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Travel policy for official Government travel is governed by the Federal Travel Regulation (FTR) and those areas within the FTR that require/allow agency-specific policies to be instituted. While travel policy has always been an integral part of the Federal travel process, travel policy became more visible with the advent of the current generation of E-Gov Travel systems, and continues to be very critical and visible as we progress towards the next generation of these systems. This is mainly due to the automated systems forcing travelers and approvers to be more in compliance with the FTR and agency policy. While a step in the right direction, this also seemed to generate even more travel policy questions and was a key factor in reorganizing our travel support office to have a dedicated travel policy and compliance team.
In my current capacity, I lead a team that interprets and researches travel policy questions in relation to the FTR, agency policy, precedents from the Civilian Board of Contract Appeals, the General Accountability Office (GAO), the General Services Administration (GSA), and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), to name a few. In our particular case, my agency is also a cross-service provider to other Government agencies, so we also have customers we service that may have agency-specific policy. To that end, clarification and training of travel policy is high on our agenda.
We disseminate travel information on an internal travel webpage and also via email and newsletter communications. Our customers also have individual web pages containing relevant travel information guidance. Our team finds that prompt and proactive communications are the key to travelers understanding their responsibilities and restrictions while traveling for the Government.
Travel policy training reinforces travel policy concepts among travelers and approvers. We conduct quarterly travel policy classes for internal and external customers as well as issuing relevant communications.
One aspect of travel policy we are involved with is how policy is incorporated and displayed in the mandatory E-Gov Travel System we use. While much of the travel policy contained within the system we use (and the other systems) is already defined by GSA within the E-Gov travel requirements, a great deal of the policy audits and how information is displayed is configurable. Therefore, our travel policy group has input into these areas.
An example of this the revisions to the FTR to have travelers give first consideration to FedRooms properties. We updated our E-Gov Travel system to provide audit reason codes (per the FTR) to justify why a FedRooms property may not have been used. This change led to an increased awareness and utilization of FedRooms properties.
In addition to ensuring travel policy requirements are met correctly in the E-Gov Travel System, we also conduct post payment travel voucher audits to ensure the automated controls are working as designed. We maintain a statistical random sampling database that pulls paid vouchers for audit based on defined criteria for CONUS (domestic) and OCONUS (foreign) travel. We use a checklist of 22 data elements to ensure the amount reimbursed to the traveler was correct and in accordance to the automated controls in the E-Gov Travel System. The checklist contains items such as compliance to GSA City Pair Fares, use of the E-Gov Travel System, verification of per diem rates versus actual expenses; ensuring required receipts are attached, etc.
Where we have cases of non-compliance to the FTR and agency policy, we issue audit findings for the individual documents and initiate collections if warranted or inform travelers of underpayments. These results are summarized into monthly reports to the customer agency travel contacts. We work with the travel contacts to determine error trends that may need to be addressed through further training and guidance clarification.
Once our team has researched and interpreted the FTR for policy questions, trained users and approvers and verified there are adequate internal controls for travel policy in place in the automated system, we turn our attention to reporting. There are numerous regulatory reports that we run and report quarterly and annually. These are requested by GSA and OMB. There are also customer based reports that agencies need for internal purposes and those that we run to supply metrics.
A new tool this year is the management information system (MIS) developed by GSA (TravelTrax) to consolidate all reporting data elements in one tool for agency use. The concept is to import all travel management center (TMC), E-Gov Travel data, and credit card data into one system so agencies can easily provide regulatory and custom reports. While not all data elements are available to date, much of the TMC data is in the system, so we were able to use that for some of our regulatory annual reports at the fiscal year end this year, such as the first class/business class reports.
This tool is valuable not only for reporting purposes, but also for analyzing travel policy compliance metrics. For example, TravelTrax allows us to find organizational compliance to GSA City Pair fare usage with the ability to drill down to the user level. This allows us to see if certain Agency or customer components adhere to using the City Pair fares, or if valid justifications exist to not using them. We can relay the compliance metric to the travel contact and can discuss targeted training or whether or not to provide global or individual communications to users. Future metrics will focus on usage of the individually billed Government travel charge card, FedRooms /FEMA compliant percentages, and first class/business class travel usage.
Certainly, this tool also allows us to fulfill any customer requested reports and any specific Congressional or Freedom of Information Requests.
Our team is also tasked to provide input into the statement of work requirements for the next generations of E-Travel, since the current contract expires in 2013. Our goal of evaluating the statement of work for the new E-Gov Travel tools is to ensure that FTR and agency policy is maintained and/or enhanced in the next generation.
As can be seen, travel policy pertaining to temporary duty travel has been, and continues to be, an extremely important part of the E-Gov travel process in ensuring compliance.
By: Dan Carozza, CGTP
“The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Bureau of the Public Debt, or the U.S. Department of the Treasury.”