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Smartpay 2 is the next generation of the Government charge card program put forward by the General Services Administration’s master contract. Smartpay 2 offers the added functionality for the agencies to choose an integrated Government charge card. This allows Federal employees to have the ability to charge purchase card transactions, travel card transactions, and even fleet card transactions on one individually issued plastic card. Another functionality that is not widely in use is the ability to centrally bill travel transactions. Our agency has taken advantage of both of these functionalities since the first Smartpay contract and they have worked so well; this white paper aims to explain more about these benefits so others can consider and take advantage if it makes sense for their agency.
Several agencies are issuing a separate plastic for purchase card transactions and travel card transactions; even when they use the same vendor for both types of transactions. This means an employee with both purchase authority and travel authority has to carry at least two cards, reconcile two types of statements, and maybe even use two electronic access systems; if their agency uses two different vendors. The Integrated card allows one plastic Government charge card to be issued; which can carry one, two, or all business lines on the same card. An agency will have to spend time up front to make sure the authorization control sets are appropriate and the correct merchant category codes are activated for each line; but this type of work is required on separate cards as well. It’s also good for all the business lines to work together managing one program, because it allows travel, purchase, and fleet to take advantage of best practices in policies, reporting, and managing a charge card program. It brings together travel and procurement in a way that the whole agency can benefit. The advantage to the end user is clear as well, one card to carry, one statement to reconcile, and one electronic access system to learn.
Whether or not an agency chooses to implement an integrated card, one feature that evolved from our integrated card was the splendid idea to centrally bill travel transactions. Some agencies do have something called a centrally billed account, maybe they have one card number, or ten, or a hundred for the agency set up as the default. They will use this account to possibly charge airfare expenses to and then they have to do additional work when reallocating the charges to the real field level account. The reallocation seems burdensome to many agencies so it’s not always an appealing process. The Department of Interior treats it differently, more like a diversion account. They set up master accounting codes and the individually issued Government cards each have a default account number so even when the airfare expense hits the individually issued card, it shows up as centrally billed to the traveler and the Government pays the charge the day it comes in. This is how the purchase card works in several agencies, the purchases are centrally billed and just show as memo items on the cardholder statement, meaning the Government directly pays the charge. However, agencies haven’t decided to take advantage of this billing functionality on the travel card.
The improvements that centrally billing charge card transactions have provided are numerous. We not only centrally bill airline charges; but rental cars, taxis, parking, even lodging. By centrally billing lodging and other transactions, DOI is truly tax exempt since the Government is directly paying the charge. Since the rest of the Government does not follow this practice, we are always questioned and challenged on tax exemption. If we could get buy in from other agencies, it would provide more support with the lodging and rental car establishments. One concern with centrally billing transactions is the increased monitoring required because of the risk that a traveler may place a personal charge on the card. In our experience, the percentage of travelers who do not follow the appropriate policy is very small. They enjoy the flexibility of not owing hundreds of dollars on a charge card statement or being out of pocket for travel charges too much to jeopardize the program.
By taking this diversion approach, we are essentially performing the split pay best practice recommended by A-123 but even better. Instead of waiting until the voucher is filed by the traveler and diverting a certain calculated payment to the bank, the Government pays the bank charges the next day. It’s apparent how supplying those timely payments would maximize any agency’s rebate. It also lowers your risk and population available for delinquencies, since the only transactions that could even cause a delinquency is an ATM transaction or a food purchase. Our delinquency percentage has been below 2% consistently since we implemented these practices.
An Integrated charge card program and centrally billed travel transactions take work to set up correctly in the beginning of the process, and any card program requires diligent examinations. The return on investment is well worth the effort in both cases. GSA should encourage agencies to participate in Smartpay 2 user group meetings to discuss best practices, so all can take advantage of what has been successful in various Government Card programs.
by Jacqueline Lynch
The contents of this message are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the Government or my agency.