IRS move to Treasury e-travel to be costly

IRS officials believe it is not in the tax agency’s best interest to change from its current electronic travel system to the Treasury Department’s e-travel system. The migration to GovTrip will cost millions more and require a significant increase in travel help desk staff, said the Treasury inspector general for Tax Administration.

All federal agencies are expected to move by next month to one of three e-travel systems that the General Services Administration approved. Treasury selected Northrop Grumman Corp.’s GovTrip for all its bureaus and agencies.

GSA and Treasury estimate that GovTrip will save the IRS $29 million over eight years. The IRS, however, believes GovTrip will cost about $39 million more than its existing system over the same period. The IRS will gain some new features and lose others.

The 10 Treasury bureaus that have implemented GovTrip have experienced technical difficulties with the system, TIGTA said in this week’s report. For example, the Treasury help desk for GovTrip has received about 1.26 requests for help for every document processed as of May, a difference of 1,100 percent more than the requests for help on the existing IRS e-travel system.

TIGTA, however, was unable to recommend either that the IRS implement GovTrip or seek a waiver from the requirement to use it because of weaknesses in the cost estimates of both the IRS and GSA.

“Cost estimates to interface GovTrip with the IRS financial system were not fully developed, and the costs to recover the features lost by converting to GovTrip were not included in the cost estimates,” said Michael Phillips, deputy inspector for audit.

TIGTA instead recommended that IRS make sure that its travel help desk have adequate staff to respond to the expected significant increase in technical problems to be resolved and without additional fees to IRS travelers. IRS should also consider preparing a more detailed cost/benefit analysis for GovTrip implementation and, depending on the results, consider making a second request to delay implementing GovTrip. A more detailed analysis should provide a better estimate of the additional funds the IRS will need to put the departmentwide e-travel system in place.

In its response, IRS said that GovTrip will require a tenfold increase to the travel services staff to 166 to handle the staggering increase in help desk volume, said Janis Landis, director of employee support services, in a written response last month.

“This result is particularly onerous in light of the fact that IRS is reducing staffing levels in non-compliance areas to support the commissioner’s and Congress’ mandates that IRS move FTEs to compliance/enforcement functions,” she said.

It will cost IRS $7 million to interface its finance system with GovTrip and $3 million in operating fees to the financial system vendor over the current cost.

GovTrip does not comply with the tax code on long-term taxable travel, but vendor Northrop Grumman will develop the functionality if IRS pays for it, Landis said. The Northrop Grumman system currently has 45 workarounds for facets of the system that are not functioning properly. GovTrip does not permit local travel authorizations, which IRS has instituted under federal requirements.

The current IRS Travel Reimbursement and Accounting System, an IRS-owned, Web-based program, generally complies with governmentwide e-travel requirements.

“By contrast, our current TRAS system requires no additional expenditure on our part and meets all e-Travel requirements with one exception,” Landis said. That exception is split disbursements, which IRS can implement for a one-time cost of $500,000, she said.

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