- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 6, 2005

Fiscal conservatives’ first post-Hurricane Katrina effort to cut spending failed yesterday when the Senate defeated an amendment to rewrite the contract for the Defense Travel System, which spends $1,500 overhead for each travel ticket it issues.

The effort, led by Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, failed on a 65-32 vote, with a majority of Democrats and Republicans voting to preserve the program.

Mr. Coburn said just 370,000 of the 5.6 million travel vouchers the Defense Department issued last year were used in the system.

“That’s $1,500 per episode, not including the travel ticket,” Mr. Coburn said. “What we actually have is a system way more expensive than any system that has been developed in the private sector.”

He pointed to a 2002 Defense Department inspector general report that recommended canceling the system unless a cost-benefit analysis showed it was worthy — something yet to be done.

Voting against the cut were 37 Republicans, 27 Democrats and one independent, led by Virginia’s two senators, Armed Services Committee Chairman John W. Warner and George Allen, both Republicans.

Mr. Allen said he prides himself on “being a good steward of the taxpayer’s dollar” but that this was not the right cut.

“Right now to cut funding for this program would be a hasty action. And, from all the information I’ve been able to glean, would actually increase the cost to the taxpayers,” he said.

DTS backers said the program saves money by consolidating travel purchases, thus making it easier to track use of tickets and catch people who are flying first class or another too-expensive fare.

The defenders said the $500 million invested in the program would be lost if the system were changed, that it is not fully operational yet, and that it should get a few more years to prove itself.

“I just think he is going too far in this case,” said Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, though he admitted the system has bugs. The Pentagon also opposed Mr. Coburn’s effort.

Mr. Coburn said his amendment would not have eliminated DTS, but would have changed the contract so that the Defense Department paid a fee for each ticket issued, rather than paying tens of millions of dollars a year no matter what.

“You can’t get an assurance out of the Pentagon what the cost is going to be because there’s not any end in sight in the cost,” he said.

At one point during the floor debate, Mr. Allen defended DTS by citing a judge’s ruling that it would be a mistake to start over the program. The judge had reviewed the contract during a challenge to its legality.

“It doesn’t matter what he says on whether it be more expensive or not more expensive to start over,” Mr. Coburn said. “That’s part of our problem in the judiciary today. That is not his role. That is our role.”

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