Automation gives E-Travel a boost

Paper expense reports and loose travel receipts will soon be documents of the past. Agencies will be leaving behind paper-based and partially automated processes in exchange for a governmentwide online E-Travel System (ETS). Several agencies have awarded task orders to implement ETS, and soon officials will begin transforming the travel reservation and approval process.

"Prior to ETS, travel management in agencies was very decentralized," said Tim Burke, ETS program manager at the General Services Administration. "Many agencies used outdated paper-intensive planning, vouchering and reimbursement processes, [and] they had the burden of maintaining a stand-alone" system.

The goal behind E-Travel, one of 24 e-government initiatives, is to make travel reservations and approvals more efficient and cost-effective by creating a fully automated management system. In May, officials at GSA, which is the lead agency for the initiative, approved three vendors to provide the travel service: CW Government Travel Inc. of San Antonio; EDS of Fairfax, Va.; and Northrop Grumman Mission Systems of Fairfax. After a rigorous testing period, the companies were awarded 10-year contracts totaling $450 million and are accepting agency task orders. The solutions' features vary among the vendors, but each includes several requisite capabilities, from automated travel planning to reimbursement data and reporting.

"Each vendor is required to provide the same service to the government, but how they do it is unique to their companies," Burke said. "By providing choice, the agencies can determine which vendor best suits their business needs. By providing a competitive environment, the government benefits from a reduction in cost and technology upgrades."

Agency officials must choose a solution by the end of the year. By the end of 2006, every agency is expected to use an automated travel management system.

At the Department of Health and Human Services, officials will merge all the operating divisions, such as the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health, onto Northrop Grumman's GovTrip system. In time, the agency will replace five travel systems, which vary in age and capabilities. By the end of fiscal 2006, the final system will be replaced, said Ann Speyer, director of business technology optimization in HHS' Program Support Center.

"The application we are using in [the center] is about 15 years old," Speyer said. "It's an old, mainframe-based application. They have tried to do some work on it, but it's still very cryptic and archaic, and that was really one of the driving forces" to move to GovTrip.

Northrop Grumman's system merges the online booking engine with the authorization process, which then links to the agency's current systems, such as financial systems, said Leo Hergenroeder, GovTrip program manager. It also increases the number of self-service transactions, reducing the need for outside travel services.

"The return on investment comes in two big pieces," Hergenroeder said. "One is self-service transactions, and [the second is] the back-end savings from the robust interface to financial systems so they can be processed."

Northrop Grumman's system has also been selected by the Treasury Department, where more than 100,000 employees will use GovTrip to make reservations and process reimbursements, said Treasury spokeswoman Brookly McLaughlin. Department employees currently use automated systems, but some only use them for voucher reimbursements.

"All trip authorizations will now incorporate online booking," McLaughlin said. "Additional tools, such as new user self-registration and the ability to attach a receipt to a voucher, will also be available."

The objective of EDS' also is more self-service, said Steve Vetter, client sales executive for EDS' federal e-travel services. The company's solution allows agency officials to tailor the program to match their business needs, while following the confines of governmentwide requirements. For example, many agencies use travel management centers to book trips, and rather than doing away with them, EDS officials accommodated the centers by integrating the new system with current processes, Vetter said.

Agencies "are all special," he said. "They have their unique needs. We understood how they do it now and designed it to minimize the impact."

CW Government Travel's system, E2 Solutions, provides a complete end-to-end automated system with added features such as auditing capabilities for credit card management and receipt imaging for

digital storage, said Kay Anderson-Hager, the company's vice president of sales and marketing.

Company officials are used to such large-scale travel system implementations, and the concentration now is on winning task orders. "Our focus is selling this to as many agencies as we can," Anderson-Hager said. "We don't feel we are going to endure any real big challenges with this."


Travel planning

Agencies can choose from among three vendors to provide automated, end-to-end e-travel systems. Although the vendors' capabilities vary, the core government requirements include:

Integrated travel planning and cost estimating, based on government rates.

Travel booking capabilities.

Detailed itinerary and per diem cost calculations based on federal regulations.

Automated filing, processing and approval of employees' travel claims.

Connection to agency financial systems for direct payment of travel reimbursements.

Reporting and data exchange for running queries on certain travel information.


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