By Philip Benjamin

Acting Director, Defense Travel Management Office

At the GovTravels symposium in March, I was fortunate to lead a panel discussion on the way ahead in Government travel. The discussion primarily focused on technology and the importance of data in improving the customer experience. We had such a great discussion, time went by so quickly, and I didn’t get a chance to ask our panelists my last burning question – “What is on you bucket list for 2016?”  So, I’d like to take this opportunity to share with you what is on my list in hopes that it will shed additional light on the strategic direction of DoD travel.

In 2011, DoD began to explore opportunities to transform travel. Travel Transformation centers on:  simplifying travel policies and establishing a program of compliance; customer needs; improving travel programs and processes; travel system modernization; expanding strategic sourcing opportunities to leverage overall travel spend; and integrating a robust data warehouse to create business intelligence for decision-making. This Travel Transformation effort was in response to a host of external drivers requiring efficient ways to manage and conduct travel. Travel Transformation has since evolved into what we now refer to as Travel Reform. But, no matter what we call it, the expected outcomes are the same:  overall cost savings, simplified policy, improved compliance, enhanced auditability, and an improved traveler experience.

Over the next year, we will continue to make progress toward simplifying travel policy, modernizing DoD Travel, expanding strategic sourcing programs like our Integrated Lodging Program Pilot, and integrating data to support business intelligence.

First, it is important to understand that travel policy simplification is the foundation of our Travel Reform efforts. DoD’s complicated travel rule set drives the complexity of our current travel system. Simplified policy will directly impact the functional requirements for a modernized travel system and the types of technology we can leverage. We have been working toward simplified policy for some time, but we have implemented an 18-month surge effort to fast track our efforts to standardize, simplify, and/or provide cost savings opportunities. The first, 6-month iteration already underway is focused on Temporary Duty and Local travel. A second, 12-month iteration will follow, targeting Evacuation and Permanent Duty travel. By July 2017 we hope to publish a completely re-written JTR that is reduced significantly in size and written in simple, clear language easily understood by all DoD users.

Now, let me address the Department’s travel system. Today’s Defense Travel System (DTS) does not provide the Department with a solution to optimize its investment and capitalize on the savings that will be produced as a result of our travel reform efforts. Yes, the overall complexity of today’s JTR inhibits the application of the latest travel management technology and industry best practices. And modernizing DTS is inextricably linked to our policy simplification efforts. But DTS itself is a complex travel system that is built on obsolescent system/data architecture. Further, it is not modular in design; it contains complex code difficult to modify, isn’t intuitive for users, lacks the user-friendly features and capabilities available in today’s industry leading travel management technology, and the list goes on. What the Department needs is a state-of-the-art travel system that is user-friendly, easy to navigate, and does not encumber the traveler with time consuming travel planning. We need a travel solution that considers customer needs, enables travel reform and incorporates industry best practices to improve travel programs and processes. While we have yet to announce an official timeline, we are excited to have the opportunity to modernize our travel system.

Besides implementing a modernized travel system and travel policy reform, we will continue to deliver better value by expanding strategic sourcing opportunities to leverage overall travel spend. The Integrated Lodging Program Pilot that the Department launched last summer is an example of a program that takes advantage of a strategic sourcing opportunity. We will continue to expand the program to new pilot sites and are also looking at ways to incorporate other types of lodging, like extended stay.

In addition to tackling lodging, we will also pilot a Preferred Dining Program. Today, the Department lacks a program to manage its $1B annual spend for meals, equating to just over 30% of every travel dollar. Through our research and analysis, we identified an opportunity for savings by enabling travelers to dine at participating restaurants while generating rebates for the Department when travelers use their Government Travel Charge Card.

Finally, we are also integrating a robust data warehouse to create business intelligence to inform our decision-making. In the end, this capability will help us make smarter decisions and will help deliver better value for the Department, the Federal Government, and the taxpayer.

As we implement these strategic initiatives and consider others, we steadfastly embrace these guiding principles: (1) Do No Harm – reduce trip costs without harming the traveler; (2) Fair Compensation – compensating travelers for expenses incurred; compensate Service members based on actual behavior and provide flexibility when making travel-related purchases; and (3) Data Driven Decisions – use of integrated data to provide the Department with the trusted business intelligence necessary for informed decision-making.

While my bucket list may be short, these Travel Reform initiatives will have lasting impact on the Defense Travel Enterprise. I invite you to follow our progress.