Tuesday, December 11, 2012

I'm Suffering From the "DT's"

No, don't worry, I'm not an alcoholic with "Delirium Tremens" but rather experiencing the bureaucratic silliness of the DTS, also known as the Defense Travel System. Whenever a military person needs to perform official travel, all arrangements need to be made through this centralized website. Every aspect of the trip is managed here, from assigning cost accounting codes, to reserving airline tickets, rental cars, and lodging.

In theory this is a brilliant idea. (Yeah, aren't they always brilliant in theory?) Of course, all of us old folks who used to arrange our own travel with a few phone calls miss those days when navigating through the DTS maze, especially after running into dead ends time after time. Every service member likely has a horror story or two. My most recent encounter produced more than a horror story, though. I discovered what seems more likely a small-scale rip-off of the Department of Defense. Here's my case:

I needed to travel to Idaho for an investigation I'm working. When I went there for my civilian job last year, it took me about 20 minutes to book air, rental car, and hotel. This time was definitely less efficient.  As I mentioned earlier, everything is booked by the monolithically-named "Central Travel Office" or CTO. (Da, Tovarich!)  When I logged into the DTS website, and began selecting my flights, rental car and hotel from the choices provided, I was a good soldier and selected the least expensive options from the somewhat limited list. While I would have preferred to stay at the Holiday Inn Express, that hotel wasn't on the list, so I picked a Hilton subsidiary. Now I was fully aware that the per diem rate for a hotel room in this part of Idaho is $77/night, but the cheapest hotel room on the list (the Hilton brand) was eight bucks a night more, so I assumed there was a grand government scheme at work here, and called it good.

Several hours later, I got an email from the "DTS Automated Mail Notification System", letting me know that the rental car I had booked was too expensive. "Hmm", I thought, I must have missed the cheapest option on the list. I dutifully logged back in to DTS, canceled the first rental car, went back to the list of available choices, and saw that my earlier choice was the least expensive, by over $50/week. So, I re-booked the same car.

The next day, I got an email telling me that my travel request had been REJECTED...no, not because of the rental car...this time it was the hotel which was too costly. When I logged in to DTS, I noticed that the CTO had billed the government an extra fee for canceling and re-booking the rental car the day prior. I briefly considered the fact that the CTO was making money off of their screw-up, but it was too soon to see the pattern. Anyway, I canceled my apparently exorbitant hotel room, then went to the list of approved hotels again to find a room at the per diem rate. Surprise! The room I had just canceled was STILL the least expensive option on the list. Since I had just played this game with the rental car, I re-booked the same damn hotel room, noting in the justification that it was the least expensive on the list. A "popup" advised me that I needed to select "actual lodging cost" as an option, and that all would be right with the world. I did that, and submitted the request once more. Several hours later, I got another notification that my hotel cost too damn much money, and I had better stop trying to cheat the U.S. Government! (Okay, it was phrased in bureaucratese, but conveyed the same message.) I wandered over to battalion headquarters, and asked the S-4 guy who deals with DTS what the deal was. He explained that if there weren't any hotel rooms listed at the per diem rate, I needed to request CTO assistance to find a room that met the requirement...and that the Holiday Inn Express was usually a good bet to offer the per diem rate. I complied with those instructions, and a day later, I had a room at the Holiday Inn Express.
WTF! (What Terrible Finance!)
But hey, sportsfans, it should come as no great surprise that despite our precarious financial situation, we government folks can still find creative ways to spend more money than we need to.

To paraphrase the great cartoonist/satirist Walt Kelley, "We have met the Fiscal Cliff, and it is us!"

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