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Eighteen months after the Defense Travel Management Office assumed responsibility for all official travel by more than 30 agencies within the U.S. Department of Defense, the office is poised to embark on several new DOD travel initiatives, as well as some programs spanning the entire federal government.
Such wider efforts include assuming management over the government's car rental program, exploring the use of a government travel database and considering enhancements to government travel policies and hotel programs.
Following numerous travel engineering pilots and projects within DOD, officials in Feb. 2006 established DTMO as the "one authoritative, responsible agency for commercial travel." DTMO was tasked to streamline and consolidate the travel policies, regulations and procurement for both military and civilian personnel, as well as manage the Defense Travel System automated end-to-end travel management tool and a new corporate card program slated to begin in late 2008. According to the Office of Management and Budget, DOD in 2006 spent more than $9 billion on travel, $1.8 billion less than in 2005 (excluding war-related travel to Iraq and Afghanistan).
Within DOD, DTMO this month opened the first phase of a new 24-hour travel assistance center for DOD travelers and travel agents. It is designed to handle questions on policy, charge cards, the Defense Travel System and other travel questions. Initially, the assistance center is fielding questions related to DTS. In October, it will be opened to all DOD travel. The chief of DTMO's commercial travel division, Paul Joyce, explained that a similar center had been implemented specifically for the Pentagon and had been "very successful."
Though Joyce suggested that DOD's DTS automated end-to-end travel management system "is one of the stellar financial systems in the DOD," he acknowledged that the online booking component "is probably an area of improvement." In July, DOD picked ITA Software's QPX airfare pricing, shopping and availability system to "help upgrade" DTS. The U.S. Government Accountability Office and members of Congress have slammed the high cost and slow pace of DTS implementation.
Meanwhile, DTMO is overseeing DOD's transition to the new GSA SmartPay2 charge card program. DOD last year spent $4.3 billion through just the travel component of the existing SmartPay program.
Joyce said DTMO also would inherit the Statistical Collection of Passenger Travel, "a big DOD database that has been around for a number of years." The office will determine if any changes are needed or if data collection should migrate to a new system. DTMO, he said, is exploring the topic internally, as well as across the federal government in conjunction with the General Services Administration. GSA in January awarded a contract worth about $9.2 million to TRX to develop a central database on the federal government's $15.4 billion in travel spending. "We want to find out who is breaking the rules, and more importantly, why they are breaking the rules," said Joyce last week during a Society of Government Travel Professionals conference. "Is the rule bad? Maybe we should change the model of the program to suit the travelers' needs."
Along similar lines, DTMO and GSA are collaborating on a review of federal government travel policies, to "revise, simplify and synchronize" where appropriate, according to DTMO's Web site.
DTMO and GSA also are examining existing federal lodging programs and opportunities for new ones. Noting the FedRooms program and DOD's own lodging program, Joyce said the departments would explore the possibility of merging those programs.
Meanwhile, DTMO next month also will assume management of the federal car rental program, which since 1986 has been handled by the U.S. Army's Surface Deployment and Distribution Command. SDDC's Web site values the program at $325 million. DTMO will approve rate ceilings, handle claims disputes and interface with the car rental industry.
Car rental representatives speaking during the SGTP conference said they have been pleased with the government program and expressed optimism that the DTMO transition would be smooth. Randy Tietsort, executive director at Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group, noted that government rates had increased only 7 percent during the past 20 years. For average rates, "You have $69 for leisure, $47 for corporate and $32 for government," he said, citing recent industry data. "With that $32 government rate, you get a free loss-damage/collision waiver, free extended liability coverage, no additional driver fees and no underage driver fees." Other benefits for government renters include class-of-service upgrades, worldwide availability and participation in supplier membership programs.
Joyce also said DTMO is soliciting traveler feedback through an interactive customer evaluation tool and coordinating travel for new recruits.
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