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Not long after graduating college, I became a travel specialist. At the time I saw it as just a stepping stone to my career that would eventually lead me to a job more closely related to my major. I now realize that when I started I had no idea how large the travel field was, and all of the parts involved. I thought it was simply learning how to use the ETS system and being able to read a few regulations, with no regards to the other pieces involved. It takes a great deal of cooperation from a number of individuals, teams and offices to effectively manage a Government travel management program. These different components work together in varying degrees. Some may not work directly at all, yet they indirectly have an affect on the work of others. These different areas working together can consist of staff in the Budget, Financial Management, Information Technology, and Policy sectors. Travelers may not be aware of the level of interaction between these groups, but these groups, by working together efficiently, play a big role in the experience of the traveler in processing their travel authorizations and vouchers.
One group of people involved in the travel management process that does not receive the level of visibility that other areas do is the staff working through Acquisitions and Procurement branches. It wasn’t until I took training on being an Assistant Contracting Officer Technical Representative (ACOTR) that I became familiar with the level of involvement that our Acquisition office had. It was there that I also became familiar with the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR). I had no prior experience in contract language or the process of how contracts came to be. Without the acquisition staff doing their part in analyzing/processing contracts we would not have the services that we do today. This is also important since actual contract staff can sometimes play a big role in travel management. Contractors with experience in ETS systems and TMC relationships are used to supplement Government staff as travel administrators, and to provide assistance in travel management as a whole. The contribution from contractors can be invaluable.
The Information Technology team is vital to the implementation of any travel system. They can assist with making sure the ETS system is compatible to whatever software is currently being used by the Agency. It can also help troubleshoot problems that may appear to be related to the ETS system, but are actually an issue on the IT side of things. Some Agencies even use their IT specialist to help with travel related problems. Although many IT specialists are not travel experts, they may still be inundated with travel concerns simply because that’s who travelers think they should reach out to. Issues are resolved much faster when IT specialist know who to contact in regards to travel policy, or travel administration. Excellent travel management is certainly a byproduct of a good relationship between the Policy and IT offices.
One of the most important aspects of travel is related to money. The Financial Management and Budget divisions play a major role in the functioning of travel. For those not familiar with the world of accounting and finance, just the verbiage alone can seem very complex. They must make sure that lines of accounting are active and loaded properly. Funds have to be obligated and tracked. The use of the Centrally Billed Account (CBA) must be monitored, as well as the GSA SmartPay 2 travel cards. Once funds are obligated for travel, they assist in getting the traveler reimbursed for those funds. Financial systems are periodically updated and changed, so financial experts are used to make sure the transition to a new financial system is seamless.
Travel policy experts are essential to the travel management process as well. As is the case with accounting and financial verbiage, travel regulations can be complex to those unfamiliar with them. Travelers rely on policy experts to advise them on current regulations, and to make sure they do not inadvertently travel out of policy. It is highly important to have staff knowledgeable of the Federal Travel Regulations (FTR) and their respective Agency’s travel policy. Some travelers see regulations as being open to interpretation, so it is up to travel policy specialist to express a clearer and more definite meaning. The FTR, due to its question and answer format, is more readable and easily understood than even some Agency regulations. With the advancement of technology in the travel field it is important for travel regulations to be checked and updated regularly. Agency travel regulations, while being tailored to their specific Agency, should be just as easy to read as the FTR, and be readily accessible to travelers. Since the FTR takes precedence over agency regulations, both policy experts and travelers must be careful not to solely rely on their agency’s travel regulations.
Much of what I’ve gone over here is familiar to many already. My hope is that it at least gives individuals who are newer in the travel field an idea of how many parts are involved. Since I majored in economics in undergraduate school I’m often asked why I’ve stuck with travel and not ventured into something more in line with what I studied in school. My opportunities have led me to the travel field, but it’s all the different people involved that has probably kept me in it. There is so much that can be learned I can’t say that I’m ever bored. It provides a constant challenge, and many opportunities to network with others. The steady advancement of technology also allows for creativity, innovation, and a chance to constantly improve the travel process. I look forward to seeing what the future holds.
By Kelvin Dawson