Transparency in Federal Travel

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» Posted by on Dec 8, 2014 in Business Practices, Contracting for Travel Services, Payment Methods, Travel Professional Resources | 0 comments

With the U.S. national deficit at its highest, Federal agencies are being tasked to reduce spending at all levels, including Federal travel budgets.  A presidential advisory team recommended a $400 million reduction in the Federal travel budget by 2015.  Federal travel spending is being more closely scrutinized by Congress, the media, and the general public than ever before.  The media and others are sponsoring websites such as junketsleuth.com in order to gather and present Government travel spend data to the public.

With all of this attention focused on the Government’s travel spend, agencies are required by regulation to provide requesters with any information they may request (with a few exceptions) under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) or under the Open Government Directive.  A White House official recently stated to Federal Computer Week that people requesting data through open government initiatives are getting much quicker responses than people using the traditional FOIA channels.

Federal open government offices are promoting a culture in which large quantities of data are being made available to the public in easily accessible formats on a regular basis.  Each Federal agency now has one of these units that can assist people in obtaining the data they desire, which leads to more transparency and government accountability.  Each agency now maintains their own open government webpage (www.{agency name here}.gov/open) that contains information on the Open Government Initiative, the agency’s Open Government Plan, and most requested data along with links to FOIA information and other reporting mechanisms.  Other open government initiatives include Data.gov, eRulemaking, IT Dashboard, Recovery.gov, and USAspending.gov.  Agencies are required to update their open government data sharing methods according to the latest technologies that become available to them.

The use of information technology as a means for greater Government transparency has a legacy that goes back many years, at least to the founding of Thomas.gov by then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich in the 1990s. The leadership of the 104th Congress directed the Library of Congress to make Federal legislative information freely available to the public. Since that time Thomas.gov has expanded the scope of its offerings to include Bills, Resolutions, activity in Congress, Congressional Records, schedules, calendars, Committee information, Presidential Nominations, Treaties, Government resources, and a section for teachers.

More recently, in September 2010, the Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski and Managing Director Steven VanRoekel announced a suite of new tools designed to unlock FCC data and drive innovation across the public and private sectors.  The suite of tools released by the FCC includes a number of APIs (Application Programming Interface) — interfaces that enable communication between independent databases — for use by developers across a broad range of industries, including federal, state, and local government. The FCC also announced the creation of a developer community (http://www.fcc.gov/developer) designed to help drive future releases through feedback and collaboration.

Not only are Federal agencies stepping up to help meet the open government directives, many state and local governments are developing their own webpages and tools to become more “open” as well.  Open government is becoming part of the culture of all governments, not just an ideal.

So what are Federal agencies doing internally to be able to gather, maintain, report, and supply their data in response to the open government initiatives?  When it comes to Federal travel data, Federal agencies are required to maintain their travel records in the agency-designated E-Gov Travel System (ETS). Maintaining travel data in the ETS enables the Government to capture real time visibility into the buying choices of travelers and assist agencies in optimizing their travel budgets while saving taxpayers’ money.  However, the reporting capabilities of the current ETS that my agency utilizes are somewhat limited.  This should improve immensely with the award of the ETS2 contract. Our travel office can run standard reports from the ETS or submit a report or data request to the ETS vendor for reports not already created in the ETS.  The ETS vendor would provide the report/data from the ETS by creating a new query/report.  If the data was related to the reservation, the ETS vendor contacts the travel management center (TMC) to obtain that report/data.  This process can at times be time consuming, especially when responding to regulatory data calls.  Executive agencies receive periodic data calls from various regulatory agencies, such as the General Services Administration (GSA) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

To assist agencies in their response to these regulatory data calls (among other reasons), GSA contracted a vendor, TRX, to develop the TravelTraxSM database web reporting system.  Currently, TravelTrax contains all TMC travel records for agencies utilizing the system.  This data includes all reservations made through the TMC. With ETS2, the ETS vendor will be required to submit all ETS data to TravelTrax as well.  Sometime in the future, travel card data is supposed to be submitted to TravelTrax, which would allow comparison of three types of travel-related data.  TravelTrax currently allows agencies to run reports on managing their spend on travel for air, rental cars, and hotels.  There are reports showing restricted tickets, international tickets, and the top travelers by spend.  There is another section in TravelTrax that allows agencies to monitor their data with data availability and validation reports.  A third section allows agencies to verify Government travel program utilization by running reports that show non-City Pair fare usage, lodging over per diem, and rental car spend.  The regulatory section of TravelTrax contains reports for premium-class travel, first-class travel, and greenhouse gas emissions, all which satisfy data call requirements.  There’s even a Sourcing section that covers marketing-type reports on airline, hotel, rentals, and city destinations.  The data can be downloaded into a .pdf or .xls format for further analysis.

With the implementation of ETS2 and wider utilization of TravelTrax, it should become easier for agencies to be more “open” with their travel data and to be able to fulfill FOIA and open government travel data requests in a more timely manner.

By Angela Miller

“The contents of this message are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the Government or my agency.”

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