Members of the House Oversight Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Information Technology, and Government Innovation blasted the Department of Defense (DoD) on Wednesday over its decision to abandon the MyTravel system – a $374 million replacement to modernize the agency’s outdated Defense Travel System (DTS).

DTS processes billions of dollars annually in travel payments for DoD civilians and servicemembers, but lawmakers found at the hearing that DoD’s attempt to replace it with a modern software-as-a-service solution in the form of the MyTravel system resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in improper payments.

The DoD’s decision to abandon the MyTravel system came as a shock to members of Congress, including subcommittee Chairwoman Nancy Mace, R-S.C., who called it an “IT acquisition failure.”

“It’s not a major weapons system contract we’re talking about,” Chairwoman Mace said during the July 26 hearing. “This is a garden variety travel booking system upgrade. And that’s exactly what makes this failure so disturbing.”

Subcommittee members on both sides of the aisle expressed their frustration that Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Gilbert Cisneros – who made the decision to abandon the replacement effort – failed to appear before the subcommittee.

Additionally, lawmakers were disappointed that Cisneros’ stand-in, Jeffrey Register – the director of defense human resources activity at the Office of the Under Secretary for Defense for Personnel and Readiness – could not answer several questions that they posed at the hearing.

Nevertheless, Register said that the usage of the MyTravel system lagged behind estimated and contracted transaction volumes.

“While our decision may appear abrupt, the department has been discussing the challenges and potential courses of action for MyTravel for some time prior to the announcement,” Register said. “Although the program made significant advances, continued implementation of MyTravel is no longer in the best interest of the department.”

However, Elizabeth Field, director of defense capabilities and management at the Government Accountability Office (GAO), testified that DoD officials “have stated that DTS is inefficient,” and the Pentagon’s abandonment of its replacement raises “questions about its ability to effectively implement business process reforms.”

Ranking Member Gerry Connolly, D-Va., also expressed his concern, pointing out that DoD’s inability to replace ineffective legacy IT systems is ample reason to hold another FITARA Scorecard hearing.

“DoD has a history of resistance against basic oversight, despite being given a litany of exemptions from fundamental management requirements and possessing the largest single budget in human history,” Rep. Connolly said.

“For example, we appreciate Mr. John Sherman coming to our subcommittee last year to testify on the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA) – a law I helped co-author to improve agencies’ management of IT resources and drive best practices – however, it’s concerning that DoD is exempted from certain provisions within that law and is still only achieving a ‘C’ on the scorecard,” he said.

“As a reminder, these grades are not scarlet letters, but they do emphasize the need for agencies to take IT modernization seriously. And today’s hearing is illustrative of that,” Rep. Connolly concluded.

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Grace Dille
Grace Dille
Grace Dille is MeriTalk's Assistant Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.