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PSC GOing Places Transportation Technical Bulletin

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GSA awards City Pair Program contracts to 8 major U.S. carriers for FY17

The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) awarded fiscal year 2017 City Pairs Program contracts valued at $1.99 billion to eight major United States airlines July 28.

The City Pairs Program is the largest managed airline program in the world, providing low-cost airline flights in 9,103 markets. Under the program, there are 6,949 domestic markets and 2,154 international markets served.

The Program Support Center represents the Department to GSA and actively participates in the working groups that result in the annual City Pair Program contract awards.

The airlines that will participate are United, American, Southwest, JetBlue, Delta, Hawaiian, Alaska, and Silver Airways. The carriers have up to 20 days from the date of the contract award to load their fares into the Global Distribution System so they can be available for booking tickets against starting Oct 1, 2016.

GSA estimates that the City Pair Program will deliver $2.4B in savings to the Federal Government. In addition to the price savings, the City Pair Program has many features allowing government travelers great flexibility in planning official travel. The features of using “_CA” (or “Dash CA fairs”) and YCA fares include:

  • Fares priced on one-way routes, permitting agencies to plan multiple destinations
  • No advance purchase required
  • No minimum or maximum length stay required
  • Fully refundable tickets
  • Last seat availability
  • No blackout periods
  • Stable prices enabling travel budgeting, and
  • Dual fares availability

PSC hosts semi-annual Department-wide travel planning symposium Aug. 16 at NIH

The Program Support Center, in partnership with the National Institutes of Health, hosted the inaugural Department-wide travel planning symposium Aug. 16 at the NIH campus in Bethesda, Md.

The all-day symposium was the respective customer agencies’ opportunity to help plan the Fiscal Year 2017 travel priorities and activities, including in the areas of travel system maintenance and development, training, reporting, account management, and more.

During the symposium, attendees were briefed on key strategic initiatives that will shape the future of travel here at the Department and the principal drivers of these initiatives.


TIBCO platform upgrade project completed by PSC, partners July 29

The Program Support Center completed its portion of the NIH/CIT TIBCO platform upgrade project July 29 with minimal disruption to the Department’s travel.

The project, chartered and led by NIH/CIT, was a refresh of the TIBCO software and was necessary to mitigate security vulnerabilities and impacts upon travel document processing that occur through the Common Transportation Integration Platform. CTIP was taken off line for about six hours July 29 while final work was performed by NIH/CIT, resulting in a minor document processing backlog that was quickly resolved.

PSC worked with Information Technology developers, testers, architects and project managers from ASFR’s FESM team and the Centers for Medicare and Medicade Services (CMS) to make the necessary changes.

This marks the third successful “start to finish” IT project the Program Support Center and its partners have delivered this fiscal year, the first two being CTIP Profile Administration Tool and the migration of legacy GovTrip travel data to the GovNetNG platform. The development team is now working to modify CTIP to prevent travel system users from selecting the wrong fiscal year CAN for their travel documents.


Instructor-led training must be paid for in full with a Purchase Card before class date

Employees who sign up for instructor-led training through the Learning Management System must ensure that their class seat is paid for and they receive a written confirmation by e-mail from PSC’s training coordinator.

A valid Government-issued Purchase Card is the only form of payment accepted for individual class seats for instructor-led training offered through the HHS Learning Management System.

Class seats are not guaranteed until the Purchase Card payment has been processed. Registrants will not receive the required e-mail confirmation from the PSC training coordinator if their payment is rejected for any reason.

Prospective students must obtain local permission to attend and have the class purchase form completed by an authorized Purchase Card holder to have their attendance confirmed and their class seat guaranteed.

PSC has experienced instances of registrants attempting to procure seats in instructor-led classes offered through the LMS by submitting SF-182 training forms, their Individually Billable Account government travel cards, and even personal credit cards. And, students have registered and attended classes without supervisory knowledge and approval. A valid Government Purchase Card is the only form of payment that will be accepted for individual seats in instructor-led travel training classes offered through the LMS.

A considerable amount of work is performed before an instructor arrives on the first day of class to ensure students receive the highest quality instruction that can be provided, including revising curriculum and training materials with up-to-the-minute information. For this reason, PSC will confirm payment has been made in full before a student’s class seat is confirmed.


Travelers cannot be reimbursed for improper expenses to travel cards or to personal cards

An Operational Division recently sought policy guidance from the Program Support Center regarding a traveler who sought reimbursement on a travel voucher for currency conversion fees. The currency conversion fees were for purchases made using the Government travel card, but those purchases were not legitimate, authorized travel expenses.

Travelers cannot be reimbursed for any expenses that are not legitimate, authorized travel expenses. Likewise, any subsequent resulting fees or charges are not reimbursable, either.

If the improper purchases were made using a Government-sponsored Individually Billable Account travel credit card, then in keeping with the requirements of the Government Credit Card Abuse Prevention Act of 2012, the traveler’s manager should have referred the employee for adverse administrative action for making improper expenses on a travel card.


Proper, accurate vouchers and Approving Official scrutiny can prevent False Claims Act violations

Travelers should take care to ensure vouchers filed are accurate and keep in mind that a signed and submitted voucher is an attestation of a true and proper claim to the United States Government.

Travelers who submit false, fictitious or fraudulent travel claims can be criminally prosecuted under 18 USC 287 and 1001, and 31 USC 3729, and –if they are a federal employee-- they could also be simultaneously subject to administrative disciplinary action regardless of the outcome of any criminal matter.

When suspicious expenses listed on vouchers are detected through voucher audits, the vouchers are subjected to extensive review. Adjustments might be made to vouchers by an accounting technician when there appears to be a minor error, such as transposing of numbers. However, when there appears to be a violation of the False Claims Act or other suspect claims, a referral is made to the Office of Inspector General.

Approving Officials should remain cognizant that they, too, can be held responsible for failing to perform their fiduciary responsibility to examine all travel vouchers for accuracy, and for questioning and rejecting claims that are unreasonable, improper, not authorized, or not supported by sufficient documentary evidence when required or demanded. Approving Officials have the right to obtain justifications for travel expenditures from travelers. Above all, Approving Officials must not “rubber stamp” travel authorizations and vouchers regardless of the traveler’s position, authority, stature, pay grade, education or accolades. Approving Officials must act with integrity in all travel matters and exercise the special trust that has been placed in them as stewards of the public’s funds.

Program offices are reminded that suspected instances of travel fraud must be reported to the HHS Office of Inspector General.


Travel charge card policy changes being considered to reduce delinquencies, improve internal control

The Department is considering a series of travel charge card policy changes in an effort to reduce the travel charge card delinquency rate, to improve internal control over travel charge cards, and in anticipation of upcoming policy changes by the U.S. General Services Administration.

PSC will establish a means for Agency/Organization Program Coordinators and OpDiv travel program managers to preview and comment on any proposed policy language. Proposed language will also be introduced to the Travel Leadership Coalition. It is planned that the review and comment process will be developed and communicated during August or September.

GSA has indicated it is considering a number of travel charge card policy changes that, if implemented, would increase the number of travel card holders within federal agencies, and which would obligate increased use of the Individual Billable Account card.

Key proposed policy changes being considered include:

  • Requiring all employees to take travel charge card refresher training annually instead of upon receipt of a card and every three years thereafter.
  • Requiring full re-training for anyone whose travel card is suspended before allowing the bank to reactivate the employee’s card.

These two proposed changes would align the Department to charge card management best practices and what is done at other federal Agencies.

PSC is also revising the current travel charge card online training module, and is developing a short travel charge card refresher course. These courses will be released as part of any final policy update.


GSA issues policy statement regarding ride sharing services as various companies perform tests of redesigned rideshare applications that make it harder for riders to catch high ‘surge pricing’, ‘peak hour’ fees

GSA has issued a policy statement advising federal agencies to develop policies regarding the use of ride sharing services.

GSA has established that it considers ride sharing services as a form of “special conveyance” for Temporary Duty Travelers under the Federal Travel Regulation. At the same time, GSA acknowledges that local travel policy is at the sole discretion of the federal agencies; that it does not have authority of that area.

The Program Support Center is working on a revised local travel policy that addresses use of ride sharing services. At the same time, PSC is aware that ride sharing companies such as Uber are currently testing new billing practices in customer markets. The ridesharing companies are attempting to develop billing models that fold “surge pricing” into the fares while providing minimum notification to customers that they’re doing so. Various technology and consumer Web sites have already widely denounced these practices as both questionable and distasteful.

PSC will monitor what develops as it prepares the Department’s draft ride sharing policy. In the meantime, PSC is republishing its earlier guidance on this topic. In the last edition of the “GOing Places” technical bulletin, PSC published the following:

  • PSC was recently asked to clarify a traveler’s question regarding the reimbursement of “surge pricing” and other extra fees/surcharges applied in addition to the fares charged by ride sharing services such as Uber and Lyft.
  • Ride sharing companies have gained local approval to operate in many cities and areas. The services charge riders using a three-track fee process: basic fare, “surge pricing” or “peak hour” surcharge, and tip. The fees displayed on the services’ mobile apps and riders agree to the terms to use the service. Some apps allow the surcharges to be capped.
  • Surge pricing and peak hour fares are not reimbursable. The Federal Travel Regulation states:
    • “§301-10.420 When may I use a taxi, shuttle service or other courtesy transportation?
    • “(a) When authorized and approved by your agency, your transportation expenses in the performance of official travel are reimbursable for the usual (emphasis added) fare plus tip for use of a taxi, shuttle service or other courtesy transportation (if charges result), in the following manner: ….
  • Taxicabs do not charge separate “surge” or “peak hour” surcharges as a usual practice, so ride sharing service surge or peak hour surcharges are not usual and not eligible for reimbursement.
  • Ride sharing service surcharges are also often unreasonable and contrary to the principles of the Federal Travel Regulation, as illustrated by the recently experience of an HHS traveler who used a ride sharing service and was charged a surge pricing surcharge that was 379% higher than the fare itself.

PSC is ‘GOing Green’ with the travel training manuals

The Program Support Center no longer offers printed travel training manuals for customers because printed materials don’t align to the Government-wide “Green” effort, fewer customers are ordering them, and the cost to print and ship just one or two copies at a time has become prohibitive.

As an illustration, the cost to print and ship just one training manual can be greater than the cost of a reusable electronic reader, or “eBook.”

PSC will continue to produce the travel training manuals in electronic format and offer them to customers for no additional cost.


Transit benefits may not be used for local travel

Transit subsidy benefits can only be used for commuting to and from work, and cannot be used for local travel when performing official Government business. Employees who must travel locally must use some other form of payment other than the GO!card transit benefits card or the JPMC-issued Government IBA travel card.

Employees can be reimbursed for local travel by filing local travel vouchers through the ConcurGov travel management system. Employees are encouraged to amass local travel trips and whenever practical submit just one voucher monthly, quarterly or annually. Filing local vouchers this way reduces Department’s overall outlay for voucher fees, thereby saving taxpayers’ dollars.


Travel planning can result in big savings on air fare by booking early in ConcurGov

One simple action can generate considerable savings when traveling: make an airline reservation in the ConcurGov travel management system as soon as there’s even a possibility of traveling for official Government business.

By making the airline reservation first in ConcurGov and submitting the travel authorization later you’ll obtain the best price available for _CA air fares under the City Pair Program. If you don’t travel, the reservation will cancel automatically if not ticketed by the date/time indicated in the system.


GSA training can improve general knowledge of Government travel, FTR

The U.S. General Services Administration is offering a series of travel training courses in Washington, D.C. during August that can boost institutional knowledge of travel, which would be particularly helpful for anyone holding the Federal Travel Arranger role.

GSA’s course content is more general and pertains to the overall concept of Government travel compared to the information offered through the Program Support Center’s training courses, which focus on travel execution.

GSA will host its courses at 1800 F St. NW, Washington, D.C. Prospective attendees should contact GSA’s Travel Training program for more information and to learn the cost of the courses. The program can be reached at: traveltraining@gsa.gov.

GSA’s course offerings for the August are:

  • Relocation Income Tax Allowances: Federal Travel Regulation - Aug 30-31, 2016

GSA also has four online courses that it sells for nominal prices ranging from $50 to $199. They are:

  • Travel Basics
  • Attending a Conference
  • Federal Travel Regulation In-Depth
  • Approving Official’s Responsibilities

PSC Contact Information:

PSC GOing Places Transportation Technical Bulletin is published by PSC Transportation Services
located at 7700 Wisconsin Avenue, Suite 920, Bethesda, Maryland 20857.

To ask questions, comments, add news or subscribe to PSC’s GOing Places Transportation Technical Bulletin, please contact the Editor by email at GOcard@hhs.gov.