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American Forces Press Service

Defense Travel System Maintains Customer Focus as Rollout Continues

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 17, 2007 – Halfway through the full rollout of the Defense Travel System, officials say it’s accomplishing exactly what it set out to do: streamlining the travel process while improving service to travelers.

The system, first introduced in 2005, processed 2.4 million temporary duty travel vouchers during fiscal 2007, Pam Mitchell, deputy director of the Defense Travel Management Office, told American Forces Press Service. That represents 84 percent of all the Defense Department’s TDY travel, with only elements of the Army Reserve and Army National Guard not yet on the system, she said.

Now, a top Defense Department priority is to expand DTS to cover some 25 to 30 additional categories of official travel, including permanent-change-of-station moves and travel for medical care or training. Sheila Earle, principal director of Military Personnel Policy and the Defense Travel Management Office’s acting director, said she hopes to meet that goal by 2009.

The result will be a universal system that replaces dozens of other disjointed systems, creating efficiencies and maximizing the government’s buying power, Earle said. At the same time, DTS will eliminate some of the red tape and headaches federal travelers have long endured in arranging official travel.

Before DTS, federal travelers went one place to get their travel orders, to another for their travel advance, and to still another to make transportation, lodging and rental car arrangements. After completing their travel, they filed a travel voucher through one of myriad travel systems in use throughout the department. Many submitted hard-copy forms they filled out manually along with their receipts to be processed.

DTS, in contrast, enables travelers to complete all these transactions from the convenience of their desktop computers. “The bottom line is to make it easier for the traveler,” Mitchell said. “We’re focused on making the travel experience better.”

Meanwhile, DTS is introducing efficiencies throughout the system as it consolidates DoD’s processes for ticket reservations, authorizations, voucher processing and financial accounting.

“This gives one-stop shopping for the Department of Defense for all travel requirements,” Mitchell said. “It allows us to leverage economies of scale and ensure standards of service and efficiency across the board.”

It also enables better oversight of the department’s entire travel enterprise -- one that amounts to some $12 billion to $13 billion a year -- and more universal enforcement of federal travel regulations, Earle said.

Mitchell described the department’s vast travel operation as a spider web. “You literally have all these parts and pieces scattered all over the place, loosely attached together with these webs,” she said.

DTS is part of the Defense Travel Management Office’s effort to “take all those disparate things all over the place in this web and pull them into a more orderly universe so we can leverage what is best for both the government and the traveler,” Mitchell said.

Earle said there’s little doubt that, when fully implemented, DTS will save the government money. “If I am able to write a more efficient commercial travel office contract and I handle it in a more efficient way, that saves us an awful lot of money in the Department of Defense,” she said.

But DTS is about more than just saving money, Earle emphasized “It’s changing the way we do business,” she said. “It’s completely changing our emphasis.”

The Defense Department has “put the bar quite high” in setting expectations for DTS, Earle said. “Make it make sense, and make it smart. Make it save money if at all possible. Make it more efficient and a better system for travelers,” she said.

“The bottom line is, strike the best deal you can for the government, get the best service you can provide for the traveler and do it with efficiency,” Earle said. “That’s what we’re trying to do.”

Earle conceded that the department historically has focused more on the travel system itself than the person using it. “We are going to change that relationship,” she said. “The upper hand now goes to the traveler. We are going to make that system as efficient for the traveler as possible, while maintaining all the other things that are important for good governance and oversight.

“But the voice of the traveler is going to trump the demands of any one area,” she said. “This is the first time the traveler has actually been given a voice.”

A usability review that began in October and is expected to continue through the summer is assessing exactly what travelers have to say about DTS and where it can be improved.

Initial feedback shows many DTS users like some of the most recent changes. They like the speed in which their travel vouchers are processed and the fact that their government credit cards get paid directly through DTS. They also have good things to say about the system’s new “book as you go” feature that allows them to reserve an airplane seat while their travel order is going through the approval process. “We’ve gotten tremendous positive feedback about that,” Mitchell said.

The challenge now is to continue DTS’ evolution to make it a system people want to use, not one they have to use, Earle said.

To reach that point, Earle said, she’s looking to all Defense Department travelers to lend their experience to make the system better. “Everybody has an opinion, and we have a million experts out there who have traveled and who know how to do this better,” she said. “We want to hear from you, because we want to make the travel experience better.”

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