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In a quest to improve travel management and learn best practices from the corporate sector, U.S. Defense Travel Management Office commercial travel division chief Paul Joyce and program analyst Brian Dean were among 17 prospects from 15 organizations learning the pros and cons of the CTD distinction at a Corporate Travel Department Association meeting here last month.
Unaware that Joyce and Dean attended the function, Society of Government Travel Professionals president Marc Stec, who also works as Carlson Wagonlit Sato Travel's military and government markets global program manager vice president, said, "It doesn't surprise me, since DTMO is responsible for all travel services and looking at the next generation of the Defense Travel System. They explore all options. I just can't see them insourcing travel." [While many of the 129 ARC-accredited CTDs insource travel, others outsource all functions to travel management companies.]
To insource its travel, an industry insider noted, DoD would face such challenges as securing "internal approval" and congressional scrutiny, not to mention the "practical wisdom of how they would" actually implement the change. "It's thoroughly far-fetched," said the source who asked not to be named.
DTMO Today And Tomorrow
Since February 2006, DTMO has served "as a single focal point for commercial travel" within DoD to "standardize management practices, leverage economies of scale, reduce administrative costs, and work towards a common set of goals. DTMO provides central oversight for commercial travel management, travel policy and implementation, travel card program management, customer support and training, functional oversight of the Defense Travel System and allowance and entitlement program management," according to the office.
In recent months, DTMO worked with the defense agencies on transitioning to Citi from Bank of America as part of the General Services Administration's SmartPay 2 travel card program. DoD manages the program for 1.4 million cardholders with an estimated charge volume of $40 billion over 10 years and plans to explore future "use of alternative technology solutions, such as debit and declining balance cards."
Acknowledging that improvements must continue in defense travel, DTMO director Pamela Mitchell cited the department's progress since 2006in consolidating travel programs, contracts, policies, regulations and the Defense Travel System technology. Use of DTS--which enforces policy and serves as an online booking, authorization, voucher, approval, expense reporting, routing, budgeting and data management tool--was mandated only in 2008.
As part of the long-term strategy for defense travel, DTMO has partnered with the Business Transformation Agency and defense governance boards to "analyze DoD's travel programs and assess existing IT infrastructure and systems" for its $10.4 billion in annual spending, Mitchell told a House subcommittee in March. That strategy includes identification of industry leading practices, gap analysis and feasibility studies on the applicability of commercial best practices within the DoD environment. To assist with that, DTMO in April awarded a $15 million, three-year contract to Perot Systems Corp. for "commercial travel management services, including strategic planning, policy analysis, information management, economic analysis and contracts administration," Perot officials said.
Simplifying travel policy is among the numerous initiatives, Mitchell told a House subcommittee in March. Unlike a typical corporate travel policy of five to 25 pages, Mitchell told Federal News Radioin September that DoD has 1,500 pages of rules. DoD and GSA completed a comprehensive policy review during the past two years. Phase two through 2010, Mitchell said, would focus on identifying opportunities that would and wouldn't require legislation and compiling a "comprehensive reform package." Phase three in 2011 and beyond "is to have a comprehensive travel reform package passed into law and proceed with full implementation."
In a future initiative, Mitchell said DTMO planned to analyze industry best practices for the classification of premium and business-class travel seating and reporting, as well as processes, such as reporting, policy and service.
DTMO has focused on unused tickets for some time as it worked to institute standards for travel management companies to track, report and reuse them. In the future, DTMO said it could "modify CTO contracts so services/agencies submit monthly data instead of quarterly." It also plans to research technology that tracks unused tickets and facilitates name changes.
To consolidate travel management companies, DTMO awarded an umbrella travel contract to eight vendors for worldwide commercial travel office services and manages 31 small-business contracts. It soon plans to add a new contract solicitation specifically for small business, Mitchell said in a September presentation.
DTS Usage, Functionality Expanding
DTS as of January 2009 supported more than 1.95 million potential DoD travelers and was deployed to 9,504 of 9,846 defense locations, according to the defense department's technology budget request. Mitchell told the House subcommittee that DoD travelers in fiscal year 2008 submitted more than 5 million temporary-duty travel vouchers, with 3.2 million--or nearly 65 percent--processed in DTS. That presented a 36.5 percent jump from fiscal year 2007. "The growth continues in FY 2009, with a year-to-date processing rate of 73.2 percent. As DTS usage increases, the cost to process vouchers decreases," Mitchell said. Comparing the cost to process travel vouchers in a legacy accounting system used by the Army and other defense agencies, Mitchell said, officials found that DTS delivered "greater than a 40 percent reduction in costs" from fiscal year 2007 to 2008.
Mitchell said her office is working to improve the user-friendliness and overall usage of DTS. DTMO aims to expand the functionality of DTS to permit more transactions to process travel requests online. In August, it added to DTS 29 special-circumstance trip types. During the 2010 fiscal year that ends in September, permanent-duty travel functionality will be added. Next fiscal year, DoD expects to add functionality to allow recruit travel to be processed in DTS.
Usability enhancements will be added in two phases: Mitchell said screen revisions and new buttons beginning in February 2010 would make DTS more intuitive to enhance the traveler experience. In May 2011, officials plan "more extensive systemic enhancements," such as a new graphical user interface developed by a DTS user community.
GAO Says 'More Effort Needed'
In a June followup report to a 1995 DoD Travel Reengineering Report and 2006 audit, the Government Accountability Office said "DoD has taken sufficient action to satisfactorily address six of the 14 recommendations GAO made in 2006 pertaining to unused airline tickets, restricted airfares, testing of system interfaces and streamlining of certain travel processes. More effort is needed to address the remaining eight requirements related to management and system testing, utilization, premium-class travel and developing an automated approach to reduce the need for hard-copy receipts to substantiate travel expenses."
In response, DoD said all but two of the issues GAO cited had been addressed, and it detailed steps taken on the outstanding issues.
The GAO report found that the "display of flight information by DTS is complicated and confusing" because DoD had yet to "establish DTS flight display requirements to minimize the number of screens DoD travelers must view" to select a flight.
The GAO audit also faulted DoD for not adequately testing that DTS display only flights compliant with the Fly America Act, which stipulates that travel must be on U.S. carriers when available. "This testing failure places the traveler who purchases a ticket or the individual authorizing, certifying or disbursing DOD ticket payments ... at unnecessary risk of being personally liable for the cost of the ticket." In tests it conducted in November 2008, GAO said nine of 25 flights displayed for travel from Washington Dulles Airport to Zimbabwe, four of 10 to Pakistan and three of 15 to Yemen were noncompliant. In a response to the GAO audit, DTMO said it has taken steps to work with the prime contractor to remedy this issue.
"There are internal processes and testing methods that can be improved, and we will continue to review, adjust and enhance those areas. However, the program overall is a success story," DoD Deputy Under Secretary William Carr stated in response to GAO. "DTS is reducing transaction costs, and improving system usability for the traveler continues to be a primary focus," he said.
To that end, DoD has developed a range of training materials and online courses for agencies and employees, and implemented customer service rating and feedback systems. While some reports indicate the need to improve employee satisfaction of DTS, Mitchell noted that voucher payment times as of the second-quarter 2009 averaged 6.6 days, four times faster than the 30-day mandated time. DTS through the second quarter of 2009 processed more than 1.6 million of 2.3 million temporary-duty travel vouchers submitted, which represents 70 percent usage of DTS. Processing through DTS saves time and money.
GAO said "DoD cost data indicate that it is about 15 times more expensive to process a travel voucher manually--$36.52 manually versus $2.47 electronically." DoD said it still lacks the data "needed to ascertain the complete universe of travel vouchers that should be processed through DTS."
Defense continues to fund and use two legacy systems to process temporary-duty travel vouchers where DTS has yet to be deployed and to process Air Force permanent-duty travel vouchers as DTS cannot. Such functionality is slated to be added this fiscal year for military use, but not civilian use. One system cost DoD $3.3 million in fiscal year 2008, while $510,000 was budgeted for the second. The GAO study indicated that the "these legacy systems will not be eliminated."
In House subcommittee testimony, Mitchell said "2013" is the department's "projected sunset date for all identified systems that can be shut down."
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