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The history of the Government Travel Program from the active duty perspective is long and varied. Knowing the history of where Department of Defense travel has been makes it easier to understand the changes being made now and the path to the future. When one examines travel from the active duty perspective you can see there are two major periods that have impacted travel payment processing: the pre and post Government Travel Credit Card era, and the pre and post Defense Travel System (DTS).
Before the advent of the government travel credit card most Temporary Duty (TDY) travel was limited to a small cadre of individuals. Service members often could not afford the added expense of traveling without an advance payment. Travel advances created a series of challenges that were difficult to overcome: the major challenge of travel advances was that the system was labor intensive, it often resulted in more overpayments, and it was less secure for service members to travel with cash.
The lengthy travel advance process began with the service member completing a DD Form 1610, Request and Authorization for TDY Travel of DOD Personnel. The disbursing clerks were required to verify the requested dollar amount in order to ensure that it was in accordance with the Joint Federal Travel Regulations (JFTR) and the Marine Corps Travel Instruction Manual (MCTIM) prior to processing the advance for payment. After the voucher was approved by the auditor for payment, the disbursing clerk created a DD Form 1351-6, Multiple Payments List. The member was then paid via cash or check depending on where s/he was located. The government travel credit card eliminated the tenuous advance process; service members were able to receive funds for travel with the credit card. The new system reduced the number of indebtedness due to overpayment from advances. It also improved the security and safety of the service member, and reduced the disbursing work load required for advance payments.
The second major evolution for the Department of Defense was the elimination of the paper vouchers, and the conversion to the computerized DTS. With the old system, the paperwork was completed by the service member, turned in to the administration office, and hand carried to the disbursing office where it would be logged in to an internal tracking system. The travel voucher package included an Original DD Form 1351-2, the original DD Form 1610 (travel order), airline itinerary and final stub, lodging receipts and one copy of all other receipts for expenses greater than $75.00. Completed packages were difficult to obtain, and often a series of problems developed in the movement from service member to auditor.
If the travel voucher package was not logged into the disbursing system the service member would have no means of tracking the travel voucher package. Assuming the travel voucher package was logged into the internal tracking system properly, the next hurdle was ensuring the entire package made it to the disbursing clerk’s desk, was computed properly, and then sent to the auditor intact. If the entire process did occur, and the service member did not claim expenses that were not in accordance with the JFTR or the Joint Federal Regulation (JTR), then the claim was complete and the service member would be paid.
With the advent of the Defense Travel System (DTS), the service member is able to track his/her voucher from beginning to end on his/her office computer. All receipts are loaded into the system electronically, and are maintained for six years and three months. Lost or misplaced items are no longer an issue. When a member completes a voucher, DTS cross checks it against the Joint Federal Travel System for compliance, and problems with claims that are not in compliance with regulations are also eliminated.
It is not necessary to have lived through the previous stages of government travel to understand the current system, but it does help to have an understanding of the history of travel to better deal with the challenges of the future implementation of government credit cards and DTS. As Fredrick Allen said, “Only fools who do not heed the lessons of History, are doomed to repeat it!” Travel professionals need to be aware of where we have come from in order to better facilitate the future. Understanding the obstacles of the old system may circumvent challenges in the new one.
By G.W. McCurtis