GSA’s E-Travel is ready to leave the station

The National Science Foundation has waited nearly three years for an electronic travel system, but patience seems to be paying off.

The agency will join seven others as the first adopters of the General Services Administration’s E-Travel initiative. By early summer, NSF plans to award a task order for a reservation and voucher system to one of three E-Travel contractors: Carlson Wagonlit Government Travel Inc. of San Antonio, EDS Corp. or the Mission Systems unit of Northrop Grumman Corp.

“We are replacing a rare, and probably our last, paper-based system,” said Neville Withington, NSF’s e-travel project manager.

Before E-Travel became a Quicksilver project in 2001, Withington said, NSF had started researching commercial travel systems and was about six months away from a request for proposals.

But the agency changed its plans when the Office of Management and Budget made E-Travel one of the 25 governmentwide Quicksilver e-government projects. Now NSF is one of eight agencies that will take a leap of faith to a standardized Web travel system that handles arrangements from beginning to end, booking air travel, hotels and rental cars; obtaining supervisor approvals; interfacing with accounting systems; and reimbursing employee expenses.

By fall, NSF along with the Housing and Urban Development, Labor, Transportation and Treasury departments, General Services Administration, National Archives and Records Administration, and Agency for International Development expect to award task orders and begin implementing one of the three new systems, E-Travel project manager Tim Burke said.

Tom Park, Transportation’s deputy chief financial officer, said his agency will award a task order as early as this week.

“We already have evaluated the systems and understand their strengths and weaknesses,” Park said. “The last step is to get final prices from the vendors.”

The Federal Transit, Federal Highway and Maritime administrations will be among the first to use the new system at Transportation, he said.

Dave Sawyer, Labor’s director of financial systems, said his agency by fall could replace a 5-year-old system from Gelco Information Network Inc. of Minneapolis that mainly generates electronic forms.

Other agencies can now move forward because GSA last week announced that all three vendors’ systems passed stress tests and were certified.

By Dec. 31, each of the 24 major agencies must award a task order for a standardized travel system from one of the three vendors, Burke said. GSA last November gave the companies a 10-year contract worth up to $450 million.

“It’s going to be very competitive for the next few months,” said Soo Morehouse, program manager for EDS’ “We are certainly going to get our share of the business.” She said three agencies have been using an early version of FedTraveler for more than a year.

Burke said GSA estimates that agencies will shut down more than 200 existing travel systems by the end of 2006. GSA expects the standardized systems to save more than $730 million over the next 10 years, including $230 million in transaction costs alone.

NSF, which spends about $8 million annually on airline and other transportation, will save most of its costs in personnel time, Withington said.

Transportation has been at the forefront of the governmentwide move to online travel. Park said the department created FedTrip, an online reservation system, in 2000 and TServ, an online voucher system, in 2002. Transportation expected to offer the services governmentwide, but as E-Travel combines them, Park is leading the department’s migration.

Transportation also has helped test E-Travel. Since January, Federal Aviation Administration employees in Oklahoma City have been piloting all three systems.

PostNewsweek Tech staff writer Gail Repsher Emery contributed to this article.

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