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As a child, I have always wanted to either fly a plane or work closely in the travel industry. Throughout my professional career, my role and position has always been in the travel industry. In the beginning, I worked for Delta Airlines, responsible for shipping air freight, both foreign and domestic, for federal officers. During that time, I acquired an interest of learning more about the travel industry, as it relates to federal government. I am amazed at the amount of money that is allowed with moving both federal freight and employees. Now that I have grown fond of policy and guidance, I feel with my position and skills, it is my responsibility to work hard in developing ideas that work well for both the federal side and the commercial side. One thing we do know that travel has come a long way. We live in a society that our world of travel does not always consist of someone physically boarding a plane; however, virtual travel is growing more every day. Just like the automated travel world, having the agent in federal building, walking up to a tall counter and receiving that warm smile, has become a thing of the past. I often questioned the federal government, moving federal agencies, quickly to an automated approach. Certain agencies, such as the more executive branches, need the face to face type of service, especially with the unique types of travel, that most executive levels of travel have. I am all for the excellent customer service, especially when it comes to making sure that the travelers needs are fully met. When the automated travel process was rolled out to federal agencies, majority of the travelers were not familiar with the codes, and the system itself. I can remember serving as the global contact (System Administrator) for an agency at that time, receiving over three hundred emails regarding “help desk” type questions, all in one day. What was more surprising, none of the vendors from the automated world offered some type of pop up, that would automatically provide further explanation as you moved through their system.
It would have been even nice if once you started to populate the information, if the information was incorrect, an online chat process would begin, guiding you through the process to help eliminate some of your errors along the way. Today, there are still a large number of federal employees that would rather pick up the phone and call an agent or walk into an on-site type office and obtain assistance from the friendly face or voice that is sitting there waiting to assist them. If the cost to move the on-site TMC to an off-site location was one of the cost factors in saving money, why not have the vendors provide, offsite locations that would accommodate any federal agency. Especially here, in the Washington, DC area, one vendor such could establish a call center that would accommodate this entire areas federal worker, whether they walked in the door, or called on the phone. I would imagine the cost to do business in that manner would still be less than this new automated process that were are told to use today.
Throughout my career, the travel card program has always gone hand-in-hand with official travel. Federal agencies have established vast ways of making sure that the proper controls were in place, when using the official travel card. The Smart pay program works continuously with agencies, creating new ways of doing business. Each time I travel, I always use my official travel card to cover my official travel expense. I have noticed that even on the commercial side of my personal credit cards, the system will not allow the purchase to move forward unless I provide additional steps such as entering my zip code; I have wondered why the official side doesn’t adopt the same mechanism when using the official card. If am authorized to use my official travel card, I arrived at the register or online to make the purchase, the first thing it should ask of me is the zip code for my agency. Each agency has its own zip code, why not populate into the system when using the card. Also, the second question should be my agency name. This information would not only pull my information, but also allow the agency to see exactly where the purchase is being made.
When I use my personal credit cards, I am required to show additional identification such as my driver’s license. The same should apply to my official card, if I don’t have official government identification, I should not be allowed to use my official travel card. I also feel the design of the card should be so unique, that any store or vendor should automatically know that this is an official card for official purchases. This would help with decreasing the misuse and abuse of the official travel card. For five years of my career, I was the contracting supervisor at the Department of State (DOS), Special Issuance Agency (SIA). I was responsible for more than 25 contract employees responsible for making the official, diplomatic passports for all federal employees. Over the past few years, DOS has come up with innovative was of protecting the official and diplomatic passports from improper use. I was elated with the design of the chip was placed, and the digital pictures was put into, which eliminated a large percentage of fraud. I have voiced my opinions, comments and concerns to GSA, providing strong policy within the FTR pertaining to the use of the official passport, while in TDY status. If there was an official audit on federal employees that use their official passports for personal use, you would find that majority of the employees that have used their official passports, were never even authorized official foreign TDY travel, however applied for the official passport, one, because there was no cost to apply for one, two, the perks of customs that they receive while traveling. I have always recommended that strong language in the FTR states that “employees that are in TDY status, traveling abroad, must use an official passport”. Also, there should be some language such as “official passport cannot be used for personal travel”. It should also state that agencies are responsible for maintaining and securing all official passports. I have worked a large number of agencies throughout my career, my first position was with the Department of State, and from there I gained a position with the Peace Corps. Once leaving the Corps, I moved over to the Department of Agriculture, Rural Development.
Upon recommendation from a former boss, I was promoted to Chief of the Travel Division with the Department of Commerce. Currently I am working with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Each position, at every agency I served as a travel professional. I have trained so many new comers to the federal side of travel. With the large number of positions that have opened and presented it over the years, I am really surprised that commercial vendors such as Management Concepts and The Grad School has not created classes based on official government travel. In the begining of my career, I have always turned back to Sabre and other private companies that offered classes pertaining to travel. Especially moving to a more automated environment, I was looking forward to the three vendors under the eTravel contract to team up with such vendors offering various types of training. Agencies long for such training, however they depend on those of us to offer and past the torch, risking having all the history, education and knowledge retire and walk out of the door. I have often told myself, once I complete my government service, I would love to train and provide training course pertaining to travel. GSA does offer the standard classes such as FTR, per diem, however, what happens to those who are ready to move into a more advance and senior level. Just as the “project management” kicked off and moved forward, (now being offered in colleges as a degree), I would love to see a certification program for federal travel offered across the globe as well. I was highly impressed of the certification program that is offered through SGTP. This level of training and certification should be expanded through various vendors and schools such as Management concepts and the Grad School. I would be more exciting if the courses could be offered as “instructor lead”. When I first walked into the Department of State 1987, as a contractor under the Combined Airlines Ticket Office (CATO), we were instructed to wear Airline uniforms. My crisp white shirt, burgundy vest and navy blue skirt and heels, and all the pins from various countries and agencies on my vest, was a proud time for me.
I felt as if I have stepped into a dream of working in an industry that would never change, (little did I know). In this country, it is our own destiny, and we can choose whatever life path that we see fit, regardless of outward appearance, shape or color. I am very happy that I chose the travel arena as my choice of career paths. From Diner’s Club to JP Morgan, from GTR’s to centrally billed accounts, the world of travel will always move forward, however the interest and the passion for the work of the people that enjoy the day-to-day will never change. I have a good number of years left to serve, I plan to continue to dedicate the remaining time of my career, just as I have thus far.
By: Theresa L. Hollowell