Letter to the editor

I had never written a letter to the editor before my response to a Milt Zall column on the Government Performance and Results Act ["GPRA and government business"]. However, one of your readers has hit another hot button of mine, best practices.

Your letter from Aug 30, 2001, "No plusses to Travel Manager Plus," emphasizes a point on how the government approaches change. Travel Manager is an excellent example where a significant change in a process is made mandatory and the management of change has been ignored.

Someone much higher in the decision chain determined that Travel Manager is the answer to travel re-engineering. For many travelers, there were very few problems with travel other than reimbursements being both slow and painful. However, the process was understood, and the finance office would ensure that the settlement voucher was processed correctly.

Travel Manager is a best-in-class software system. We have used it since it was in a DOS version. It reduced our processing time from 10 days to two days.

With the current version, a settlement voucher can be entered today and the traveler's bank account and travel card are paid within the two next days. No paperwork is created. Computation is done online as the traveler enters his or her data. The traveler's approving official is notified by e-mail when the traveler electronically signs the voucher. When officials approve the voucher, they use an electronic signature and the voucher is paid. The finance office is bypassed. Two people are involved with the travel process—the approving official and the traveler—and one is involved in the banking process. For a government process, this is a radical change.

So what is the problem the user is having? When something is changed, a person must feel comfortable with the new process. No one likes to be pushed into change. Further, a person must feel that the change is worthwhile. Have the benefits been shown? In our case, payment time was reduced to two days.

It doesn't sound like the writer of the letter to the editor is seeing any benefits. Previously, the travel process involved many functions in an organization. But many functions have been eliminated by the system. If the system runs slowly, is it possible that the information technology folks saw little gain so they withheld recourses to make it run successfully? Whoever implemented the change may have thought that no opposition to procurement is the same as support for the system.

Organizational culture is very strong, and the re-engineering of the travel system is a real challenge to that culture. Travel has always been something that management has controlled tightly. If someone spends $2.87 more than they were allowed, everyone gets involved. Elaborate controls at the local level are established to prevent the possibility of an incorrect payment.

The management process behind Travel Manager eliminates most of the elaborate local controls. It places complete trust in the traveler's manager and gives managers a system resource they can use to do their jobs. What do we hear the writer saying about his supervisor's role? "He basically shrugged and said to be more alert in the future."

Travel Manager is not the problem. Change management is the problem. By the way, change is what the GPRA is all about.

Tom Wolter Civilian, U.S. Army

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