PSC, partners assist CDC travelers in ‘worst-case’ rental car situation
The Program Support Center travel and credit card teams, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) travel team and partners Concur Technologies and Omega World Travel recently joined forces to assist two travelers who had alarming experiences after renting cars because of an incorrectly applied code that was listed on their vehicle rental agreements.
The government obtains rental vehicles through the U.S. Government Rental Car Program master contract, which is awarded and managed by the Defense Travel Management Office (DTMO).
All rental contracts resulting from travel arrangements made through the ConcurGov travel management system, and through the Travel Management Centers, should display the DTMO business code (the Corporate Discount Program number – CDP – typically displayed on the contract with a “/G” or “/GVT” indicator) and Government Administrative Rate Supplement (GARS) annotation. This ensures the traveler receives the government’s pre-negotiated rate, as well as the associated supplemental vehicle damage insurance. GARS’ fee is $5 a day and is inclusive with the overall rental car cost.
In the case of the two travelers, the rental car company’s system applied a commercial company’s business code, not the DTMO business code or the GARS annotation. One of the travelers realized that the vehicle wasn’t insured, but was also unware that the wrong business code had been applied. As a precaution, the traveler purchased supplemental vehicle insurance. Supplemental insurance wouldn’t have been necessary if the GARS code had been correctly applied. The traveler was charged nearly $700 for the additional insurance. Plus, travelers cannot be reimbursed for purchasing supplemental vehicle insurance.
The other traveler’s experience was considerably worse. Not only was the traveler unaware that the wrong business code had been applied to the rental contract, but they didn’t purchase supplemental insurance (which was non-reimbursable anyway). Later, the traveler’s rental car was stolen!! The rental car company then levied an $11,000 charge against the traveler’s government-provided IBA travel card for the replacement value of the car.
Neither traveler was able to obtain relief from the rental car company, which insisted that it was the travelers’ responsibility to review the contract to ensure the correct business code was listed. Additionally, the traveler whose car was stolen had their travel credit card suspended because the bank suspected the charge as fraudulent. After championing the travelers’ cause to the rental car company and not making headway, the CDC travel team contacted PSC for assistance. CDC provided detailed descriptions and chronologies of the reported issues.
“The PSC team quickly collected all the known information about the events then formed a plan to address the issues from multiple angles,” said Matt A. Zakielarz, Director, Transportation Services, PSC. “We have the in-house knowledge and direct access to subject matter expert partners to zero in on problems, and to immediately address them.”
One of PSC’s credit card specialists immediately contacted JP Morgan Chase to inform the bank of the issue and disputed the charges on the customer’s behalf. The PSC team member also made sure the traveler’s card was reactivated so the CDC mission wouldn’t be disrupted.
The travel account management team reached out to Concur Technologies’ account manager on the issue, who brought in the Omega World Travel team. The Omega team quickly located technical evidence indicating that the rental car company’s system had been the source for the error.
PSC’s travel account managers guided the travelers through the DTMO dispute resolution process.
Concur and Omega presented the evidence obtained to the rental car company. Within a week, one traveler received a credit of $699.35 for the damage waiver fee, and the $11,000 amount levied against the other traveler’s credit card was removed and the rental car company dropped the claim against the traveler as “resolved.”
“This is a great example of how PSC’s partnership approach to customer service delivers meaningful results quickly,” said Zakielarz. “The partnership did a fantastic job.”
From this experience, PSC has distilled the following lessons that all U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) travelers can benefit from:
- Always read the rental car contract and confirm it contains the GARS annotation and the DTMO business code (the code is: CDP = /G/GVT). With GARS, supplemental insurance is not needed.
- Maximize use of the government-provided Visa-branded IBA travel card. Visa provides several additional benefits for travelers when the purchases are made using the IBA card.
- Ensure travel is arranged and booked through the ConcurGov system or through the servicing Travel Management Center.
- Use the DTMO rental vehicle assistance tool as soon as an impasse is reached with the rental car company.
- Work with the local travel experts for resolution as soon as a problem is suspected, and prepare to escalate it to PSC for support through the Operating Division (OpDiv) Lead Federal Agency Travel Administrators if assistance is needed.
- Remember that supplemental car rental insurance – the damage waiver fee – is not a reimbursable travel expense.
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Passports may be procured with the IBA travel card; State Dept. offers lowest-cost services
Passport fees, including for expedited processing services, may be applied to the IBA Travel Card, which makes planning and using the services provided by the U.S. Department of State a convenient and inexpensive way to obtain the official U.S. Government passport for traveling internationally on official government business.
Using State Department-provided services is much cheaper than using commercial passport expediting services.
The Federal Travel Regulation allows travelers who require official U.S. Government passports (brown/burgundy-colored cover) to use the government-provided IBA travel card to obtain the passports, but employees should keep in mind their public service obligation to be thrifty stewards of the taxpayers’ money. This means employees and supervisors must plan for when passports will be needed and first consider the least expensive alternatives before using a commercial passport expediting company.
Commercial passport expediting companies charge fees that are often excessive compared to the State Department’s fees – fees that are often double, triple, or more – and there may be additional service fees embedded in these costs that have questionable value, such as courier services.
The easiest and smartest ways to reduce the taxpayer financial burden is to plan international travel well in advance of the actual travel date(s), avoid itinerary changes, and identify individuals who might need to travel internationally as soon as possible so passports can be ordered and received before the trip.
Another cost-conscious way to save taxpayers’ dollars is to use the U.S. State Department’s passport expediting service instead of commercial passport expediters.
The State Department is presently expediting passports in as few as eight days. Additionally, the State Department only charges a nominal fee for expedited services: $60 for the service, $15.45 for overnight delivery, and $150 for a full file search for those who have an urgent need.
In a “worst case” scenario requiring research, a first-time passport expedited service, and overnight delivery, would only cost $390.45. Commercial passport expediters charge as much as $700 for similar services.
Operational Divisions that have a high volume of employee travelers, and which might require passports that must be expedited, should also consider establishing a contract instead of using the IBA travel card. A contract will enable a contracting officer to negotiate and obtain more favorable rates for the required services.
OpDiv travel card Agency/Organization Program Coordinator can use the Visa IntelliLink online tool to monitor purchases made at passport processing expediter companies. Simply look for MCC 7399 (Miscellaneous Business Services) code. PSC noted that in the first quarter of CY 2017 that one OpDivs’ employees used government-provided IBA travel cards to procure $10,000 to a single passport expediting company. OpDivs have an obligation to avoid using only one source for procuring such services. Other vendors that provide these services should be considered to ensure fairness and opportunity to benefit from government procurements.
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PSC hosts monthly program support meeting for OpDiv credit card program managers
The Program Support Center’s credit card program hosts credit card program Agency/Organization Program Coordinator meetings the second Thursday of each month.
These meetings focus on three core areas and one project area:
- Card program management
- Policies and procedures
- SmartPay 3 readiness (for the SmartPay 3 implementation project)
The agenda normally features:
- Overview of the previous month’s action plan and notes
- Review of any trends or best-practice initiatives
- Policy and procedure updates
- Review of topics on the current month under review
- Discuss any other issues brought up by meeting participants
- A question and answer session
Credit card compliance support is a regular agenda area for the meetings, with the focus on providing customer OpDivs with tools and information to establish and maintain successful compliance programs locally.
PSC also presently hosts topic-centric “Travel Card Compliance in a Minute” training the first and third Thursday of every month to boost HHS-wide knowledge about credit card compliance and efforts to prevent and stop credit card abuse. The training is designed with the busy schedules of local program officials in mind by focusing on just one or two narrow topics during a session lasting only 15 minutes.
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PSC to provide customers with travel card compliance model, self-assessment template
One of the goals of the PSC credit card compliance effort is to provide OpDivs with a model of what a successful local travel card compliance effort entails and a tool for OpDivs to self-assess local alignment to the model.
PSC has established a compliance template and each month a compliance element will be added. OpDivs are expected to perform a simple “yes” or “no” self-assessment and provide it to PSC before the monthly A/OPC meeting.
For example, the model will state, “A successful and compliance travel card program:”
- Refers charge card abuse directly to Chief Human Capital Officers (yes or no)
- Ensures travelers complete travel card training before approving issuance of travel cards (yes or no)
- Is afforded opportunity to brief executives and managers on charge card abusers (yes or no)
The expectation is that OpDivs would candidly and individually assess their programs locally each month, which would be combined to provide a snapshot of the collective health of the Department’s travel card compliance from the A/OPCs’ combined perspective.
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PSC gears up to support GSA SmartPay 3 implementation, transition
The Program Support Center began hosting SmartPay 3 implementation information sessions May 25 as the first step toward establishing a centralized information resource for all matters specific to the upcoming implementation of SmartPay 3 and the Department’s transition to new credit cards for its operational activities.
PSC’s intent that OpDiv SmartPay Implementation Leads (OSILs) identified by each OpDiv would gain comfort with a centralized management and communication approach prior to the kickoff of the implementation project.
The current General Services Administration (GSA) SmartPay 2 Master Contracts expires on November 29, 2018. The future program is referred to as GSA SmartPay 3. GSA has assigned HHS its SmartPay 3 coordinator, and PSC and Office of Grants and Acquisition Policy and Accountability have jointly met to start receiving project guidance.
In preparation for the SmartPay 3 transition, OpDivs were encouraged at past A/OPC meetings to start taking the following actions to get ready for GSA SmartPay 3 implementation:
- Continually monitor the GSA SmartPay 3 Web site for updates
- Examine the GSA SmartPay 3 transition documents
- Attend the transition executive briefing
- Update the GSA’s Master Contract Quick Sheet
- Review the Transition Communications Planning Tool
OSILs will need to:
- Coordinate the issuance of new payment solutions
- Oversee the reconciliation and close out of old accounts
- Coordinate IT resources and system testing to be sure the SmartPay 3 contractor’s system “talks” to the agency’s system
- Work with others in their agencies (e.g., finance, contracting, IT) to determine needs and develop requirements
- Obtain additional resources or funding to support the transition, as needed
PSC will host an OSIL-only SmartPay 3 discussion with OpDivs at GSA’s SmartPay 2 Training Forum in Phoenix during August. OpDivs are encouraged to send administrative professionals to this conference and for them to participate in GSA’s card program certification training.
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American Airlines serving free meals in economy class on some flights
American introduces free economy class meals on select transcontinental flights beginning May 1, 2017, the airline announced — coming less than a month after Delta serves free economy meals on 12 of its transcontinental flights, making American the first U.S. carrier to offer that service since 2010.
American offers free meals on flights between New York and Los Angeles, and between New York and San Francisco. Depending on the time of the flight, customers are offered a continental breakfast or a boxed meal that includes a sandwich wrap, chips, and dessert. American also offers a vegetarian option as well as a fruit and cheese plate.
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PSC completes update of 40+ ConcurGov job aids for customers
The Program Support Center has updated more than 40 job aids as part of its continuing effort to provide its customers with the latest information needed to use the ConcurGov travel management system.
These latest updated job aids reflect the new ConcurGov user interface, and they’re posted to the PSC Web site at: psc.gov/transportation-services/travel-training/job-aids.
Plus, PSC is now updating and revamping the travel charge card computer-based training (CBT) and it’s creating a new travel charge card refresher course. Once finalized, and the associated policy is updated and published, these new and improved trainings will be posted to the Department’s Learning Management System.
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PSC travel training to transition from platform delivery to virtual instruction during FY18
To reduce training costs for customers, PSC is redesigning its various travel training courses so they can be delivered through Virtual Instructor-Led Training (VILT).
This continues PSC’s effort to offer low-cost training through contemporary channels in a cost-efficient manner and without a loss of quality. PSC’s first step toward contemporary online training was in FY16 when it stopped offering printed training manuals. The next step toward the virtual training space was in FY17 when it began offering its “Travel in a Minute” topic-based training series. The “…in a Minute” series was a proof-of-concept effort that proved to be so popular with customers that it was made a routine part of the PSC training offering and expanded to the transit benefits, fleet, credit cards, and credit card compliance service delivery areas.
PSC intends to start delivering all travel-related training virtually in FY18.
Through VILT, students will still benefit from a live instructor, but the training will be delivered by computer to students wherever they are.
The course offerings available now will be redesigned for virtual delivery, and they will be modular. Modularity will allow students to procure only those classes that have topics they require to maintain their current skills and to learn new functionality or features of the travel management system.
PSC is also exploring the possibility of offering a standardized government travel professional credentialing program based on its current and future travel training offerings.
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ConcurGov no longer accessible by certain out-of-date browsers
The Program Support Center was notified by Concur Technologies in March that it will block out-of-date Internet browsers to mitigate security vulnerability.
PSC coordinated with the OpDivs’ respective travel programs and IT security teams to ensure there would be little or no disruption to the Department’s traveling personnel.
Concur is required to install certain browser blocks in compliance with the Federal Information Security Management Act of 2002 (FISMA) pursuant to GSA IT Security Policy, and the Office of Management and Budget’s Circular A-130. FISMA standards mandate that all applicable National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) special publications be complied with for all federal IT systems. NIST published SP 800-52 Rev 1 in April 2014 requiring that government agencies no longer use Transport Layer Security (TLS) v1.0, and at a minimum TLS v1.1.
In order for Concur to maintain its Authority to Operate for ConcurGov, Concur was required to remove support for TLS v1.0 and v1.1 effective March 27, 2017. Browsers using older TLS encryption versions weaken the security of the system for all users and agencies. The only way for Concur to close this vulnerability was to completely disable user ability to connect using the older TLS versions. Users attempting to access ConcurGov after March 27, 2017, must connect with a browser that supports TLS v1.2.
As of March 27, 2017, the following browsers no longer connect with ConcurGov:
- Microsoft Internet Explorer: Versions 1-10
- Microsoft Internet Explorer Mobile: Versions 7-10
- Google Chrome: Versions 1-29
- Google Android: Versions 1-4.4.4
- Mozilla Firefox: Versions 1-27
- Apple Safari (OSX): Versions 1-6
- Apple Safari (iOS): Version 1-5
- BlackBerry Browser: Versions 1-10.3.1.1779
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Special characters caused issues with ConcurGov Business Intelligence tool in March
ConcurGov’s Cognos-based Business Intelligence tools experienced data archiving failures from March 9-15. The root cause has since been addressed and there are no known issues with data reporting at this time. PSC worked diligently to keep its customers informed of the situation, the challenges, and how and when the issue was finally resolved.
The root cause was determined by Concur to be due to special characters in lines of accounting due to travelers using a “favorite” line of accounting in their profiles, and thus on their documents. PSC in the past has advised against the use of favorite lines of accounting being housed in user profiles because HHS uses dynamic accounting; favorite lines of accounting may be old data or even information from a previous fiscal year, thereby causing documents to fail. The archival issue HHS experienced is another reason PSC discourages the use of favorite lines of accounting.
Several OpDivs made efforts to correct and/or inform their ConcurGov users that favorite lines of accounting — specifically special characters — should not be used at all. The recommendation from PSC is that all OpDivs reach out to their travel community and discourage the use of both special characters and favorite lines of accounting in their profiles.
PSC was notified on March 17 that Concur corrected the issue and the archival process necessary for Cognos to be updated was completed successfully. PSC in turn tested to ensure that the Cognos reporting data was up-to-date and once testing was completed internally to verify results, PSC notified all OpDiv Lead FATA’s that the issue was resolved.
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New Reservation Optimization Initiative being tested by PSC
The GSA Reservation Optimization Initiative (ROI) is currently under final testing by PSC. OpDivs provided a list of the changes in April, and a due date of April 28 was given to either complete testing, or indicate a decision not to test. PSC also granted any OpDiv that required additional time the ability to do so.
PSC will brief the test results to the Travel Leadership Coalition on June 13 and to the Executive-level Travel Governance Council on June 20.
The features of this initiative include:
- The default display settings for air travel prioritize lowest discounted fares and are designed to assist agencies in driving cost savings
- The default display settings for lodging prioritize rates that drive first consideration of FedRooms properties, which are required to be at or below per diem
- Both support compliance to Office of Management and Budget Memo M-12-12, “Promoting Efficient Spending to Support Agency Operations”
It’s important to recognize that the ROI functionality largely affects what displays first. It does not prevent travelers from making selections. To make sub-optimal selections, the travelers will simply be required to select a pre-established justification. This will provide GSA with better data as to why certain airline offerings were not used, and will help the government in its future procurement efforts such as the CityPairs program.
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PSC GO!card is mass transit providers’ preferred way to use tax-free transit benefits for monthly fares, passes
Did you know that the PSC Transit Subsidy Program’s GO!card provides federal employees with a tax-free transit subsidy benefit on a charge card that enables them to purchase fare cards or monthly passes from mass transit providers, including buses, subways, commuter trains, and van pools?
Use of charge cards to buy fares, passes, and tickets is the preferred means of nearly all of the nation’s mass transit providers.
The benefit is equal to the cost of the employee’s commute to and from their primary home residence and work location, not to exceed the maximum tax-free benefit per Internal Revenue Service regulations. Benefits are available on the 23rd of each month.
Apply for the tax-free transit subsidy benefits using the below steps:
- Login to govzone.psc.gov
- Click on My Services at the top of the homepage
- Click on Transit Subsidy Program Management
- Click on Start Application for Transit Program
- Complete and submit application
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PSC GO!card “Do’s and Don’ts” can help avoid rush-hour headaches
- Spend only what is needed during the benefit period
- Purchase fare cards no later than the 15th day of the benefit month
- Purchase only what’s needed during months when leave is taken
- Update user accounts if a name, address and/or commuting cost change occurs
- Complete a new application each year to recertify participation in the Transit Subsidy Program
- Use a GO!card while on travel
- Use transit subsidy benefits for anything other than commuting to/from the residence and assigned place of work
- Allow anyone else to use transit subsidy benefits
- Sell transit subsidy benefits
- Apply for or receive parking benefits and transit subsidy benefits at the same time
For more information, please contact the PSC Transit Subsidy Program Management Office at: firstname.lastname@example.org or call (301) 492-4774.
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PSC support OpDiv fleet managers through collaboration on best practices
The Program Support Center’s fleet management team is continuing its collaboration with OpDiv fleet managers on best practices, capturing the practices in simplified process maps.
In 2016, PSC’s implemented a practice of document processes rather than continually re-writing cumbersome Standard Operating Procedures (SOP). The effort uses diagramming to capture the functional processes in an easy-to-follow visual format. This allows for rapid adaptation at a high level that gives just enough information to perform, which keeps business and operations moving forward while reserving more detailed SOPs for reference when needed. An example of a fleet management area that has benefited from process mapping is accident reporting.
Overall, the PSC fleet management team and its partners intend to use jointly-developed process mapping to streamline fleet policy.
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Drive-Cam pilot complete, camera equipment removed
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ pilot program with Lytx/DriveCam expired Nov. 23, 2016, and driver cameras have now been fully removed from the Department’s vehicles.
The effort was an exploration of how telematics might be used to improve safety and diagnose fleet management needs remotely.
CMS initially installed 34 recorders in HHS vehicles throughout the northeast region, as well as other locations such as Atlanta, Chicago, Miami, and Santa Ana, California.
Scheduled uninstalls for these dashboard cameras began March 6, 2017, and they have all been removed.
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Object Class Code standardization changes effective starting FY18
In 2016, the Data Standardization Working Group (DSWG) chartered a focus group to perform a complete assessment of the Department’s Object Class Codes. The focus group included representation from each accounting center and financial management system. During the assessment, members found duplicate, unused, obsolete, and otherwise invalid object classes.
As a result, the focus group included recommendations to streamline the Object Class Code population at the same time the OCCs are updated to comply with the Office of Management and Budget Circular A-11, Preparation, Submission, and Execution of the Budget (A-11). These changes will also enable HHS to comply with the requirements of the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014.
Implementation activities with OpDivs have begun, and changes went effect on October 1, 2016. A list of the changes, along with the FY 2018 OCC population, is available in the latest version of the Accounting Treatment Manual, available at: intranet.hhs.gov/abouthhs/manuals/accounting-treatment-manual/section-2.html#2.4.2.
These changes are expected to impact reporting teams, budget offices, transaction processing personnel, and anyone who prepares or uses metrics based on Object Class data. Additionally, PSC is working internally to update the Object Class Codes which currently reside in Common Transportation Integration Platform for use in ConcurGov. PSC is also determining a path forward for documents created prior to the cutover on October 1, 2017.
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PSC’s newest office goes fully paperless
In February 2017, the Veterans Affairs Inspector General issued a report that stated that the sheer weight of paper-based file folders at a North Carolina VA office actually exceeded the load-bearing capacity of the building itself. While this might be an uncommon circumstance, it’s not uncommon for a business to suffer under the weight of paperwork despite the 21st century being touted as the “Digital Age.” One office at PSC has taken steps to leave the age of paper behind it and not look back.
Upon opening December 17, 2016, PSC’s Transportation Services office at Salt Lake City established itself as a fully paperless office, with all work being performed online and on computers.
To become a true virtual office, the office team there declined to link its computers through the networked business machines, staff members sign documents digitally using the HSPD-12 Personal Identity Verification cards, and business applications like the Microsoft Office suite and Adobe Acrobat are used extensively. Personal practices, like using electronic receipts when traveling and taking pictures of paper documents with a smart phone, also helps the staff there avoid paper. The net effect of the effort is that there is no need for storage space for paper, workstations are free of clutter, and the staff has greater mobility and greater flexibility to work at locations other than their workstations.
“Simple steps like this translate as cost savings that add up to the benefit our customers,” said Matt A. Zakielarz, Director, Transportation Services, PSC. “Cost savings and quality services by PSC are always a winning combination.”
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