Pentagon officials facing more heat over decision to cancel MyTravel

DoD told House lawmakers the reason for cancelling MyTravel stemmed from slow integration with the services ERP systems and an overall lack of usage that didn...

Frustrated by the lack of cooperation, House Oversight and Accountability Committee lawmakers are turning up the heat on the Pentagon over its lack of answers for why it scrapped the MyTravel project.

The Defense Department has until Friday to respond to Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) June 30 letter, nearly two weeks longer than the chairwoman of the subcommittee on cybersecurity, information technology and government innovation initially gave them. The letter is seeking details and documents, including the unredacted justification and approval for the sole source contract DoD awarded to SAP Concur in 2021.

Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) is the chairwoman of the Oversight and Accountability Subcommittee on IT, cybersecurity and government innovation. (AP Photo/Mic Smith, File)

Additionally, Mace, Reps. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) and Kweisi Mfume (D-Md.) called on DoD to allow Gil Cisneros, the undersecretary of Defense for personnel and readiness, to come testify before the subcommittee in the coming months or face a potential subpoena.

“The next time we have this hearing, [Cisneros] better show up. I’m just sick and tired of the [BS]. You couldn’t deliver the document and you are sitting here smirking at me like this is some freaking joke to you. This isn’t funny. You guys waste billions of dollars every single year,” Mace said to Jeffrey Register, the director of the Defense Human Resources Activity in the Office of the Under Secretary for Defense for Personnel and Readiness, as she concluded the hour-long hearing yesterday. “We have questions that you can’t answer. You can’t deliver the documents. You can’t deliver the witness. You can’t deliver the answers.”

DoD sent Register to testify even though the subcommittee asked for Cisneros. The Pentagon gave no explanation for whom they decided to send to testify.

Mace said it feels “like an attempt to dodge accountability,” over the decision for Cisneros not to show up and explain the decision to move away from the MyTravel program and continue to use the Defense Travel System (DTS).

Connolly and Mfume piled on to Mace’s frustrations with DoD.

“The executive branch has a responsibility to be accountable to the legislative branch. And if this is his lane in terms of managerial responsibility, he needs to be here and accountable to the American people here at the people’s house in Congress,” Connolly said.

Mfume said he too is frustrated that Cisneros didn’t show up.

“I, for the life of me, cannot understand why persons who are duly appointed refuse to show up at Congressional hearings to discuss very important facts and details about the operation they are overseeing. That just makes no sense whatsoever. There really is no explanation for it,” he said. “This is how we get to subpoenas. You invite, they don’t show up. You invite again, they don’t show up. And then all of a sudden there is an effort in the committee to subpoena someone. It’s not because we want to do it, but it’s the only way we can talk to people.”

An Oversight Committee spokesperson said the bi-partisan anger over the DoD’s decision not to send Cisneros is unusual.

“Under Secretary Cisneros offered no excuse for his absence, and the subordinate who appeared in his place was unable to answer basic questions. In terms of follow up, the subcommittee has all options on the table and under review,” the spokesperson said in an email to Federal News Network.

Two factor drove DoD’s decision

DoD’s Register received the brunt of the subcommittee’s exasperation with his bosses’ decision and struggled to satisfy lawmakers’ questions.

The subcommittee wanted more clear answers to why DoD decided not to pick up the September option for the SAP Concur contract after spending the last five years and tens of millions of dollars to move off of the much-maligned DTS.

Register reiterated DoD’s decision was based on two major factors.

“We eventually reached a point where we could not accommodate any more delays, and given that we still lacked firm commitments from the services on the timeline for enterprise resource planning (ERP) integration, we could not continue with the contract due to the cost to the department,” he said. “Despite the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness’ mandatory use directive for onboarded defense agencies, a robust training program, onboarding support, and executive-level engagement, usage of the system lagged behind estimated and contracted transaction volumes. The low adoption rate for onboarded organizations coupled with a slower than anticipated return to travel due to COVID-19 among defense agencies, resulted in less than 12% system usage as of the end of April 2023.”

The biggest users of the MyTravel are Fourth Estate agencies.

Register said the services initially said they would integrate their ERP systems by September 2023, but a combination of shifting priorities, primarily to support audit remediation led to extending the timeline to accommodate those delays.

“Unlike DTS, my travel was intended to be a travel system that leveraged the financial management capabilities of the ERPs, which meant the services needed to add more features to their ERPs before shifting to my travel. DTS allows department components to be fully audit compliant without needing the services to further invest in their ERPs,” he said. “We eventually reached a point where we could not accommodate any more delays. And given that we still lacked firm commitments from the services on the timeline for ERP integration, we cannot continue with the contract due to the costs of the department.”

DTS plagued by improper payments

The Defense Travel Management Office’s most recent guidance to DoD components who’ve already implemented MyTravel directs them to go back to using DTS no later than July 13, cancel any reservations they’ve made in MyTravel that extend beyond that date, and book them again via DTS.

Register said DoD has made improvements to DTS over the years and satisfaction rate of users is above 80%.

But despite what DoD says are improvements, both lawmakers and the Government Accountability Office highlighted ongoing concerns about improper payments because of DTS shortcomings.

Elizabeth Field, the director of Defense Capabilities and Management at GAO, told the subcommittee that, in some cases, DoD personnel may have been inappropriately reimbursed for staying in off-base lodging when policy required on-base lodging to be used, and officials responsible for reviewing and approving travel vouchers could not view receipts that travelers had submitted.

Field said one factor that may have led to the decision to terminate MyTravel is change in how DoD oversaw and managed the program.

She said when the Pentagon first launched the effort, a cross functional team overseen by the deputy chief management officer, and then chief management officer and the reform management group led the MyTravel effort.

“When those units were disbanded, and when the chief management officer went away, there was a clear disruption in leadership for this effort. The extent to which that is one of the factors behind the demise of MyTravel, I don’t know, but it certainly would bear to reason,” Field said.

Register said the decision to discontinue MyTravel was something that has been in discussion for some time.

“Going forward, my organization will lead a collaborative analysis to review lessons learned from MyTravel and other factors to determine the best approach going forward. That will include functional, technical and acquisition strategies to best meet the department’s needs while exercising sound financial stewardship,” he said.

Copyright © 2024 Federal News Network. All rights reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.

Related Stories

    (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)An aerial view of the Pentagon, in Arlington, Virginia.

    DoD suddenly abandons $374 million plan to replace Defense Travel System

    Read more
    Military Vaccines

    Pentagon offers new explanation for why it cancelled huge travel modernization project

    Read more