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Agencies that are slow to adopt new travel system face fees

Dec. 4, 2012 - 02:29PM   |  
By NICOLE BLAKE JOHNSON   |   Comments

Agencies have less than a year to adopt the government’s new electronic travel system — or pay extra fees to extend contracts with their current e-travel vendors.

Existing e-travel contracts are set to expire in November 2013, and most agencies are scrambling to transition to a new system by then.

The General Services Administration, which runs the e-travel program for civilian agencies, awarded a $1.4 billion, 15-year contract — called the second-generation E-Gov Travel Services (ETS2) — to Concur Technologies in June. But work to transition agencies to the Concur e-travel system was delayed by a protest of the contract award by competitor CWT Sato Travel, an existing e-travel service provider to many agencies. The Government Accountability Office denied CWT Sato’s protest in September, but the company took the matter to the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.

CWT is contesting GSA’s decision to award such a large contract to a single vendor and the decision to rate CWT as unqualified and incapable of providing services under ETS2. The court is expected to rule on the case early next year.

Meanwhile, GSA is working with agencies to award task orders to Concur under the new contract.

“We’ve been very pleased with the early engagement we’ve seen from government agencies that are anxious to move to Concur,” company CEO Steve Singh said on an earnings call last month. “We’re excited about working with the GSA while driving billions in cost savings.”

Concur’s cloud-based solution is expected to ease online booking, provide more intuitive and easy-to-use interfaces, automate expense reporting and provide a host of mobile features for employees to access while traveling.

Agencies’ commitments to move to ETS2 “is important because it will eliminate or minimize the risk of high-cost, ETS contract extension pricing and will facilitate a smooth and timely coordinated transition of all agencies governmentwide,” GSA said.

GSA has bridge contracts available with the government’s three existing e-travel vendors that can extend their service through November 2015 for agencies unable to transition to the new Concur system by next year. Agencies forced to use those bridge contracts will likely face price increases, but how much is unclear.

Agencies’ plans

So far, 25 agencies have committed themselves in memorandums of understanding to deadlines when they will launch the Concur system. The agreements were based on the assumption that a contract would be awarded last April.

According to the MOUs, which Federal Times obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, 18 agencies say they will launch the new system in 2013, six in 2014 and one in 2015.

The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. has the longest implementation plan, with initial rollout scheduled for October 2014 and final deployment of the new system in January 2015.

The Environmental Protection Agency is working under a compressed schedule to provide ETS2 services for thousands of travelers by October, said Jim Woods, the agency’s ETS2 transition manager.

“We are going to try to get there,” Wood said.

EPA is hammering out a task order for Concur. The agency has not yet met with Concur, but will do so once the task order is issued.

The agency plans to bring on all users at once. Woods said the team supporting the transition is experienced and was involved in the migration to the first-generation e-travel system.

“Hopefully, everything will go as planned and it will be a nice, easy, smooth transition,” he said.

Jeff Karth, e-travel manager for the Transportation Department’s Enterprise Services Center, is working toward an April 2014 goal, but hopes to provide Concur services to about 7,500 Transportation employees and travelers at five agencies before that time.

Concur’s reputation

Concur may be a newcomer to the federal government, but the company has made a name for itself in the commercial sector.

T-Systems North America, a subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom that operates information and communication technology systems for the public and private sector, moved to Concur’s travel services in 2009. Within a month of launching a small test pilot of 10 individuals, the company was able to bring everyone onboard the new system.

Concur was an attractive option because it allowed the company to book travel, reimburse employees, pay credit card companies and reconcile credit card data with a single tool, said Martin Lagler, head of accounting and travel at T-Systems North America.

Lagler said the company, which spends $7 million a year on travel, has 720 users on the system, 140 of whom are frequent travelers.

It used to take several days to plan a trip, mainly because of the paper-based trip approval process. Now, trips are approved automatically and managers have up to 24 hours to cancel a trip.

“It took a few days to get approval, so the cost of the trip would have changed by that time,” Lagler said about the old process.

The company also has saved on storage costs because it no longer has to store paper receipts, which can be tracked in the system.

About 90 percent of travelers are using Concur’s online service regularly, which saves on the cost of having to book travel through an agent.

“If you know how to use Orbitz or Expedia, then you know how to use Concur,” Lagler said.

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