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can remember years ago, when a federal employee, that was authorized official travel, would receive their travel authorization from the typewriter of the secretary, take that piece of paper to the ticket counter of the in-house TMC and make all of the travel arrangements. A few days later, you would receive days later a GTR would cover the cost of the ticket and the ticket printer would produce your itinerary, along with your information regarding your trip. It was nice to see a face, get to know your internal travel agent, as well as have the hands-on person available there to ask any questions and to make any changes, if necessary. Today, everything is done by the booking engine, we have become accustomed to booking our travel via our PC’s, pads or even telephone, with little or no communication at all. The catch is, we get to the airport, most of the travelers don’t know what to do, who to call, or even remember which airline they are due to travel on, all because we spent 80% of our time with the booking engine. Now that our President has asked us to cut travel costs across the board, most agencies are spinning wheels in finding ways (within policy) to save on travel costs. Even the number of calls to the TMC’s has decreased the number of calls to the agency points of contact have increased. There are a large number agencies that have increased the number of federal employees to address travel questions such as “what’s the difference between an YCA and CA”? These positions may range from various grades starting as low and GS 7’s and escalating as high and Branch Chiefs. Is there really a savings? So, we decided to move to an automated travel system, have the traveler’s book through this approved automated travel system (with little or no training) and if they have various questions that could have been addressed by a TMC employee, we have them contact their federal side and address their questions accordingly. Where is the savings? The agency did not pay for the TMC’s salary, benefits, or retirement, now agencies have federal employees in place to address various questions, and to assist in booking their travel through the automated travel system. Wouldn’t it have been easier to centralize travel in one location for all agencies, under one vendor and book their travel? There could have been various center throughout the US (hot spots) Atlanta, New York, California, etc., however still centralized and connected to one company. Once the agency gave the approval, the traveler would send the information to the Travel center for processing. This would eliminate errors, additional travel booking etc. We would not have to spend dollars on agencies having costs for systems or interfacing since it would all connect to one centralized travel center. The charge of the center would be to a CBA account, and fiscal coding that would be on the back end. It would not matter if you pick up the phone to book your travel, processed via computer or fax, once the center receive your information, the traveler would process, take your authorization (fiscal coding) and charge to your agency’s CBA account. Once the charge is made there would be a weekly reconciliation of charges against the bank card. Each agency does not have their own payroll, our benefits are universal; and then travel should be the same way. Why would we continue to spend time and money on selecting a vendor, installation of a vendor per agency, interfacing, dumping, establishing approval chains etc., when we can easily have one centralized travel for all of the federal agencies? I am not interfaced with Travelocity or Expedia, it’s my personal credit card that tracks and pays for my cost of travel. If I need to reconcile or dispute something, I do this through my credit card, not Travelocity or Expedia. We know that travel will always play a major role in the federal government area, we know that employees looks for the easiest way to book travel, one that is less of a headache and does not cost each agency a lot of money. Soon agencies will just be able to estimate the total costs of the trip; issue the funds to the employee and send them on their way to handle their travel whichever deems possible and okay to the traveler. The down side of this would be there is no way to track travel data and to see how we can truly work towards savings. If everything was centralized, we can pull actual numbers and really look at government as a whole, tracking data, with real numbers. This information would improve how we look at per diem rates for both domestic and international. The Federal Government as a whole can work with CPP on government rates increasing and decreasing ticket costs to those places that are frequent and eliminating those that are no more. Various travel reports can be generated from this unique process, providing agencies with information pertaining to travel. Looking at travel as a whole, would show actual travel dollars for each agency, and the travel dollar amount. One day, we will come full circle, someone will wake up and say, “Why not have the TMC on duty to book our travel”, one would think, this maybe be the best idea in the world, for those of us who will be long gone and retired will sit back and know, we have come full circle.
By: Theresa L. Hollowell, CGTP