February 2017, Issue 1
Travel stabilization effort throughout summer netted significant progress
Program Support Center (PSC) and its operational division partners have continued to improve upon the stabilization of travel for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), including improving the overall performance of the Concur.Gov travel management system.
In June, PSC and the Travel Leadership Coalition launched a six-month push to improve stabilization by addressing key technical issues the operational divisions felt affected the overall performance of travel.
Past issues already addressed included:
- Centrally billed account (CBA)/individually billed accounts (IBA) “flipping”
- Federal Agency Travel Administrator and Federal Travel Arranger training
- CBA reconciliation quality issues
- National Institutes of Health (NIH) data warehouse XML (eXtensible Markup Language) validation tests
- Issue reporting processes
Recent issues addressed include:
- E-mail notifications to travelers regarding late vouchers
- Duplicate obligations occurring in the Unified Financial Management System (UFMS)
- Indian Health Service (IHS) patient travel
Several key updates to the common transportation integration platform (CTIP) have been performed as well, including deployment of the profile administration tool (PAT) that allows operational divisions to independently set up user profiles, and a refresh of the NIH/Center for Information Technology (CIT) TIBCO Software platform. The CTIP team also led the delivery of the E-Gov Travel Service (ETS1) data archive and reporting tool through GovNet N-G.
After a slow start to PSC’s first few summer training classes in Boston and New York City due to low registration numbers, PSC undertook an effort to boost employee participation by underwriting the classes. This resulted in class enrollment jumping and demand increasing to where PSC was able to reschedule classes in “Beantown” and “the Big Apple.”
PSC also introduced the Department’s first “Travel Performance Scoreboard,” a single source reporting tool that establishes a composite of the travel performance starting at the operational division level and up through the Department level. PSC will continue to improve upon the placemat in the upcoming year.
This past August, the operational divisions and PSC participated in a Travel Planning Summit to orient the travel community on progress made since December 2015 and to accept input for its FY17 Travel Program Work Plan. The work plan establishes PSC’s fiscal year resource priorities for the area of travel.
Travel system streamlining planned for FY17
In FY17, PSC and several operational divisions will kick off an effort to reduce the total number of Concur.Gov travel system instances in use.
There are presently 14 separately configured instances of the travel management system, each configured according to different policy settings in use at the operational division level. These instances are aligned to the Department’s core financial system, which is comprised of three financial systems: Unified Financial Management System (UFMS), Healthcare Integrated General Ledger Accounting System (HIGLAS), and NIH Business System (NBS).
Management of so many instances is inefficient and impractical. For instance, when a technical issue is experienced, one or several instances might be affected. Each instance has to be examined separately to determine if — and how— it was affected. Likewise, custom code must be updated in every instance when it is revised. The same duplication occurs when regression testing is performed.
The first steps of the streamlining effort will have the Travel Leadership Coalition establishing a common configuration for the operational divisions, communicating the notable changes and impacts to business process to all the affected operational divisions, and then making the changes in each instance.
As the instances are standardized, Concur Technologies will analyze each one so that Concur can develop a plan to merge instances over a period of time with minimal disruption to the Department’s operations.
More information about the effort will be provided as the work moves forward.
PSC launches ‘Travel in a Minute’ topic-specific virtual instructor-led training
In October 2016, PSC launched a weekly topic-focused web-delivered travel training program titled, “Travel in a Minute.”
The program’s sessions are led by instructors who teach students through the internet, an instructional method commonly referred to as “virtual instructor-led training,” or “VILT.” The instructors are able to reach travelers anywhere in the world this way.
The lessons are designed to focus on specific topics.
Anyone who signs up for the lessons will receive email reminders and confirmation.
The number of students who can be taught at one time is limited to 100, so it is important for registrants to cancel their reservations if they are unable to attend. This allows others to register and participate in the online training sessions.
GSA SmartPay® 2 banks replacing ‘swipe’ technology cards with “chip and PIN” as cards “naturally” expire
In 2001, computer chip and personal identification number (PIN)-secured credit cards were first demonstrated, and the technology has now become a worldwide credit-card industry security standard.
International markets were first to adopt the technology to combat pervasive systemic credit-card fraud, and the technology quickly became the common credit-card security standard in Asia and Europe. In the United States, though, electromagnetic strip “swipe” technology is still fairly common because the U.S. market features instant card validation and verification through secure terminals, which has helped prevent the systemic credit card fraud that plagued international markets. Chip and PIN technology is only now becoming more commonplace here.
Although banks providing services under General Services Administration (GSA)’s “SmartPay® 2” master contract are phasing out “swipe” cards as the cards “naturally” expire, a number of government-provided travel credit cards in the hands of travelers still use the legacy technology.
The Department’s international travelers to Europe and Asia have reported experiencing difficulty finding credit card terminals with “swipe” readers due computer chip readers’ predominance. Travelers have also reported that it is more common now for merchants’ card-reader terminals’ “swipe” readers to be disabled so the chip reader must be used, making it difficult to make travel-related purchases. Some travelers have also reported being concerned that their “swipe” travel cards have been compromised after being used in a foreign country.
Unlike personal credit cards, travelers do not have any financial liability for compromised cards, and occurrences of fraud are not reported on the traveler’s credit. Still, international travelers who feel their government travel credit card might be compromised, who experience difficulty finding vendors with “swipe” terminals, or who believe their card is otherwise unusable, may ask the credit-card issuer to replace their card.
Each card has the issuing bank’s telephone number printed on it, and the information is also available on the bank’s website and on monthly credit card statements. The contact information can be used for reporting lost, stolen, compromised, or otherwise unusable cards. Once reported, the card can be replaced in as little as one day. There is no fee for using this service.
TLC forms working groups to set common configuration, policy settings for travel system and for reporting
The Travel Leadership Coalition has chartered a working group that is presently reviewing the configuration of the various configured instances of the Concur.Gov travel management system. Once the group completes its work, Concur Technologies analysts will review the planned configuration and advise how to optimize the system.
Later, Concur will assist PSC and the operational divisions in consolidating the UFMS instances of the application into a single instance that features policy settings that are fully common and can be managed more efficiently.
Reservation optimization initiative coming to HHS
As part of the government-wide effort to reduce travel spending, the Department will implement the GSA’s Reservation Optimization Initiative, or “ROI,” here during March.
This initiative will be most visible to the Department’s travelers when they use the Concur.Gov travel management application. The initiative requires that certain pre-negotiated items display first whenever it is available, such as FedRooms lodging and “_CA” (or “Dash CA”) fares. In order to not use the fares, travelers will be required to select a predetermined justification in order to make a non-conforming selection.
The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) leads an overarching government-wide effort titled “Category Management” that enables the government to eliminate redundancies, increase efficiency, and deliver more value and savings from government acquisition programs. Two categories related to travel are “Information Technology” and “Travel.” Two GSA acquisition programs support category management: the FedRooms® program and the City Pair Program. Both programs feature pre-negotiated low-cost rates that generate considerable savings when used, but data of actual usage shows that federal travelers are not taking advantage of the opportunity. The Reservation Optimization Initiative is the next natural step toward realizing more savings.
PSC plans to increase communications regarding this initiative through March, and the ROI settings will be activated in the Concur.Gov system test preview environment for this entire month to allow the HHS travel community to experience the new settings and ask questions.
GSA SmartPay® 3 contract is still pending
PSC is coordinating with Office of Grants and Acquisition Policy and Accountability (OGAPA) to finalize planning for the HHS SmartPay® 3 transition project, although GSA has not yet awarded the next Master Contract for the government’s credit-card programs.
Once finalized, chartered, and adopted, the HHS project will be resourced to plan, coordinate, and execute the implementation. This would include coordinating with the respective operational divisions to gather requirements, development of the Department’s Statement of Work, the associated contracting actions, and the preparation, transition, and cutover of the various card programs throughout the Department.
As of this date, OGAPA, PSC, and various card program officials are participating in market research sessions that have the competing banks presenting high-level information and learning about the Department, its credit-card usage and needs, and the customer base that might be serviced if awarded the Department’s task order.
For more information about the current status of the GSA SmartPay 3 contract, visit GSA’s website at: https://smartpay.gsa.gov/content/about-gsa-smartpay#sa667
PSC extends Transportation Services operations to Salt Lake City
PSC extended transportation operations to its Salt Lake City Office on November 13, 2016, establishing continuity of operations for the Department in the areas of travel, transit, and transportation.
The extension will also enable PSC to improve service delivery to the Department’s various regions and leverage the two-hour difference with the Eastern Time Zone to continue addressing customer support issues later than was possible previously.