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When I started working in travel in 1996, our agency was using the paper method of filing authorizations and vouchers. Travel planners picked up the phone to make common carrier reservations with a small, dedicated TMC and called hotels directly. Back in those dinosaur days, we kept a binder with paper copies of the per diem rates for various locations and would have to use those to ensure that travelers claimed the correct rates on their vouchers. That was before the 75% M & IE allowance for the first and last day of travel. Travelers actually recorded their beginning and ending time per day on paper. We calculated per diem based on the number of quarters a person was in travel status. Let’s say an individual started the first day of travel at 5:00 am and ended the day at 8:00 pm. He would have been entitled to the full day of per diem. All receipts were required to be attached to the voucher. We did 100% audits of the voucher before posting it into the accounting system. I thought we were good because we could process the voucher and issue payment to the traveler within seven to ten days after receiving the document that generally came via the mail system.
And then some technology came. We started with a stand-alone travel system. That was great. Document preparers would put in trip dates and per diem tables within the system magically figured the per diem allowance for each day. By this time the 75% rule was in place for the first and last days in travel status. Expenses were selected from a drop down list and costs were entered. Even the math was correct. The system was just a glorified typewriter at this time because the documents had to be printed and the hard copies were routed to the traveler and approving officials for signature. We still had to post the documents manually to the accounting system.
And then more technology came. Our “First Team” worked diligently to get the system to process documents electronically. Routing lists were established that included budget examiners and approving officials. Once a document was signed, it electronically moved on to the next individual in the routing list. Audits within the system would flag expenses that needed justification. An interface was developed between the travel system and the accounting system. No more, or very little, manual posting of documents to the accounting system. Payments were made within two to three business days after being approved. We were able to audit based upon a statistical sample of travel vouchers.
And then even more technology came. E-travel service was mandated. The electronic travel system used by my agency allows travelers to make common carrier and hotel reservations without picking up the phone in most cases. Required receipts are attached to vouchers electronically by scanning or faxing them into the system. All documentation is stored within the system and the need for printing paper copies has been eliminated.
I do love some technology. I wouldn’t want to return to the old days of manually processing travel documents for anything. We have come a long way!
By Pam Enlow
The contents of this message are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the Government or my agency.