Advice for Government Officials: Learn to Shop Online for Travel

What seemed like a good idea to save the taxpayers' money turned out to be a flop. That's what congressional investigators reported to a Senate subcommittee looking into the Defense Travel System, known as DTS.

The idea was an online travel booking system that was supposed to save on paperwork and travel agents. It was also supposed to find the cheapest tickets.

ABC News first reported on DTS a few months ago when the Pentagon's inspector general and the Government Accountability Office found DTS was four years behind schedule and $200 million over budget.

A spokesman for the company that devised DTS, Northrup Grumman Mission Systems, told ABC News, "This is a program that the American taxpayer, the Department of Defense can be proud of. It is actually being deployed. It is being used, and it is going to save the Department of Defense money."

Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., ordered a further study and said investigators found that most Pentagon travelers do not use the system.

"Close to 80 percent of the folks in the Defense Department are simply picking up the phone, calling a travel agent, because it's easier, it's more complete, and in the end, it will cost the taxpayer less money," Coleman said.

Coleman cited the newest figures showing that out of about 755,000 trips taken at 42 Department of Defense locations, only 17 percent were arranged through DTS.

Coleman and a fellow Republican, Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn, want to kill the system. Coburn called DTS "a hoax on the American taxpayer." But this fall, Congress voted to spend another $60 million on DTS for a total cost of $474 million.

Blocking the System?

Department of Defense officials acknowledged there were start-up problems with the system, but they said most of the problems have been overcome. They also disputed the claim that most Pentagon workers avoid using DTS, which does not impress Coleman.

"DTS does not list all available flights and does not always identify the lowest available fares, does not take rail reservations, does not reserve hotel rooms or rental cars," he said.

Coleman will introduce legislation next year to block DTS from purchasing airline tickets. He believes travel agents can do the job better, faster and cheaper.

And , he said the Pentagon can also do what many civilian bargain hunters do: Use discount travel sites such as Expedia or Orbitz.