The GSA recently announced the formation of a ‘Government-Wide Travel Advisory Committee (GTAC)’ to deal with the upward spriraling costs of Federal Travel and Per Diem.

“Members may include Federal agency travel managers, hoteliers, rental car companies, airline companies, travel and lodging associations, convention and visitor bureaus, state and local government representatives, as well as corporations…  GTAC members will not receive compensation or travel reimbursements from the Government.” 

What?  No working stiffs are invited?  We’re going to let the hotels and airlines suggest methods to save money on travel?!

Saving money on federal travel isn’t rocket surgery.  Here are some ideas I have right off the top of my head:

Government lodging rate.

There is a lot of squawking about the Government Rate for hotels being too high- Don’t get me started.  Traveling across the country these days is  miserable enough as it is with body cavity searches, naked body scans, intentionally overbooked flights, 18-inch wide middle seats in a 28-inch seat pitch row, and now the discussion of forcing travelers to stay in 1-star roach motels.

Under the Joint Travel Regulations (and using Defense  Travel System (DTS)), employees must reserve and purchase hotels at the ‘Government Rate’.  Sometimes the Government Rate is a discount vs. rates the general public pays, sometimes it is not.  As an incentive to the employee, allow the traveler to attempt to book a better deal than the Government Rate (via expedia/priceline/hotwire/whatever) at the last minute and let the employee and the government split the cost savings 50/50.

Subsidize or purchase CLEAR cards for frequent travelers.

What? Spend more money on travel? In this case, it is a cost savings where you spend money to save money.
Under current regulations, if an employee spends more than his/her 8-hour day in transit while TDY (easy to do when flying coast-to-coast), they earn Travel Comp Time at their hourly rate.  Employees are permitted to request Travel Comp Time credit for up to 2 hours ‘wait time’ while ‘waiting at the airport’ on their outbound flight leg.  At an average federal employee salary of $90k, each hour of wait costs the government $45/hour in airport ‘wait time’.
Instead, issue each employee a CLEAR card for $79, state that the maximium permissble ‘wait time’ that can be credited for Travel Comp Time is 1-hour, and the CLEAR card has paid for itself on the first  two trips.

Note that there is an even more expensive travel scenario where  the employee travels in the AM and then goes to work upon arrival, earning Overtime when they go beyond their normal work hours. Again, using the CLEAR card on the front-end of the trip knocks off an hour from when the employee can ‘clock in’, saving an hour of Overtime for the government.  In some cases the OT rate is 1.5x the ‘normal’ hourly rate, so in this case the CLEAR card pays for itself even faster.

A possible ‘bonus’ savings with putting federal employees on CLEAR cards is that it may cut down on the workload of the TSA.

Business Calls/Calls Home.

There is presently no way to re-imburse an employee who uses their personal cell phone to call home or call the office while TDY (unless they are on a ‘per-minute’ plan where the cell carrier issues a bill for each minute used). You’re almost begging the traveler to stick it to the government by using the hotel’s landline for calls at $1/minute.  Why not offer to pay a daily rate for expected cell phone usage, similar to the federal mileage rate paid for POV travel to/from TDY?  As an added benefit, the government could get rid of the garbage $100/month blackberrys it issues its employees (the ones that never leave the office drawer or in some cases are not even allowed in a DoD facility).

Got any other ideas or want to join the GTAC committee?  Feel free to read the long-form announcement here.  You have until Jan 26th to put your hat in the ring if you want to participate.

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