Federal Travel Regulations and ETS

» Posted by on Jan 23, 2015 in Electronic Travel Systems | 0 comments

In 2002 General Services Administration (GSA) introduced electronic travel systems to create end-to-end travel services for government employees.  The E-Gov Travel Service or ETS was to enable Federal Travelers to create their authorizations, make reservations, and process vouchers within one system.  Among other requirements, the systems had to integrate Government wide travel policies known as the Federal Travel Regulations (FTR).  The FTR administers the laws governing travel allowances and entitlements for federal travelers.

The integration of the Federal Travel Regulations into the ETS system was one of the most controversial, yet needed requirements.  Many travelers were either not familiar with the Federal Travel Regulations or chose not to abide by them.  With the introduction of the new systems, travelers were forced to adhere to these regulations.  This caused frustration amid travelers and caused many of them to not like the new system.

Through the travel process, the ETS system has built-in regulatory requirements for each component that requires the traveler to be in compliance with Federal Travel Regulations.  The FTR addresses everything from who must use the ETS system, how and when authorizations should be completed, and within what timeframe a voucher should be completed.

Generally, travelers must have a written or electronic authorization prior to incurring any travel expenses. The most common way of creating an authorization is through the ETS system.  The authorization includes reservations and estimated expenses.  Once completed, the authorization electronically routes to the Travel Agency if reservations have been selected and then within the agency for approval.

During the authorization process, when searching for flights, the ETS system will display the Government City Pair Fares first.  If the traveler does not select one of these fares, the system will “flag” the selection and require an approved justification for not selecting a city pair fare.  The approved justifications appear in a list for the traveler to select from.  If one of the justifications is not appropriate, the traveler should reconsider their flight selection.  The most common justification used by our travelers is “space on a contract flight is not available in time to meet mission requirements, or use of contract service would incur overnight lodging costs which would increase the cost of the trip”.  Some travelers have a carrier preference in which they accumulate air miles and other rewards.  This is not a valid justification for not using a government contract fare.  Furthermore, any additional costs associated with using an unauthorized carrier may be the traveler’s responsibility.  Another common “flag” on authorizations is when a hotel is selected that is not a Fedrooms property or exceeds the per diem rate for the location.  Fedroom properties must be given first priority by a government traveler or a justification is required.  Furthermore, any time a hotel room rate exceeds per diem, the traveler must explain why they were not able to obtain the per diem rate.

When a trip is completed, the FTR states that the traveler must submit their voucher within 5 working days.  The voucher should include a copy of the approved travel authorization and a detailed itemization of all travel expenses incurred.  The FTR specifies what expenses can be claimed on the voucher.  It also specifies what receipts are necessary.  Receipts for any reservations or expenses over $75.00 should be electronically attached to the voucher.  Once the voucher is completed and electronically signed by the traveler, the document routes to the approving official for approval.  The approving official is responsible for ensuring that the voucher was prepared in accordance with the pertinent regulations and agency procedures, the types of expenses claimed are allowable, the amounts claimed are accurate, and that the necessary receipts are attached.  Although, the traveler bears the responsibility to ensure that all travel expenses are prudent and necessary, the approving official must review the validity of the claim and ultimately assumes responsibility.  The FTR mandates that agencies reimburse their travelers within 30 calendar days after a proper travel claim has been submitted.

Once the payment is made to the traveler, it is the travel financial office’s job to implement internal audit controls to ensure that travel payments comply with the Federal Travel Regulations.  Features of the ETS system reduce the risk of improper payments; however, the financial office still has the duty to ensure that the process is compliant with the FTR as well as laws and regulations governing use of federal funds.  The most effective way that we ensure that our payments meet the requirements is through random audits.  During an audit the entire trip is examined.  The mode of transportation is reviewed to make sure that it was the most cost effective way of traveling.  The type of lodging accommodation is reviewed; whether or not it was a Fedroom property. The validity of miscellaneous expenses claimed is reviewed as well as, appropriate receipts verified.

The Federal Travel Regulations is an important part of the E-Travel System.  Travel is an essential part of conducting business within the government and the FTR ensures that taxpayer’s money is not wasted.

By:  Chanda Garrett

The contents of this message are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the Government or my agency.

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