'Pay as You Go' Trip Planning

Here's a roundup of rule changes and trends for federal travelers.

In what could be the first manifestation of a new (travel) world order, the Transportation Department has entered into a fee-based contract with a travel management center.

Historically, travel agents have made their money from the commissions they receive from vendors, mostly airlines. As airlines have cut and restructured commissions, travel agents have started charging clients for the services they deliver. In the private sector, an estimated 90 percent of large corporate contracts are fee based.

Transportation's Feb. 2 contract with WorldTravel Partners covers about 15,000 employees at the agency's Washington offices. Travelers and travel arrangers have three ways, each with a different price tag, to make their travel plans: via phone ($29.80 per trip), via fax or e-mail ($22.20), or via desktop computer ($19.40).

Federal agencies were facing "service degradation, making it hard to accomplish our mission and meet taxpayers' needs," says David Kleinberg, deputy chief financial officer at Transportation. "Now, we can pick our level of service and find out how much it actually costs. We also avoid any conflict a travel agent may have in recommending a specific hotel or airline."

Kleinberg expects the new system to be better for travelers. "We're not trying to inflict anything on them," he says. "If it's not easy, they won't use it." Six weeks into the program, more than 90 percent of travelers' calls to the travel agency were answered in less than 20 seconds and vouchers were being paid in 72 hours.

For more information, contact Arnie Linares or David Kleinberg at (202) 366-9192.

Straight Answers

No joke: On April Fool's Day, the General Services Administration released the federal travel regulations in a format designed to be easier to understand. The "plain language" effort came in response to a mandate from Vice President Al Gore's National Partnership for Reinventing Government initiative.

The revised rules, which take effect July 1, are presented in a question-and-answer format.

"It was very, very difficult to unscramble regulations that have grown up like ivy over the years," says Becky Rhodes of GSA's Office of Governmentwide Policy. And the effort is not over: GSA plans to continue to revise the regs as they get feedback from travelers. "Our goal is to make [the regulations] understandable," says Rhodes. "If we're not there yet, and we get complaints, that's a great thing."

Still to come are revisions to three chapters of the regulations dealing with relocation, death benefits, and travel and transportation payments from nonfederal sources.

Go to www.policyworks.gov/ftr to find the regulations on the Web.

To let GSA know what you think about the revised regs, contact Jim Harte at (202) 501-0483.

Big-Ticket Cities

The average cost of doing business on the road topped $217 a day this year, reports Business Travel News in its 1998 corporate travel index. The Big Apple-no surprise-costs the most, with a stunning total of $420.27 for a hotel room, three meals, a rental car and incidental expenses. Washington, federal travelers' favorite destination, came in second at $324.63.

Overall, costs are up 6.1 percent in the top 100 cities over last year. GSA's per diem rates (which are not directly comparable) rose 3.6 percent from 1997 to 1998 based on the government's approximately 21 million travel days a year.

Federal travelers' per diems are now at $240 for New York and $168 for Washington, and, unlike the index numbers, do not include car rentals.

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