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Travel

Travel Governance Council Meeting

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Travel Governance Council met on February 20, 2018.

Topics included:

  • General Services Administration (GSA) SmartPay 3 project update
  • HHS Office of Inspector General Risk Assessment
  • Configuration analysis and instance consolidation
  • Transportation policy revamp project
  • Appropriations lapses support
  • Virtual Instructor-Led Training (VILT) for travel training
  • SAP Concur key staff change

The council serves as the executive-level strategic and guiding body for the HHS travel program and meets the third Tuesday of every other month.

 

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Travel Leadership Coalition Meetings

The Travel Leadership Coalition met on February 13, March 13, and on April 10, 2018.

Agenda topics included:

  • Travel credit card program update, including SmartPay 3
  • Common configuration and instance consolidation project
  • Travel policy update process project
  • Continuing Resolution support

The Coalition meets the second Tuesday of each month. To participate, contact your operational division lead, federal agency travel administrator, or senior travel official.

 

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HHS Common Configuration and Instance Consolidation Project

As part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) effort to meet government-wide strategy to establish standardized practices, increase commonality between federal agencies, and eliminate redundancy, Program Support Center (PSC) is leading an effort to establish a department-wide common configuration to be applied to the E-government Travel System (ETS).

The current ETS is titled "ConcurGov," which is an SAP Concur® product delivered as "Software As A Services," or "SaaS." SaaS is a way to delivery software applications homogenously.

As part of this, PSC is examining a potential optimal approach that could reduce the total number of configured instances HHS has from 13 to three that align directly to the respective three financial systems that comprise the department's core financial system.

A consolidation would reduce the amount of changes needed to manage the system, decrease the release regression testing workload, and support quicker identification of document processing issues. It will also enable the system to be operated by fewer administrators, produce fewer problems from having separate configured "rule classes," enable travelers to travel between Operating Divisions with fewer system-side errors, further a consistent travel experience across the department, and promote increased technical understanding of system behaviors.

It is anticipated that the full consolidation of the United Financial Management System (UFMS)-aligned travel instances will be complete.

The effort positions HHS's travel system so that it can operate more efficiently and be prepared to adjust to any future optimization of the department's core financial system, which consists of the three respective associated financial systems: UFMS, NIH Business System (NBS), and Healthcare Integrated General Ledger Accounting System (HIGLAS).

 

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PSC Resolves #1 Cause for ETS Manual Payments

On January 15, the Program Support Center (PSC) transportation systems team deployed new code to the Common Transportation Integration Platform (CTIP) to resolve an issue that was the primary source for electronic travel document voucher processing failures that required the vouchers to be processed manually outside of the E-government Travel System (ETS).

This issue occurred under a very narrow set of circumstances when a traveler used a Centrally Billed Account credit card to acquire Common Carrier Transportation and then filed an amended travel authorization or changed the form of payment on the voucher. This prompted a document failure due to how the expenses "roll up" in the data file transmitted to the financial system. ETS would not recognize the change and continually attempt to send the original information, causing the document to irreparably seize.

PSC has monitored the effects of its code solution for three months and has not seen any electronic document failures. The coded solution marks a key milestone in PSC's effort to improve the efficiency of the ETS. With this latest fix, the number of vouchers started in the ETS and then requiring manual payment has fallen to fractional levels.

 

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ETS Travel Voucher Speed of Payment is at All-Time High

At this time in FY2017, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services travelers were being reimbursed on average at 3.7 days from the day the voucher was approved. Now, travel vouchers are being paid on average at 2.5 days. As a benchmark, the Federal Travel Regulation requires payments to be made within 30 days.

 

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Employees Can Quickly Check Travel Document Status Using ETS

The number one reason most employees call the ONE DHHS Tier 1 Help Desk phone line is to determine the status of their travel document.

This information is readily available in the E-government Travel System (ETS). Simply log into the ETS and click on the appropriate document type tab: Travel, Authorization, or Vouchers.

A list of current and past documents is displayed in a queue for each document type. The label "Status" indicates the document status.

Common status codes for travel authorizations include "Created," "Signed," and "Reservations Updated". Common status codes for travel vouchers include "Signed," "Pending," and "Paid."

Screenshot of the Concur application.
 

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Latest TSA REAL ID Requirements Now in Effect at Airports

Federal employees need to be aware of Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Real Identification (REAL ID) requirements at airport security checkpoints in effect January 22, 2018; however, some states have requested extensions.

Under the new requirement, travelers may only use their state-issued driver's license or identification card for boarding commercial aircraft if they are REAL ID compliant. Other forms of identification such as a passport or a military identification card are also still accepted. It is not known if a federal agency-issued Personal Identification Verification (PIV) card will be accepted by either TSA or an airline as a valid form of identification. Employees who travel should be sure to take a state-issued form of identification with them to check in. Employees who fail to do so and who miss their booked flight could personally bear the cost of the air fare because the Civilian Board of Contract Appeals has ruled previously that forgetting one's identification is an avoidable circumstance.

A map of the United States and territories, showing which are compliant, in an extension, under review, and not compliant.

Under federal law, a REAL ID identification contains a full legal name, signature, date of birth, gender, unique identifying number, principal residence address, and a front-facing photograph of the holder. The identification must also have a security feature intended to prevent tampering or counterfeiting. States can only process applications for REAL ID-compliant documentation if an applicant provides the following documentation:

  • A photo ID or a non-photo ID that includes full legal name and birthdate
  • Documentation of birthdate
  • Documentation of legal status and Social Security Number
  • Documentation showing name and principal residence address
 

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Transportation Policy

PSC Completes Policy Update Process Pilot

Program Support Center (PSC) completed its policy update process pilot project on March 9, 2018, and is reviewing the comments received.

PSC posted its planned new travel policy update process on the MAX.gov website to publicize the proposed new policy development process that will enable travel policy to be updated and published more quickly.

Operating Division and Staff Division personnel were offered the opportunity to examine and comment on the new process and feedback was also received at recent Travel Governance Council and Travel Leadership Coalition meetings.

The next phase of the project will be a review and update of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service's Travel Policy Manual. The update will have technical/structural updates and two substantive policy changes:

  1. Inclusion of Transportation Network Companies as an acceptable form of conveyance while on Temporary Duty
  2. Prohibition on reimbursement of Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Pre-Check enrollment fees, which was published by the General Services Administration.

Starting on or about May 1, 2018, the policy will be reissued as the FY2018 edition. Updates will be made according to a quarterly cycle. At the start of each fiscal year, the policy will be issued in full again.

The upcoming technical/structural updates include a general format changes, grammar corrections, sentence structure fixes, and other errors. To facilitate review, a table listing the substantive changes in the edition will also be included.

PSC plans to next start posting topics on the MAX.gov website that will be addressed in future travel policy manual updates. Employees are invited to provide early input on the topics posted, which PSC will review and consider as travel policy updates are developed.

 

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"Cinderella Hour" Pier Diem Depends on Where the Clock's Hands Fall

Even though the Fairy Godmother told Cinderella to be home from her Temporary Duty trip by midnight, an unexpected delay at the ball kept her from departing and getting home on time.

Though her carriage might have turned into a pumpkin when the clock struck 12, the good news is that she won't have to make soup out of it because she is eligible for full per diem for the day of the ball and three-quarters per diem for the next day.

Like the Fairy Godmother's instructions, the Federal Travel Regulation's per diem rules are very straightforward... and the Civilian Board of Contract Appeals (CBCA) recently made them even more so.

The CBCA has consistently upheld that per diem for lodging and meals and incidental expenses are to be reimbursed on a per day basis only. In order to receive a per diem, a traveler must leave the geographic Official Station area for more than 12 hours. Additional guidance can be found in the Federal Travel Regulation,§301-11.1, "When am I eligible for an allowance (per diem or actual expense?)"

The percentage amount to be paid for the first and last day of travel — 75 percent — is set by the FTR at§301-11.101, "What allowance will I be paid for M&IE?"

These two regulations answer the majority of questions about per diem received here at the Program Support Center (PSC). Recently, PSC received a more complex question. "What if an employee arrives back in their Official Station area just a few minutes past midnight? Do they still receive an entire day's per diem?"

Yes! According to the CBCA's decision, In the Matter of Rance A. Scarborough (2008) CBCA 5904-TRAV, even if an employee lands at the airport at 12:01, it matters. The CBCA clarified that that per diem entitlement eligibility is according to a two-part test: 1) where the employee is, and 2) what time it is. The Board clarified that the clock hour — midnight — establishes the new day, not the employee's work day.

"Military time" helps illustrate the board's ruling. There are 24 hours in a day. The start of each day is at 00:00:01, or one second after midnight. The end of each day is 24:00:00, or midnight.

If an employee is still traveling after midnight on what was supposed to have been their last day of travel, then that last day of travel becomes second-to-last day of travel and they are entitled to full per diem Meals and Incidental Expenses (M&IE) for that day and 75 percent per diem M&IE for the following day.

So, Cinderella didn't fret when her carriage turned into a pumpkin and her carriage horses turned into mice. She just walked across the street to the Waffle House® and grabbed a bite to eat. Then she lived happily ever after.

 

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Ensure Accurate Reimbursements by Understanding Use of POV at TDY Sites

Employees who are authorized to use their Privately Owned Vehicle (POV) to drive to a Temporary Duty (TDY) location may use their POV "in and around" the TDY location and should be reimbursed according to the applicable mileage rates if they do so.

When authorized to drive a POV to a TDY location, the full consideration should not be limited to reimbursement of only the miles from an employee's residence or Official Station to the official TDY location. The full consideration should include use of the POV "in and around" the TDY location, such as to obtain meals and to perform official business. Personal, extracurricular or recreational usage should not be factored or reimbursed.

Employees requesting to use a POV to drive to a TDY location must also understand that there is a limit to using the POV in and around the TDY location. The amount of driving must be "within reason." For example, a Civilian Board of Contract Appeals case recently denied reimbursement because the employee was driving too far away to accommodate a personal food preference when there was adequate food at the TDY location.

Before traveling, the employee and supervisor should review the projected cost of "in and around" travel and annotate the allowed mileage on the travel authorization.

 

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The Prudent Traveler Guideline

The Federal Travel Regulation mandates that when federal employees travel, they must "exercise the same care in incurring expenses that a prudent person would exercise if traveling on personal business."See §301-2.3, "What standard of care must I use in incurring travel expenses?"

While this prudent person standard is not defined by the Federal Travel Regulation, acting prudently, as defined by Black's Law Dictionary, is generally accepted to be acting circumspect, wise, careful, and cautious.

You can check your prudent knowledge by reading these actual cases from the Civilian Board of Contract Appeals and see if you can guess when a traveler was not prudent... and the consequences.

Case 1: While on temporary duty (TDY), an employee became sick and decided to go back home. His ticket was scheduled by his agency, but when he reached the airport he wanted a different ticket with a different flight path because he did not like the layover. Prudent or not prudent?

Answer 1: Not prudent. The Civilian Board of Contract Appeals ordered the employee to pay $3,826 for the ticket.

Case 2: An employee went on a short TDY trip and parked in the short-term parking lot because he was carrying multiple bags. He also had knee surgery a few years before. Prudent or not prudent?

Answer 2: Not prudent. The Civilian Board of Contract Appeals noted that an agency will provide a reasonable accommodation for a physical injury, but it must be made in advance, clearly visible, or substantiated in writing by a competent medical authority. See §301-13.2. He had to pay for parking because "a prudent employee would have parked in the less-expensive long-term parking lot."

Case 3: An employee realized he forgot his passport when he got to the airport. He purchased a new ticket for a later flight which was $3,006 more than the original ticket. Prudent or not prudent?

Answer 3: Not prudent. Forgetting a passport was not prudent behavior, and the employee was ordered to pay the $3,006.

 

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PSC Completes TDY Medical Evacuation Guidance

Operating Divisions (OpDivs) that have employees traveling internationally will soon have a comprehensive guide available to them to help in circumstances where a medical evacuation (MedEvac) is necessary.

Program Support Center (PSC) will present this information to OpDiv Senior Travel Officials and Lead Federal Agency Travel Administrators during upcoming Travel Governance Council and Travel Leadership Coalition meetings.

The guidance is functional in nature, and there is no change at all to the existing Departmental policies. The resource can be adapted locally or incorporated into OpDiv travel policies as needed.

 

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Training

VILT Update

On March 1, Program Support Center (PSC) launched a new way to receive Federal Agency Travel Administrator (FATA) classes — Virtual Instructor-Led Training, or "VILT."

"The classes reflect PSC's commitment to delivering to our customers the latest, high-quality state-of-the-art resources in an economical way," said Matthew A. Zakielarz, Director of Transportation Services, PSC. "Virtual instructional delivery is used by nearly every major university, college, and business in the United States, and is rapidly becoming the norm for the federal government. There's a great customer appetite for it. Over the next year our catalog of classes will grow to meet customer demand."

PSC devoted nearly a year toward redesigning its standard FATA classroom course so that it could be properly delivered virtually. The new VILT class also features a modular design that is especially appealing to students who might need refresher training on topics — perhaps because a new E-government Travel System (ETS) release might've changed functionality — instead of the entire course.

The FATA VILT learning program features many components of instructor-led classrooms and webinars, including presentations, quizzes, demonstrations, and hands-on practice, combined interactive frequent and collaborative learner participation, such as chat, live conversation, white boarding, and breakout groups. The format optimizes technological capabilities while maximizing learning for our dispersed population. Participants connect with the content and interact with the instructors and each other.

The newly designed program reviews fundamental federal travel policy and procedure information, and provides the new-to-role FATA with opportunities to apply sound judgment and practice tasks in the travel management system.

The program is delivered over three days. Each day, students attend five 45-minute classes and an open lab session. During the open labs, students can get assistance with a transaction, "Ask an Expert" about an issue, seek policy guidance, or simply ask additional questions about the day's topics.

The FATA VILT class will be delivered monthly. Schedules can be obtained through each Operating Division servicing travel account manager, plus they will be posted to the PSC website and provided during the monthly Travel Leadership Coalition meeting. PSC is currently working on a new VILT class for Federal Travel Arrangers/Travelers and plans to begin offering it this summer.

 

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PSC to Offer New, Free Training on How to Learn Virtually

To help U.S. Department of Health and Human Services employees transition from classic instructor-led training and get the most out of virtual learning experiences, such as the new Virtual Instructor-Lead Training (VILT) Federal Agency Travel Administrator course, Program Support Center (PSC) is offering a free "Training in a Minute" seminar focused on learning how to learn virtually.

Information on the "How to Learn Virtually" session will be posted on the PSC website, and will be available through the PSC Travel Account Managers and the Credit Card Program team members.

 

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Six Different Ways to Receive Travel Training

Government travel is constantly evolving. To enable Program Support Center (PSC) customers to remain compliant and informed in the realm of government travel, PSC is offering travel training six different ways:

1. Job Aids — Topic-specific self-help tools designed to address the most-common challenges employees face with regards to travel. PSC has more than 40 job aids available which are continually updated to ensure they feature the latest travel information available. Travel job aids can be found on the Job Aid web page.

2. "In a Minute" Training Series — Free, 10 to 15 minutes topic-specific sessions designed for employees who prefer to get information in small chunks. Topics are developed based on the following priorities:

a) Top questions received by the One DHHS Tier 1 support help desk;

b) E-government Travel System (ETS) system issues that drive the top concerns of Lead Federal Agency Travel Administrator (FATAs); and

c) Topics that employees need to know right now.

Topics that employees need to know right now answer the question, "What does an employee need to know right now to travel or be reimbursed for traveling?" The sessions are taught by PSC's Travel Account Managers, most of who are government and commercial travel industry professionals, are broad and cover everything from the ETS to policy to how travel. In addition, credit card program experts teach credit card program management and credit card compliance topics through "Credit Cards in a Minute" sessions.

3. Virtual Instructor-Led Training — Low-cost, modular training designed for anyone new to performing administrative actions in the ETS or updating their skills as the system's functionality evolves.

4. Instructor-Led Training (ILT) — Customer on-site instructor-led training to 12 or more students. This classroom style training is led by PSC subject matter experts who provide a hands-on learning experience. ILT can be ordered through a Customer Service Agreement (CSA). PSC's transportation business team will develop a technical and price proposal for prospective customers that, if acceptable, serves as the Statement of Work for a CSA. PSC only charges the actual cost to deliver the services, making this an affordable solution for when an in-person instructor is a necessity.

5. HHS LMS Computer-Based Training — Free, individual learning travel training through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Learning Management System (LMS). PSC presently has computer-based training (CBT) modules on how to use the ETS and Travel Credit Cards. PSC performs updates of most LMS CBTs twice yearly or as needed. PSC's online courses are fully compliant with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.

6. Custom Training Solutions — Customer tailored training solutions that can fit any budget or time constraint. To help manage training costs, PSC has a wealth of standard training products which can be modified to meet a customer's needs. If a full customized solution is needed, PSC will work with the customer to clarify the work requirement before establishing a Customer Service Agreement Statement of Work.

 

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Credit Cards

New "Cards in a Minute" Training Coming Soon!

Program Support Center (PSC)'s credit card services team will offer a "Cards in a Minute" training series that will focus on SmartPay 2 (SP2) and SmartPay 3 (SP3) Electronic Access System, SP3 transition preparation, and card management best practices.

Each session will be focused on a very specific topic and will last between 10 to 15 minutes. The "Cards in a Minute" series will be held Tuesdays at 1 p.m. ET/11 a.m. MT. The team is presently adopting new web-based training and communication tools, so the registration process will be conveyed during the program's monthly customer meetings. Zane Wallace at zane.wallace@psc.hhs.gov will coordination invitations and registration.

The team supports the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services travel credit card programs (IBAs and CBAs), as well as a few Operating Division's purchase card programs.

Each session will focus on information needed by the travel national agency/organization program coordinator (A/OPC's), fleet managers, and those select purchase card A/OPCs who receive PSC program support, who will then, in turn, distribute the information to their own stakeholders.

 

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Transit

How to Activate Your PSC GO!card®

Program Support Center' (PSC) GO!card® is easy to use and a great way to manage your transit subsidy benefits. With this card, users can purchase tickets, fare cards, monthly passes, and more.

After a user applies and has been approved for a PSC GO!card, a card will be mailed to the address provided.

Image of the Go!card credit card.

To activate the card, call the toll-free number on the sticker attached to the front of the card and follow the prompts. The prompts will ask cardholders to enter their card account number and then their four-digit access code.

For U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), U.S. Coast Guard, and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency employees, you will need to enter the last four digits of your employee ID number located on the back of your PIV card. For all other agency employees, enter the last four digits of your Social Security Number.

Once all the information has been entered, continue listening to the recorded message for additional instructions and information. Then, your PSCGO!card activated and ready for use.

 

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Transit Benefits Max Amount Increased $5 January 1

Federal transit benefit amount available for federal employees increased from $255 to $260 a month starting January 1, 2018, providing those who it with an extra $5 each month. Employees receiving transit subsidy benefits may only — by law — obtain the actual amount needed to get to and from work on mass transit, and no more. To comply with the law, users must accurately calculate the cost of their commute.

Most transit providers have a "Trip Planner" or a "Commute Calculation Table" to help users calculate the cost of their commute.

For example, commuters who use Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), which is Metro subway, Metro Bus and Metro's Paratransit Service, can use WMATA's calculator at https://www.wmata.com . The site provides a Trip Planner complete with a quick calculation of the exact fare.

Image of the LET'S METRO Trip Planner.

Another example, for those in the Atlanta area, use the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, MARTA. They can visit http://www.itsmarta.com/ and select "Plan A Trip."

Image of the MARTA website banner.

Users who cannot locate their mass transit trip planner should feel free to contact Program Support Center for assistance by emailing gocard@hhs.gov. A transit account manager will help with identifying any available resources in your area that might help with accurately calculating commuting costs.

 

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PSC GO!cards® for Mass Transit Only

Having a Visa®-branded financial instrument like Program Support Center (PSC)'s GO!card® might give some users the impression that the card can be used at any merchant that accepts the Visa card. That impression is false. Due to this, PSC routinely receives notifications where GO!card users have attempted to use the card to make unauthorized purchases.

To keep the transit benefits from being improperly used, the GO!card is assigned a specific Merchant Category Code to limit the card to mass transit transactions. Any effort to buy from a merchant whose credit card terminals are set for any other type purchase will result in the transaction being declined.

PSC does this to preserve the benefit's tax-free status. If benefits are ever found to be used improperly, to include if the benefits are used by anyone else other than the employee who applied to receive them, then the benefits are no longer tax exempt. When the tax-exempt status is voided by improper use or improper receipt, the benefits are treated as taxable income for the years when received. Employers would report the amount of the benefits received as taxable income to the Internal Revenue Service through a 1099 MISC form. For calendar years past, this might require the employee to file an amended tax return that could result in additional taxes and perhaps financial penalties. Failure to amend the affected returns might also trigger an IRS income tax audit.

Sometimes employee commuters inadvertently mistakenly use the wrong card with a merchant. To make the transit benefits card easily recognizable, the card features the unique PSC GO!card® design. However, if a mistake happens, PSC transit account managers first contact the cardholder to ensure that there was not an attempt by someone to fraudulently use the card. It is not uncommon to find that the benefits recipient mixed up their cards.

For those employees who persistently attempt to use the card improperly at a vendor, PSC refers the issue to the Operating Division transit benefits program coordinator and provides a copy of the electronic record of attempts to improperly use the card so that a determination can be made by the supervisor as to whether or not the employee will remain eligible to receive the benefits.

 

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