IRS may seek waiver on eTravel system

The Internal Revenue Service is considering asking again for a delay in implementing a new electronic travel system, citing questionable cost savings claims and employee-reported difficulties using the new system.

Despite a Sept. 30 General Services Administration deadline for all agencies to fully deploy electronic travel systems mandated under President Bush's e-government initiative, the IRS is wavering and has prepared a request to GSA to delay the implementation of Northrop Grumman's GovTrip service. GSA denied an earlier request to delay the implementation of GovTrip in March.

In response to an Aug. 24 report from the Treasury Department's inspector general for tax administration, Janis Landis, director of the IRS' Employee Support Services branch, said the agency's in-house travel booking system can be modified to comply with the eTravel mandate at a cost of $500,000. But until the agency's situation with GovTrip is resolved, the IRS is not authorized to spend money to improve its own system, which is known as the Travel Reimbursement and Accounting System, or TRAS.

In addition to a $5.25 fee that the IRS will have to pay Northrop Grumman for each travel reservation made on GovTrip, Landis estimates that $7 million will be needed to allow GovTrip to work with the agency's financial system. GovTrip will cost the IRS an additional $3 million in other operating costs over the current cost to operate TRAS, Landis said.

The IRS expects to need to hire 150 more travel specialists to respond to technical problems in GovTrip, Landis said.

The $60 million GovTrip contract with the Treasury department was the first and one of the largest eTravel awards.

IRS officials requested the inspector general's audit because they did not believe it was in the agency's best interest to switch to the GovTrip system.

The report does not advocate either implementing GovTrip or seeking a waiver. Rather it encourages the IRS to adequately staff the agency's help desk to deal with the anticipated technical problems. The report also recommends that the chief of the IRS' Agency-Wide Shared Services division conduct a more detailed cost-benefit analysis and consider making a second request to delay GovTrip implementation.

Calls to the agency's help desk have dramatically increased in the 10 Treasury bureaus in which GovTrip has been implemented. For each of the 38,000 travel authorizations processed through GovTrip, an average of 1.26 calls to the system's help desk were made, compared to one call for every 10 reservations for the old system.

GSA's analysis that GovTrip would save the agency $28.6 million over eight years was flawed, according to the inspector general's audit. Rather than saving the IRS money, the audit estimated it would cost the agency an additional $39.2 million.

Nearly 70 percent of the $67.8 million difference between the two estimates is due to GSA estimates that IRS employees will spend less time planning trips, allowing for more time to devote to their regular duties. But the inspector general report did not account for such costs, because they are not included in the IRS's operating budget and the agency will not realize direct monetary savings if the system is implemented.

In related news, GSA issued an amendment to the Federal Travel Regulation last month, requiring that agencies submit plans to maximize the full adoption of their eTravel systems.

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