A site for happy landings

The Transportation Department hopes a World Wide Web-based travel and expense service will take some of the frustration out of the least glamorous part of travel — filing for reimbursement.

The agency plans to release a draft solicitation this month for a dedicated Web-based service that can process federal travelers' trip planning and expense documents, including electronic approvals.

Filing travel expenses is "one of the most annoying and troublesome parts of the travel process," said Susan Tollerson, project manager for the Web travel and expense system at DOT. Paper vouchers can take three hours to fill out, she said, and then that data must be entered into other systems.

The Web-based system will reduce the time and redundancy in the process. And Tollerson hopes the system will result in more timely reimbursements.

DOT plans to solicit proposals later this month and award a contract to one or more vendors by summer, Tollerson said. The site will be hosted by the vendor, an arrangement that will save the government the cost of ownership and operation, she said.

The procurement of the travel expense service is the next step in DOT's plans to offer civilian agencies all their travel-related services online. It follows the DOT's pilot FedTrip.gov online booking site [FCW, March 27], which will go live in May and will eventually be open to other government agencies and selected contract workers. FedTrip uses commercial software to automate the research and booking of flights, hotels and car rentals.

DOT also plans to open the Web-based expense service to the rest of the federal government after a trial period at DOT, and eventually will connect the two services through a single federal travel Web site, Tollerson said.

Federal agencies spent about $8 billion on travel in fiscal 1998; DOT's share was about $277 million.

The Defense Department, which spent about $5.3 billion on travel in 1998, is designing a similar system called the Defense Travel System for active-duty military and civilian DOD personnel. In 1998, TRW Inc. was awarded a $263.7 million contract for the system, which is in a pilot phase. The Defense Travel System will use Gelco Information Network Inc.'s Travel Manager software, American Express Co.'s travel management services, Sun Microsystems Inc.'s computer hardware and Oracle Corp.'s database management software.

When it comes to travel systems, government in many ways is ahead of the corporate world, said Stephen Spears, Gelco's vice president for business development.

"There is a driver within government, with the Defense Travel System leading the charge, of bringing technology into the travel mix to allow agencies to migrate their current product and fee structures to a new way of doing business," Spears said.

DOT hopes to move toward an application service provider model rather than maintain certain IT skills in house, said David Kleinberg, DOT's deputy chief financial officer.

The government's move to ASP fee-for-service structures is crucial to making it less difficult to process travel arrangements, Spears said.

DOT does not want to duplicate the Defense Travel System, but it must meet DOD rules because the Coast Guard — which is part of DOT — is subject to many military rules and regulations, Tollerson said.

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