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In January of this year I had the privileged opportunity to attend a FTR Workshop, which was hosted by the General Services Administration (GSA) and the Department of Defense (DOD). GSA & DOD collaboratively enlisted the help of an outside contractor to assist with the task of researching the feasibility of creating a streamlined and updated Federal Travel Regulation draft. Any new draft of the FTR would need to be approved by various high-level government entities, including OMB, and the US Congress on Capitol Hill.
During the FTR workshop, the brainstorming sessions became very interesting, as we discussed various possible directions we could take with regards to the FTR. One of the options mentioned (and the most favorable) was to eliminate a lot of the ‘grey’ areas and make statements more clear and decisive for the reader. A second option was to actually clarify some of the grey areas and to potentially add additional direction, thus ultimately adding more ‘grey’ areas. A third option which was brought up and discussed, with much concern I might add, was to amend the FTR completely, allowing for a ‘pay up front’ system whereby Federal Travelers would simply enter their travel information into a system which would automatically generate/create a direct deposit, depositing travel funds into the travelers’ account prior to them traveling (approximately a day or two before traveling). Obviously this option raised many flags with a great deal of folks within the workshop, including myself.
Three of the big issues with the last ‘pay up front’ option, among many, were; one, lack of control and reporting mechanisms due to no obligations/authorizations, or pre approvals being in place within the financial systems. Two, the concern of travelers spending the funds prior to travel, then possibly having to call their management to have more funds deposited or wired to them while on travel. Thirdly, the possibility of travelers ‘pitching a tent’ or staying in their cars while on travel to save their reimbursements (I’m being a bit sarcastic here, but you get the point).
I am not a supporter of the third ‘pay up front’ option. However, for this writing, I wanted to highlight it and convey that it really forced me to ‘think outside the box’. One big advantage to this ‘far fetched’ system would possibly be a substantial cost savings to the government (by reducing staffing/overhead). However on the flipside, I feel the disadvantages would clearly outweigh the advantages. For one, there would be a complete lack of control, management, and reporting mechanisms in place. Another would be that it would possibly end up creating a system that would be more open and conducive to shady and corrupt practices within what is currently an overall well managed Federal travel program.
by Brian Shears
The contents of this message are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the Government or my agency.