Travel Governance Council Meeting Updates
The Travel Governance Council (TGC) met May 21. A key agenda item was the Travel Leadership Coalition's (TLC) recommendation as to the future of Centrally Billed Account (CBA) reconciliation files. The council's executive members acknowledged that CBA reconciliation practices are outdated and need to be automated. The council requested that the Program Support Center develop a high-level scope (including initial requirements), project timeline, and cost estimate to adopt the government-wide standard CBA reconciliation data or output file from the E-Gov Travel Service (ETS). The project will require programming of U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS's) core financial management system consisting of HIGLAS, UFMS, and NBS. Program Support Center (PSC) will initiate the work on July 26, 2019, in efforts to provide an update for the Council's next meeting. The Council also acknowledged the operating divisions' continuing business need for custom CBA reconciliation files, and activities have been undertaken by PSC to continue these services until the government-wide standard is in place. Other items included:
- Status of the Common Configuration and Instance Consolidation Project
- Upcoming Travel Charge Card Management Plan
- FedRooms usage goals
- Annual travel program planning and information exchange
- Travel training
- Key policy interest items and updates
The Council serves as the senior executive-level strategic and guiding body for the HHS's travel program and meets the third Tuesday of every other month. It was established to oversee the travel strategy for HHS and set monitored performance objectives to ensure the HHS travel program remains aligned with government-wide strategies and the President's Management Agenda.
Travel Leadership Coalition Meeting Updates
The Program Support Center (PSC) hosted the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Travel Leadership Coalition (TLC) June 11.
The coalition is the HHS's functional community forum for all matters pertaining to travel. Each operating division (OpDiv) has designated representation for matters requiring a vote; in addition, each OpDiv has a community, or "associates," who provide their expertise on topics of discussion.
Because travel touches on many different areas of HHS, there is an open invitation for experts to participate.
The June agenda topics included:
- Travel Governance Council report out
- Common Configuration and Instance Consolidation Projects post-deployment discussion
- FY20 annual planning and information exchange
The TLC is also an advisory group to the HHS Travel Governance Council, HHS's executive leader forum. It serves as a coalition where every program area and interest has a voice as it pertains to travel. HHS travel activities are associated with many program areas, including human resources, financial operations, program management, credit cards, policy, information technology security and development, and more.
The coalition meets the second Tuesday of each month. To participate, contact your OpDiv lead federal agency travel administrator (FATA) or senior travel official (STO).
PSC, HHS OpDivs, and SAP Concur Successfully Consolidate ETS Instances and Deploy HHS Common Configuration
Program Support Center (PSC), its U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) operating division (OpDiv) partners in the travel program and financial systems communities, and SAP Concur successfully reduced the total number of E-government Travel System instances from 14 to three on June 3. HHS Common Configuration was also completed to standardize travel system policy settings for HHS. The consolidation combined HHS's 11 OpDivs using the Unified Financial Management System into a single E-Gov Travel Service (ETS) instance.
A key benefit of a consolidated instance and common configuration is technical issues affecting travel document processing can be identified, fixed, and tested in a unified and standardized environment instead of examining, fixing, and testing each instance separately.
The PSC travel team is continuing to work with its partners through a few remaining issues from the deployment, including reporting. By consolidating the instances, the organization structure shifted by one layer, which requires reporting access and locally developed operational reports adjustments.
ETS User Timeout Feature Increases Security
The E-Gov Travel Service (ETS) has configured a new security control feature that automatically ends the session when a user is idle for 15 minutes. Program Support Center (PSC) added the feature to conform to National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) SP 800-53 standards for information technology systems. When a user's "ConcurGov" session is inactive for more than seven and one-half minutes, the screen will clear and a message will display asking the user to confirm if they wish to continue their session. A timer will display to count down the remainder of the 15-minute idle limit. If the user clicks the confirmation button within the time limit, their session will resume normally. The user will be returned to their session at the same navigation point without any loss of information. If the user does not confirm, their session will be logged off. Note any unsaved or incomplete action(s) will not be automatically saved if the session times out.
Simple Travel "Tip" Can Reduce Public Burden for Government Travel Costs
It goes without saying that it is the taxpayer that bears the burden of the cost for federal agencies to perform the public's business — this includes the cost for federal employees to perform temporary duty (TDY). Every penny that can be saved is a penny of taxpayer money that can be recovered and used for other operating or staff division mission-support activities.
One tip that may help to save as many as one thousand pennies per trip or more, is to sign up for as many airline frequent flyer programs as possible and add them into the ETS user profile.
Here's why... Baggage fees for City Pair Program contract fares are established according to the program's contract. However, airlines typically charge $5 to $10 less if the traveler is a member of the frequent flyer program of the airline being used. Some airlines may give deeper discounts and/or waive baggage fees.
Imagine if 1,000 HHS employees applied this tip to their TDY travel in just one year, the potential net savings could exceed $5,000. In fact, at the end of April, there were 60,992 TDY trips for FY19. If this tip had been applied to all of them, the savings could have reached $609,920 or more!
Employees should keep in mind that travel expenses may only be claimed if they have actually incurred them. So when bag fees are discounted or waived, the amounts not actually paid cannot be claimed as a travel expense.
New Calculator to Better Estimate High-Cost TDY in Final Stage
Program Support Center (PSC) is developing a new temporary duty (TDY) online calculator which estimates costs for employees planning TDY $25,000 or greater.
An operating division (OpDiv) senior travel official must approve any TDY requests projected to cost $10,000 to $24,999. Likewise, the senior agency travel official must approve all TDY requests projected to cost $25,000 or greater in order for the TDY to be performed.
The online calculator is designed to capture the full breadth of factors, considerations, legal obligations, and analysis required to support sound decision making as to whether or not an employee should be directed to perform high-cost TDY.
Completion of the online calculator will provide a reasonable estimate of travel costs and provide information required to support sound decision making, such as:
- Does the employee have an individually billed accounts (IBA) travel charge card and is the card available for use?
- Is there a sustainable basis for reducing per diem lodging or per diem meals and incidental expenses?
- Is the TDY for an extended period?
- Can the work be performed remotely, such as by teleconference or change duty hours to account for time zones?
- Would it be more feasible to assign the employee to a temporary change of station, create a new position, or relocate an employee?
- How much is the TDY projected to actually cost?
- Will the employee share lodging with another employee?
- Will the employee obtain discounted lodging or would lodging with a kitchenette be obtained?
- Might the TDY cause a tax liability?
- Were airfare reservations obtained sufficiently in advance to avoid incurring higher costs?
A beta test of the cost estimator has already been completed. PSC will finish mapping the start-to-finish process for how it will be used in support of requesting permission to perform high-cost TDY.
FTR-Required Certification of Need for Premium Class Seating for Reasonable Accommodation to Start in FY20
Starting October 1, 2019, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will maintain two lists for fulfilling requests for other than coach class (OTCC) seating as a form of reasonable accommodation: permanent and annual. An annual certification process will also go into effect for the "Annual List."
This establishes the minimum program conformity required by the Federal Travel Regulation (FTR) regarding certification of individual need for OTCC seating due to disability.
The FTR, which as regulation has the force and effect of law, establishes in FTR Section 301-10.123 that to be extended OTCC seating to accommodate a medical disability or special need:
"The disability must be certified annually in a written statement by a competent medical authority unless the disability is a lifelong condition, and the certification must include at a minimum:
- A written statement by a competent medical authority stating that special accommodation is necessary; and
- An approximate duration of the special accommodation; and
- A recommendation as to the suitable class of transportation accommodations based on the disability."
The FTR places the burden of annual certification upon the employee.
To meet the FTR-established obligations, the following procedures will apply:
- Employees who have a permanent medical disability established in a Reasonable Accommodation determination and agreement in accordance with the HHS's established reasonable accommodation rules and processes will be assigned to the "Permanent List." The Permanent List does not require annual certification. Operating divisions (OpDiv) must only submit a current "Permanent List" to the Program Support Center (PSC) before October 1, 2019. Updates to each OpDiv's "Permanent List" may be made as often as needed through the supporting PSC travel account management team.
- Employees who have a non-permanent disability of any type or duration other than permanent, and which is accommodated by the procuring of either "business class" or "first class"-type seating, will be placed on the "Annual List." OpDivs must certify to the PSC before October 1 annually that each employee with a non-permanent disability has certified the need for this form of accommodation.
- Employees with pending reasonable accommodation requests shall be listed on a "Provisional Annual List" for 60 days — or less, if a final determination is made sooner. Senior travel officials are the controlling officials of the "Provisional Annual List" and may extend individual employees on the "Provisional Annual List" in 60-day increments as needed until the accommodation agreement is formally established. The agreement established and filed with the servicing reasonable accommodation coordinator determines the list to which it will be assigned. Employees must avail themselves to the reasonable accommodation process to remain on the "Provisional List."
The FTR lists three categories of accommodation available during TDY: OTCC seating, an accompanying attendant, and medical appliance rental. The FTR establishes just two classes of seating in this regard: Business-class and First-class.
Yes! Rideshare Apps Support Both Personal and Business Charge Cards
The most-popular transportation network companies' (TNC's) smartphone app and websites now offer individuals the capability to set up both a personal credit card and a business credit card, such as the individually billed accounts (IBA) travel charge card. "Transportation network companies" is government-speak for "ridesharing."
TNC software/apps gives government travelers a convenient way to use commercial ridesharing services and have the charge applied to the appropriate credit card, according to the purpose. Riders only have to select the credit card to which the ride will be charged.
Even better, if a rider selects the incorrect card, the applications have the ability to reverse the charges and apply it to the correct credit card.
The Federal Travel Regulation, which as regulation has the force and effect of law, requires that all travel expenses be applied to the government's contractor-provided travel charge card. This includes TNC and taxicab fare, meals, incidentals, lodging, common carrier transportation tickets, travel management center fees, E-Gov Travel Service fees, baggage fees, mass transportation fare, parking, lodging taxes, and any other travel expense that can be paid for electronically.
The IBA travel charge card is provided to employees so that they do not have to pay any Temporary Duty (TDY) travel expenses out of pocket. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provides a credit line to employees and reimbursement is made for the purpose of making payment in order that this government's credit line can be restored.
Maximizing the use of IBA travel charge cards is the smartest, most-efficient, and effective way to perform TDY, and employees should be encouraged to apply for an IBA travel charge card regardless of how many times a year they plan to travel.
New VILT Course Available, Courses are Renamed
Program Support Center (PSC) will offer a new virtual instructor-led training (VILT) course starting in September 2019 titled, "Basic Federal Travel."
The "Basic Federal Travel" course is designed for employees who are traveling on official business for the first time, using the E-Gov Travel Service (ETS), or needing to refresh their skills before traveling again.
PSC has also renamed two existing classes to better reflect the course subject matter. "Travel Arranger Training" is now titled, "Arranging Travel for Others," and "Federal Travel Administrator Training" is now, "ETS System Administration." Students who complete these courses are eligible to be assigned the ETS user roles of federal agency travel administrator (FATA), UFMS ETS administrator, CMS ETS administrator, or NIH ETS administrator.
VILT is a virtual, interactive method of learning that is designed to engage students with practical exercises as well as group and one-to-one dialogues — as if the participant were in a classroom setting. Students benefit from having a live, online instructor teaching them the latest in computer technology, receiving a more "hands-on" learning experience, and having the convenience to take training any place of their choosing. All that is required is the time to learn, a phone, and a computer with an internet connection.
VILT is also less expensive than traditional classroom training. The cost is only $150 per student for FATA training and $100 for the traveler/travel arranger training. Additionally, classes are modularly designed so that students can enroll in a single day's session for a cost of $50 to gain the latest knowledge about a specific topic without the need to sit through the entire course again.Planned VILT Dates
|July 30-31||Arranging Travel for Others|
|August 27-29||ETS System Administration|
|September 17||Basic Federal Travel (New!)|
|September 24-25||Arranging Travel for Others|
|November 7||Basic Federal Travel (New!)|
|November 12||Basic Federal Travel (New!)|
|November 19-21||ETS System Administration|
|December 3||Basic Federal Travel (New!)|
|December 4-5||Arranging Travel for Others|
|December 10-12||ETS System Administration|
PSC also accepts group and advanced reservations to support employees' annual individual development plans. PSC is updating its entire current training course offering to be delivered by VILT. The courses may be purchased using a purchase card.
Seats fill up fast! So, register today for VILT training by emailing email@example.com.
Government Travel Charge Card
Quickly and Easily Change the Name on HHS Citibank-Issued Charge Card Account
It only takes a few quick, pain-free steps to change the name associated with a government travel charge card account. There are two categories of names changes, "minor" and "major," each with their own process and requirements.Major Name Changes
- Gender change
- The addition or change of middle initial or middle name
- Legal purposes other than marriage or divorce
- A correction changing the first name entirely (e.g., Kay to Kim or Dave to Dan)
- A correction changing the last name entirely for a reason other than marriage or divorce (e.g., Williamson to Williams or Czigler to Ziegler)
- Changing from initials to a full name (e.g., Sam to Samuel or Samantha; Pat to Patrick or Patricia)
- Changing from Jr. to Sr. or Sr. to Jr.
- Reversing the first and last name (e.g., John James to James John)
Minor Name Changes
- Marriage or divorce (regardless of gender)
- Only the last name may be changed
- Addition or deletion of a prefix or suffix
- Minor name corrections due to spelling errors that do not change the name completely (e.g., Jon to John)
- Changing from a full name to initials (e.g., Bryan L. Smith to B.L. Smith)
- Adding a space in the last name or removing a space in the last name (e.g., Vanhuesen to Van Huesen or Mc Cray to McCray)
- Shortening of a full name to a shortened form of the same name (e.g., Samuel to Sam)
- Deletion of a middle initial or a middle name only
To start the process, the cardholder sends an email Citibank at firstname.lastname@example.org and provides pertinent legal documentation associated with the name change, regardless of whether it is considered major or minor.
The email must include:
- Current charge card name as it appears on the account, including middle name or initial (if applicable)
- Last eight (8) digits of the account or card number
- New name to appear on the account, including middle name or initial (if applicable)
- Appropriate documentation:
- Copy of marriage certificate
- Copy of state-issued driver's license or government-issued ID
- Copy of divorce decree
Cardholders can also ask their agency/organization program coordinator to initiate the request to Citibank, in this case, they will only need to provide legal documentation for major name changes (see list above).
Home Means Home
A May 2019 ruling in an appeal to the Civilian Board of Contract Appeals should serve as a reminder to employees about the importance of traveling in the most direct manner and that "home" means "home."
A federal employee was in the U.S. Virgin Islands helping with relief efforts following the hurricane season. He was authorized to travel home during the holidays, but instead of flying home, he chose to skip a step and meet his family in another location, the family vacation spot. Unfortunately, skipping a step eventually meant that the employee footed the bill.
In its decision, In the Matter of Mark E. Wolff, the Board held that "agencies may not reimburse airfare costs to alternate locations."
Receipts, Invoices, and Folios: What's the Difference?
It is important for employees to obtain receipts when required and submit them with the claim for incurred travel expense reimbursement. It is also important for supervisors and employees to understand the differences between a receipt, invoice, and folio. A receipt is a digital or paper document that itemizes a purchase and is presented by a seller to a buyer as evidence that the seller delivered to the buyer the goods or services specified on the receipt in exchange for the amount specified on the receipt. It constitutes documentary evidence of business deal between a seller and a buyer. It is ultimately the responsibility of a buyer to obtain a receipt from the seller.
An invoice is an electronic or paper document from a seller, vendor, or contractor presented to a purchaser or their representative to demand payment of an agreed-upon amount for a specific good or service that has been provided. Invoices provide greater detail than receipts, such as quantities, prices, the date the invoice was issued, tracking numbers, the total payments made, amount accrued, etc. An invoice is a legally enforceable document because it is bound by a contract or a verifiable binding commitment.
A folio is specific to lodging. A folio is a type of receipt that is a collective listing of lodging procured in volume. A folio might consist of a collection of any number of individual receipts under a summary page, or it might be single receipt that consists of a count of rooms, charges, a list of names, etc. Individual travelers; however, should receive lodging receipts, not lodging folios. Folios are typically associated with contracts or a verifiable binding commitment.
A traveler is sometimes required to authenticate charges and fees with a receipt. Here are some of the typical elements of a valid receipt:
- Name, address, and telephone number of the seller of the goods or services
- Identification of the goods or services bought (e.g., cab fare, room, tax, air fare, etc.)
- The charge, or fee plus taxes paid for each item bought should be listed separately, unless the total charge for the goods or services is all-inclusive
- The actual date the goods or services were bought
- The amount paid by the buyer to the seller for the goods or services
- The method of payment, whether that be cash or credit/debit
Additional guidelines for receipts, invoices, and folios include:
- Machine-produced receipts might have pre-programmed data elements listed that are inconsistent with the minimum information necessary for the receipt to be considered viable. For instance, a receipt might not show the method of payment or show a "zero balance due" rather than "amount due" and/or a dollar amount. In these circumstances, federal travel supervisory approvers (FATA) should use their best judgement in deciding if a receipt is viable. Keep in mind that employees do not have any control over how a merchant programs a cash register.
- Common carrier transportation (air, rail, and bus) procured through the E-Gov Travel Service (ETS). A separate receipt is not required by an employee to obtain reimbursement. The data produced by the ETS and presented within the electronic travel documents constitutes a valid receipt. The ETS's online booking engine acts as a point-of-sale terminal for common carrier transportation tickets and for fees charged by SAP Concur for use of the travel management centers and the ETS itself.
- Lodging reservations though ETS only reserves rooms. The Point of Sale is the hotel, not the ETS. Hotel reservation information produced in the ETS does not constitute a lodging receipt. This must come from the hotel in order to meet the Federal Travel Regulation receipt requirement for lodging. Lodging expenses will not be reimbursed without an itemized receipt. Statements of lost, missing, or unavailable receipts are not acceptable. If a traveler seeks to be reimbursed for the lodging purchase, the traveler should contact the hotelier and obtain an itemized receipt.
- Lodging, rental cars, or common carrier transportation procured without using the ETS or through the HHS-provided travel management centers, statements of lost, missing, or unavailable receipts are not acceptable. If a traveler seeks to be reimbursed for the purchase, then traveler should contact the merchant and obtain an itemized receipt.
- Any travel purchases made outside of the ETS that are greater than the $75 receipts threshold must produce a receipt for reimbursement.
- A credit card statement is not an acceptable substitute for a receipt because it only provides a summary of charges — the charges applied to the card are not itemized.
A credit card statement is not an acceptable substitute for a receipt because it is only a summary of charges; — the charges applied to the card to not include the necessary itemized details.
Packing Right and Light for the Flight Prevents Extra Bag Price Fright
Under the Federal Travel Regulation, an employee may be reimbursed for all fees pertaining to their first checked bag. For the next checked bags, beware! Charges relating to the second or any other subsequent bags may only be reimbursed if a federal travel supervisory approver determines — prior to the start of the travel — that the contents in the excess bags are necessary and fulfill a purpose that is in the interest of the government. This may mean that if the items are strictly personal, then the employee has to pay the cost, not the government. An extra suit is okay, but pool floaties, lap quilt, fly fishing rod, and "Abdominizer" leave at home. Extra souvenirs or other items purchased before heading back to the official station requiring an extra checked bag, the employee has to pay the cost, not the government.
For example, in 2017 the Civilian Board of Contract Appeals (CBCA) held that an employee may not be reimbursed for the fees related to a second checked bag. The employee over-packed because he was attending a conference where he was unsure of the dress code, plus he wanted to pack workout clothes since he exercised regularly. In the end, the CBCA held that the second bag was due to bad planning and not grounds for reimbursement.
To comply with the CBCA rulings, "second bag fee" has been removed from the E-Gov Travel Service list of expense types. Now, anything more than the first bag is requested as "excess baggage" and requires a justification. Justifications should explicitly state what is in the excess baggage and why it is needed for the government's business. Supervisors are obligated to scrutinize the request and justification in considering a request by an employee to travel with more than one piece of luggage.
Paper Voucher Reduction Plan
In an effort to reduce risk and support operating division efforts to maintain reasonable assurance of internal control in the area of transit benefits distribution, Program Support Center (PSC) has enacted a new Voucher Reduction Plan. Under the plan, transit vendors will be encouraged by PSC to find a way to accept charge cards, while participants, in turn, will be encouraged to only work with vendors who will accept charge cards and can accept the PSC GO!cardsm for their transit purchases.
In 2007, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported to Congress, "GAO determined that the amount of potentially fraudulent transit benefits claimed during 2006 in the National Capital Region was at least $17 million and likely more." At the time of GAO's investigation, paper vouchers were the most-common means of distributing transit benefits.
PSC GO!card is the type of electronic fare media recommended for receiving and using transit benefits.
In the realm of transit benefits, "vouchers" are paper fare media. By advancing to the greatest extent possible the use of electronic fare media, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will reinforce a climate and culture of internal control. "Internal control" does not refer to a single event, rather a series of actions that occur throughout an entity's operations on an ongoing basis for safeguarding assets and preventing and detecting errors and fraud. The reduction of paper fare media prevents transit benefits distribution errors and fraud, while at the same time electronic fare media like PSC GO!card is a convenient instrument for enabling employees' commutes to and from work.