House cuts GSA eTravel funding

House lawmakers blocked funding for eTravel services by the General Services Administration. The move to protect small travel businesses came as an amendment to the 2006 spending bill for the departments of Transportation, Treasury, and Housing and Urban Development, the Judiciary, District of Columbia and independent agencies.

The bill could shut down the eTravel program if the Senate sustains the House action and the bill is signed into law.

This is not the only example of lawmakers restricting IT and e-government programs in the Transportation bill. The House gutted the salaries and expenses for the Transportation CIO's office in order to help keep the beleaguered Amtrak passenger rail system afloat another year.

Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.), the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Small Business and sponsor of the amendment, wants small travel operators to be able to provide travel services under GSA's governmentwide eTravel contract.

'With this contract, GSA is poised to eliminate a whole sector of the small business community'travel agents'from working with the government,' she said. 'Mega-contracts such as the eTravel program squeeze out small businesses from competing for federal work. Over nine years, large federal contracts are responsible for a 56 percent drop in available contracts to small businesses,' she said.

'This amendment will balance contracting opportunities in the travel industry by giving federal agencies a choice between using a larger provider and local travel agents, allowing small-business travel agents to do business with the federal government once again,' Velazquez said.

GSA said it could not comment on pending legislation, but an agency spokeswoman said the contract contained small-business opportunities.

The fact is that decentralized travel operations have resulted in inconsistent and duplicative travel processes, said Rep. Joseph Knollenberg (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Treasury, and Housing and Urban Development. Governmentwide, eTravel is projected to save about $450 million over 10 years, he added. Knollenberg opposed the amendment during the House debate because it 'brings forward the shutdown, the entire shutdown of the eTravel program.'

GSA had requested $6.5 million in its 2006 budget for eTravel. The cost is shared among agencies. GSA's eTravel program allows for three vendors to provide governmentwide eTravel services: EDS Corp., Carlson Wagonlit Government Travel Inc. of San Antonio and Northrop Grumman Corp. All civilian agencies are expected to migrate to the new services by Sept. 30, 2006.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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