Air Force officials implement government travel card controlled spend accounts

Tech. Sgt. Amaani Lyle
Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs Office

WASHINGTON (AFNS) – In an effort to curtail government travel card abuse and delinquency, Air Force officials piloted an unprecedented controlled spend account (CSA) concept through Sept. 3 with an expected service-wide rollout fall of 2010.

The most significant CSA concept bases spending limits on approved travel authorizations and provides just enough funds to perform the mission, GTC officials said.

“We’re building automated processes into the program so personnel managing their unit’s travel card program can go back to being focused on mission-enhancing rather [than] mission support duties,” said Mike Bilbrey, the Air Force banking officer.

Officials from Citi, the Air Force’s travel card contractor, said the concept was developed with a Defense Department perspective and marks a new generation of GTCs by decreasing the time and resources dedicated to maintaining the program without mission disruption.

“The (CSA) has the versatility to accommodate service requirements with the understanding that ‘one size does not fit all,'” said Stacy Eslich, the Citi Global Transaction Services vice president. The CSA is a “precision tool that provides increased security, control, flexibility, and transparency and decreases delinquency.”

Air Force banking officials said although the program was originally developed to facilitate travel, over the last decade it has morphed into labor-intensive card use and abuse management.

“Over the past two decades, we’ve seen the Air Force’s GTC program evolve from a small segment of travelers to the largest charge card program in the world with about 480,000 card holders,” said Charles Maddox, the air staff finance management GTC program manager. “Although our program is recognized as the industry benchmark in both charge volume and delinquency management, achieving this level of recognition comes at a high cost.”

The GTC program has historically had its share of misuse and abuse by some Airmen. Recent finance management delinquency analysis indicates 19 percent of card usage stemmed from abuse higher than deployments and PCS travel and second only to regular TDYs at 38 percent. Seventy-seven percent of cardholders who became delinquent had received their reimbursement for travel, but failed to pay their outstanding GTC balance.

Conversely, Air Force travelers charge only about 60 percent of reimbursable travel expenses to the GTC due to merchant category code restrictions, creditworthiness issues, and exemption status for infrequent travelers, Bilbrey said.

The Air Force currently uses a combination of individual billed accounts and centrally billed accounts within the GTC programs to accomplish official travel.

Finance officials said these accounts have pre-set credit that can be increased to meet mission requirements though the credit limits are estimates and not mission driven.

Maddox explained that CSA, in contrast, is based on the estimated amount of approved travel orders. This change not only decreases the workload agency program coordinators perform, but allows GTC access to every traveler since a CSA requires no credit check.

“The CSA card has Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st century written all over it,” Maddox said. “By using more of our automation features, we’ll be able to maximize efficiencies while reducing overall resources and delinquencies.”

Maddox, a retired master sergeant, recalled the story of his early years in the Air Force when he and many other Airmen received cash advances prior to going on official travel.

“I remember when there were lines outside of finance offices to pick up ‘cold cash’ for an upcoming TDY or (permanent change of station) or to submit a travel voucher for a return trip,” Maddox said. “The same concept of ‘go, conquer and come home’ is being reintroduced, but in the form of CSA.”

Maddox explained since there are fewer people in the Air Force now than in previous years, the service proportionately has less resources to support the old system.

The new system links the card spend limit to the estimated cost on approved travel orders and the total trip reimbursement applies to the credit card, as opposed to a split disbursement at voucher settlement.

“Travelers can therefore use the card, withdraw residual funds or transfer them online to another personal account,” Bilbrey said. “This program virtually eliminates the risk of delinquencies and misuse of the card which lead to negative career impact.”

Finance officials strongly encourage Airmen to be mindful of the impact of under-estimating projected travel expenses which will affect the card’s spending limits.

Since the spending limit is based on the estimated cost of the travel authorization, Airmen must request a temporary spending limit or amend their travel orders to reflect the adjusted period of travel and costs.

For Airmen with multiple travel authorizations, the new card spending limit is an aggregate amount of all approved orders, and is therefore not subject to a maximum limit.

If a traveler’s TDY ends sooner than expected, the original spending limit is in excess of the final travel payment and the traveler will be responsible to Citi for any amount spent above the trip settlement. Spend limits are estimates and are increased or decreased based on actual entitlements such as lodging, airfare and location-based per diem calculated at final settlement.

When on extended travel or short-notice upon verbal orders of a commander, Airmen can request a temporary spending limit by calling Citi’s Cardholder Assistance toll-free number at (877) 784-1407.

The pilot program includes select organizations at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., McConnell AFB, Kan., Keesler AFB, Miss., Eielson AFB, Alaska and Aviano Air Base, Italy.

For more information about controlled spend account cards, e-mail afgtc.iba@pentagon.af.mil.

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