Consolidation of Travel Policies

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» Posted by on Jul 20, 2012 in Business Practices, Industry Postings, Travel Professional Resources, White Papers | 0 comments

The volume of information presently available from a variety of web-based sources is immeasurable. With hundreds of millions of websites presently in existence, practically any topic imaginable is likely to yield more search results than the person running the query is capable of processing. For example, a simple query for “US government travel policies” using the Bing search engine yielded approximately 407 million results. The same search on Google yielded 875 million results. Regardless of the mass quantities of direct and indirect results to any given search, there remain gaps of knowledge when it comes to government travel policies.

Government travelers and travel vendors presently have the ability to easily access rules and regulations as set forth in the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR), Defense Acquisition Regulations (DFAR), Federal Travel Regulations (FTR), Joint Travel Regulations (JTR), and the Department of State’s Standardized Regulations (DSSR). Easy access to this information enables both the government traveler and the travel vendor to study and understand the fundamental requirements of government travel as set forth by the applicable set of regulations. This understanding is necessary to ensure the government traveler, or travel planner, is not preparing a travel plan in violation of regulations carrying the force and effect of law, and that travel vendors such as airlines, hotels, and rental car companies are not unwittingly encouraging behavior similarly outside the bounds of federal law. More importantly than as a deterrent from unlawful activity, full understanding of travel regulations promotes productivity and reduces wasted time and resources. For the traveler, ready compliance with travel policies and procedures ensures efficiency and yields properly managed travel. For the travel vendor, similar understanding can result in more informed responses to requests for proposals (RFPs) that address government-specific travel requirements not normally encountered in dealings with corporate clients.

However, with at least 478 government agencies and/or departments (http://www.usa.gov/directory/federal/index.shtml) having the ability to set supplemental policies in addition to the basic policies as set forth in the FAR, DFAR, FTR, JTR, or DSSR, identifying all policies applicable to an individual government traveler becomes a significantly more difficult task. If a travel vendor is faced with the prospect of responding to a RFP issued on behalf of a specific government agency, depending on the online presence of that agency, it might be difficult, if not impossible, to locate supplemental travel restrictions and policies as established by the agency issuing the RFP. Even if the information is readily available for one agency, it might not be available for another, or at least not in a similar format. In parts of the Continental United States (CONUS) that typically do not receive significant government travel volume, this might not pose much of an imposition. But, in areas surrounding major hubs of government activity and/or facilities, the ability to locate and comprehend travel policies that vary from agency to agency becomes more important.

Fully understanding the needs of any potential or existing client is critically important to any vendor interested in meeting those needs and developing a mutually beneficial relationship. The idea of fluctuating needs and demands is not a new one to the travel industry. For instance, one hotel client might require local shuttle transportation whereas another does not. If the hotel does not offer a shuttle, then knowing that specific need of the first client will allow the hotel time to incorporate alternatives, such as a rental car agreement or locally contracted shuttle service, into its rate proposal. Likewise, if that same hotel has properly utilized a return on investment (ROI) model and determined that offering an alternative shuttle service is cost-prohibitive under any circumstance, then it can avoid wasting its own time, and the time of the prospective client, by declining the RFP or submitting a response that calls immediate attention to the deficiency.

While it is unrealistic to expect all travel vendor field representatives to become experts on government travel policy, most large travel vendors do have designated representatives or sales people responsible for understanding the government market and providing guidance to field representatives on how best to work with government travelers. These government market specialists could benefit greatly from being able to easily identify supplemental travel policies as established by each government agency. Warehousing those supplemental travel policies, or at least consolidating links to the various agency-specific policies, at a single online resource, such as the General Services Administration website, would greatly enhance the opportunity for travel vendors, travelers, travel planners, travel agents, authorizing officials, and anyone else involved in the travel process to fully understand the scope of established government travel policies. Not only would easy access to these supplemental policies allow for public scrutiny to determine whether they conflict with pre-established regulations that might supersede them, it also could promote the sharing of best practices among government agencies.

Executive Order 13589, “Promoting Efficient Spending,” requires each agency and agency component to “designate a senior level official to be responsible for developing and maintaining policies to ensure efficient spending on travel and conference related activities.” Listing the names of those designated individuals with links to the specific policies they develop and maintain for their respective agencies could promote access to public information, assist with future accountability efforts as prescribed in Executive Order 13589, and benefit both government travelers and travel vendors through improved understanding of agency-specific policies.

By: Mark Feggeler

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