Feds' travel made easy

Federal workers will soon have an easier, faster and cheaper way to make travel plans, when the Transportation Department begins rolling out its new World Wide Web travel site in May.

The new DOT site (www.fedtrip.gov) will allow federal employees to book trips online without having to call their travel agents, said David Kleinberg, DOT's deputy chief financial officer. The travel agents will still book the trips, but the online booking engine is "really replacing the telephone," he said.

The Web site uses commercial software called ResAssist from TRX Technology Services, Dallas, which will allow federal employees to get flight information and check airline seat, hotel room and rental car availability. With the agency's travel agent working on the other end of the site, the traveler can book the trip and pay via the FedTrip site using a federal travel credit card.

A FedTrip pilot site was opened to the Federal Aviation Administration in mid-March, and DOT will be the first department to use it in May.

"We're trying to maximize the information available so they have choices," Kleinberg said. "The real savings for modest travelers is time savings."

FedTrip has all the characteristics of Travelocity.com and other commercial sites but is designed specifically for federal users, Kleinberg said. Some unique elements include access to federal fares and security to exclude nongovernment workers, he said.

DOT employees make nearly 120,000 trips each year. By offering FedTrip to agencies outside DOT and to their contractors, the more customers the department can attract and the more money the government can save.

"We think we can negotiate better fares with airlines and get more favorable forms of payment," Kleinberg said.

Other savings come from eliminating the travel agent computer reservation fees, Kleinberg said. This approach will save about $10 to $12 per booking. DOT now pays World Travel Partners-BTI a $30.84 fee for each transaction the company handles for the agency. While the travel agent will still be involved, the fees will be lower because human involvement in the information-gathering process will be minimized when DOT employees use the Web to book flights, lodging or rental cars.

"We're doing something some large corporations are doing for their employees," Kleinberg said. Because of the competition with other travel sites, DOT will be under constant pressure to provide good service.

It makes sense to work with private industry to create the site, Kleinberg added, particularly since the government can not easily hire and keep good IT staff at the current salary levels. Agencies must use the people they have to purchase services inexpensively, he said.

Pat Oliver, a transportation specialist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said FedTrip would be something NOAA could use "as long as it kept us in compliance with travel regulation." Savvy travelers, she said, would be the most likely users.

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