlike DTS, MyTravel was intended to be a travel system that leveraged the financial management capabilities of the ERPs,” he noted.
Elizabeth Field, GAO’s director of defense capabilities and management, said that the challenges DOD appeared to face with implementing MyTravel were indicative of broader modernization challenges across the department.
“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 enterprisewide systems, or to fundamentally change how the department does business,” Field said.
While Field noted that GAO has not conducted an audit to determine DOD’s rationale for canceling the new system, she said that the service branches are the largest component of the Pentagon and “if the services don't agree to make adjustments to their systems to connect to MyTravel, you don't have the volume of travel that you need to make the investment worthwhile.”
She said it was not uncommon, either, for Pentagon modernization initiatives to be undermined by a lack of buy-in from DOD components, saying that GAO has seen “on more than one occasion” where the Office of the Secretary of Defense “wants to reform a business operation enterprise wide, and the services do not agree and the reform efforts fail.”
Lawmakers also did not buy DOD’s explanation for MyTravel’s termination and signaled their desire to push for accountability from Cisneros over the failed modernization effort.
Rep. Nancy Mace, R-S.C. — who chairs the panel — said that DOD’s reasons for canceling MyTravel “don't add up.” Mace previously sent a June 30 letter to Cisneros calling for clarity on DOD’s decision to cancel the program, which she said “raised broader questions” about the Pentagon’s ability to manage its information technology systems.
“Your answers are such bullshit,” Mace told Register near the end of the hearing, adding that he should “take that back to Under Secretary Cisneros, that the next time we have this hearing he better show up.”
Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va. — the panel’s ranking member — said lawmakers “must get this nearly decade-long effort to modernize DOD’s travel system back on track to address the agency's hundreds of millions of dollars of improper payments every year, or continue to risk not only travel convenience, but military readiness.”
He added that he was prepared to join with Mace “in insisting Mr. Cisneros come back for a subsequent hearing to account for this story.”