GSA: Expect squeeze on travel apps

G. Martin Wagner issued a July amendment to the Federal Travel Regulation that said 'any effort to re-engineer agency travel processes should be geared for maximum flexibility.'

The General Services Administration is warning agencies that they should expect funding for in-house online travel systems to soon dry up.

'Any new funding [in fiscal 2003] will go for E-Travel, any old funding will go toward whatever they were working on,' GSA spokeswoman Mary Alice Johnson said.

GSA, lead agency for the Office of Management and Budget-sponsored E-Travel portal, wants to make sure that any newly acquired systems will be compatible because E-Travel is only in the requirements and definition phase, she said.

The GSA E-Travel team is interviewing every executive agency to learn the programs that are under way. 'They are literally going through agency by agency,' Johnson said.

So far, 25 agencies are using eight Web-based booking engines and have authorization and voucher systems installed. Nearly 50 companies with automated travel systems do business with government travelers, however.

GSA's requirements for E-Travel are that it must be fully integrated, Web-based, and scalable enough to incorporate different policies and procedures, Johnson said. But no vendor offers a package that's a perfect fit for governmentwide use, she said.

'There's nothing robust enough to go across government, and there are no systems that can handle rules and policies across government,' Johnson said.

G. Martin Wagner, associate administrator in GSA's Office of Governmentwide Policy, warned in a July amendment to the Federal Travel Regulation that 'any effort to re-engineer agency travel processes should be geared for maximum flexibility, so that any new systems or processes will be adaptable' to E-Travel.

But Tammy Watson, director of electronic business solution services at the Veterans Affairs Department and one of 24 agency project managers for E-Travel, said agencies do not yet have any GSA guidance on what will be compatible with E-Travel.

'That's what everybody is waiting for,' Watson said. 'Are they coming up with an online booking engine, or are we going to maintain what we have?'

She said VA by month's end expects to complete a pilot of an automated travel system developed by Zegato Solutions Inc. of Lanham, Md. Although VA has a lot of experience with online travel applications and is turning over the results of its tests to GSA, 'we haven't heard anything from them about what's going on and the status,' Watson said.

RFP delayed

GSA was expected to issue a request for proposals last month for an online booking tool before choosing other components of E-Travel. It has pushed back the RFP release, probably to December, Johnson said.

She said every agency rightly wants to know what's happening, but it takes time to decide what the travel portal should include.

One agency might have more of a payment delinquency problem than another, for example, she said. GSA has yet to decide whether such a problem is critical enough to specify a system that could turn charge cards on and off based on delinquency or whether such an agency should pay creditors directly.

Even the VA pilot did not cover all the portal components, and Johnson said GSA does not know yet which requirements the pilot didn't fulfill.

The Transportation Department has a Web-based travel system, but it's not integrated and 'can't exchange data seamlessly,' she said. A user would have to make reservations on one site, then go to another to route the travel application for approval.

The International Trade Commission's Zegato system, put into service last April, is not 'robust enough to go across government,' Johnson said. The Housing and Urban Development Department has a good integrated system, but it's not Web-based, she said.

The Marshals Service will finish testing Zegato's system by year's end. 'We have not made the purchase yet, but if we stay with Zegato, their system is basically plug and play,' said Joanne Choi, team leader for financial operations in the Office of Finance.

'That's what we've been assured' by the company, Choi added.

VA's pilot specified a travel system that would comply with OMB Circular A-125, the Joint Financial Management Improvement Program and VA's own requirements. 'We decided on a live pilot for 90 days,' Watson said, at 14 locations with 1,000 employees.

Afterward, consultants hired by VA will compile a report for the department's chief financial officer, William Campbell.

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