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The GSA (General Services Administration) often enters into City-Pairs negotiations hampered by a relative lack of hard data on Government travel. Where substantive data has been available it has not been as detailed or as encompassing as the Government requires to effectively support negotiations. This lack of effective data caused the Travel Program management Office (PMO) of the GSA to conduct an Full and Open competition for a vendor that could provide services to make up for this lack of information. The solicitation requirement was to obtain the best travel data aggregation and reporting solution that satisfied government requirements at the best value. A trade-off analysis was performed between technical and cost and past performance to make the award under the aegis of a best value acquisition as set forth by the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR). TRX Incorporated was awarded the contract by providing the best technical approach and pricing. In the initial year the solution was used to be aggregate data and report on air spend, unused tickets, premium travel, and City Pair Program utilization. In the first year, TRX’s performance was evaluated to validate the proof-of-concept before GSA exercised the first option year.
The federal government has not been able to accurately identify its annual travel spend which exceeds $15.4B a year. An Accenture study found $7B a year in unknown types of travel expenditures, and a difference of over 50% in the travel expenses recorded on the federally mandated SmartPay travel card from expenses recorded in the President’s Budget Object Class 21 (Travel and Transportation of Persons) as submitted by federal agencies. In the past, the Government has been unable to capture spend, determine the value of the spend, and to determine the level of compliance with federal travel programs. The inability to know how much has actually been spent on travel means that it cannot effectively be managed. The Government’s approximately $15.4B a year in travel spending is subject to unknown inefficiencies and costs. The Government’s inability to wade through a morass of incomplete data from various sources has seriously hampered its ability to effectively negotiate with stakeholders in the City Pairs program among other things.
The intent of the TRX MIS contract was to provide comprehensive data on Government travel for most if not all GDS, and other travel data collection systems. Market research was performed and the requirements for the MIS system originally were drafted from both DOD (DTMO) and the civilian agencies. GSA evaluated the proposals and awarded the contract to TRX for the MIS initiative.
This contract provides for the first time the ability to capture and aggregate comprehensive travel data for the federal government. This will include travel made through the Travel Management Centers (TMCs), through the ETS solutions, through the SmartPay charge card, and directly with suppliers. A multi-year, phased in approach is being used to mitigate risks associated with technical development, integration, and minimize costs to the government.
Once the government has aggregated its travel data through a central repository for such data as the contractor provides, reports can be generated that will provide management information regarding government travel. TRX has provided their services to numerous commercial companies which have resulted in the development of a suite of ready-to-use travel management reports. The government will now be able to use these same reports which have given companies in the commercial marketplace the ability to better manage their travel.
Additionally, custom reports specifically tailored for the government environment are being developed for use by the federal agencies and their stakeholders. This will include the travel reporting Information profile (TRIP) report which is a statutory requirement. It is important to note that relocation data and the cost of administering travel is not available from the solution since it is not accumulated electronically in the available data sources at this time.
Initially it was thought that the main objections in delaying implementation would come from the airlines and vendors providing the GDS data links to the government vendor. As it turned out, and much to everyone’s surprise, most of the delays resulted from other vendors who did not provide timely, accurate, and complete data feeds.
Initial data feeds were also somewhat delayed as additional security requirements were implemented to incorporate personally identifiable information (PII) transmission. These requirements ensure the secure transmission of the data through an encrypted portal called Dataman. There were some unexpected challenges regarding security on the Government side as an Authority to Operate (ATO) certificate was required to secure these records.
The rights to all of the data remains with the government, and the deployment of a third party aggregator provides the necessary consolidation of aggregated data, standardized processes, and streamlined reporting requirements. It also provides a steady data stream necessary to accomplish strategic sourcing of services. This process will also unencumber each of the TMC’s from trying to meet regulatory requirements processes reports such as TRIP reports and Premium Class Travel Reports.
GSA addressed the only other objection to providing this data by providing free software to transmit already available back-office data to GSA. Although this software was originally intended primarily to ease the transmission of data from smaller TCS it is now widely used for most of the TMC data feeds as a more secure method of data transfer. GSA also provided no-cost technical support for the system. DataMan extracts data from back-office systems and transmits it directly to the TRX MIS system – 256k encrypted. It is secure and automated, easily configurable, and the smaller TMC subcontractors/vendors that provided data with it to date are happy with it. It sends the data automatically every month and requires no human intervention once set up. At this point in time data is collected monthly and will not include some of the IBA data. As the ATO is granted – one years worth of data will be collected to include PII as requested by the Government Agency. TRX rolled out the pilot of the system for government wide use on 12/15/08.
Included in the MIS is the ability to perform analysis of strategic sourcing opportunities. The capability was exercised this past year as an analysis was performed upon the request of the airline carriers. The carriers wanted to enforce a ticketing time limit to purchase seven days prior to departure of within twenty-four hours, if within the seven day period. This would, the carriers claimed, allow the airlines the ability to resell their seats in a timely manner to the general public and to ensure revenue opportunities were available at every juncture.
It was important to have a solution to analyze the substantial amount of data available and provide a significant response to the request. For the first time the government was able to view data patterns not readily seen, for instance: Twelve percent (12%) of all airline tickets are issued for the same day of travel. Airlines have also added several fees (fuel surcharge, baggage and interactive fees for such things as telephonic reservations and ticketing at the airline counter, etc.) to the price of the ticket.
Under the TRX contract GSA was able to review the entire download of FY 2007 ARC airline travel data in order to preview the caliber of information that might be expected under the TRX MIS contract. Upon review, the analysis showed 72% of government travel spend either used a TCA or CA fare on City Pair contract tickets. 76% of the segments were also City Pair routes. An additional 16% used DG (discounted government fares), so 88% of tickets purchased were actually Government fares. Commercial fares were used 12% of the time either as lower than contract fares, or because they were in markets not serviced by City Pair fares. Data from ARC was broken by origin and destination, by passenger count and fare basis by passenger count. This analysis indicated a high rate of compliance with the City pairs contract policy and showed the government to be a strong proponent of the program. The analysis supported the government’s contention that we were a valuable customer to the airlines, as in the instances noted, the Government actually helped to fill seats for the carriers at the last minute and at an acceptable yield to the airlines.
TRX data will eventually also provide the Government with additional critical data for effectively managing other areas of their contracts. This data is sorely needed, since prior to this time, there was no way to efficiently manage the effectiveness of the programs nor that business activities were actually being conducted in the best interests of their customer, the U.S. Government.
New analytical capabilities are expected to realize significant improvements for strategic sourcing, utilization of federal travel programs, compliance with federal travel policy, and travel spend data. New benefits will include:
- Improved travel supplier agreements that provide best cost and quality choices.
- Improved use of existing programs that maximize cost savings and flexibility.
- Increased compliance with travel policy and new policy creation, improving adherence to the Federal Travel Regulation (FTR).
- Near real-time travel usage and pattern information analyses allowing for adjustments and changes in travel management that provide the required response to the needs of the federal traveler.
In conclusion, despite some unanticipated obstacles, the MIS has been launched and is now available for GSA and Government-wide use for the benefit of our government travelers, and the success of our government programs. The data aggregation and information analyses it yields will be invaluable as GSA continues to improve strategic sourcing under the City Pairs programs, and to monitor and adjust policy to ensure compliance with the FTR and associated regulations.
by Julie Speers