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DoD Holds Travel Revamping Education Conference

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

ST. LOUIS, Aug. 6, 1996 – More than 300 key players in revamping DoD's temporary duty travel system recently gathered here to discuss the pilot test programs and their benefits to travelers and the government.

The new system, being tested at 27 sites worldwide, among other changes will help eliminate travel horror stories, reduce costs, simplify paperwork, and scrap pages of regulations.

Finance officials hope the new travel system proves easier for customers to use, and they encouraged conferees to offer suggestions to improve it. The officials met with service and DoD agency representatives from an 11-state area called Defense Travel Region 6. This region will be the first to receive a contract with a commercial travel organization.

"We modeled the conference on what we've learned so far in the pilot program," noted Karen Alderman, director of DoD's Re-engineering Tavel Transition Office. "We've learned that you have to introduce the concept, give people the information and a little time for it to settle in.

"We're explaining the concept of operations to people in the field to ensure they understand the information we're giving them," Alderman said. "We'd like them to offer suggestions they think will help improve the system."

One goal is to treat commanders and travelers as honest and responsible customers. "We know we're always going to have a certain element -- about 2 percent -- that are not going to be honest customers of the system," Alderman noted. "But the old process is too long and burdensome with layer on layer of controls and specifications. It's cumbersome, paper-bound and overchecking, and we still haven't caught the 2 percent of abusers. And the old system gives us no management information, but is extremely costly and not customer friendly."

DoD is concentrating on bettering the travel system for the 98 percent of honest customers with new management information technology and a different philosophy. But abusers will not be forgotten. Officials said they hope new technology will ferret out cheaters.

Reserve component representatives voiced concerns about not participating in the pilot programs.

"The pilot programs don't extend to the reserve components because they have a complicated method of paying entitlements," Alderman said. "Their travel orders are also their authority to be paid their regular active duty pay. There are so many part-time arrangements that it wasn't practical to include reservists in the first shot out of the door. But we're studying ways to include them later."

DoD decided to simplify entitlements for active duty components first.

"We didn't know what to expect from our audience because we're giving a big package of changes to field operations that didn't necessarily volunteer to be pilot organizations," Alderman noted. "But this audience is real receptive to the change package and the concept. The devil is always in the details, but when we talk about the vision and policy and process changes, people say, 'Gee, I hope this happens soon.'"

A representative from a major Army command told Alderman that after a commanders conference where all financial managers were briefed, the new three-star general asked, "When is my voucher going to be paid in two days?"

"That was a cute story, because commanders have had bad experiences with the old system for years," Alderman said. "Not only do they want to improve services for their people, they'd like to have improved service for themselves, too."

In 1994, DoD chartered a task force to initiate a review of the temporary duty travel system.

The 27 pilot organizations were named in June 1995. Their representatives conferred in the Pentagon last September.

"Their pilot tests were approved in December and January, but they didn't get up and running until recently," Alderman noted. "We've extended pilot testing for six months, which will end in March 1997. We'll have an interim conference in October to see where they are."

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