Sitting Down With...
Frank Rago, U.S. Army Travel Charge Card Program Manager
As Travel Charge Card Program Manager for the U.S. Army, Frank Rago is responsible for running the government's largest travel card program — nearly 600,000 open accounts worldwide, with over $2 billion a year in spend. Frank has more than 30 years' worth of knowledge about running a successful charge card program. We sat down with him and asked him to share some of that wisdom.
"Training ensures the quality of the program. You can't hold a person responsible for not doing something unless they know what they're supposed to do."
The Army's travel card program has had an interesting history.
Yes, we started in 1983 with Diners Club, which was a difficult card to use because not many merchants accepted the card. Plus, at that time, the DoD just gave the card to senior people, and didn't take into consideration how much they traveled.
We switched to American Express in 1988, and use of the card was expanded worldwide. More people were issued the cards, with more spend, and, unfortunately, more delinquency. People just didn't pay their bills in a timely manner. The Department didn't enforce split disbursement, and the card's issuance was still restricted to senior people, with no consideration for the amount of travel people did.
In 1998 we moved to a full-blown bank, Bank of America, with contract terms that covered delinquencies, account charge-offs, etc.
By 2008, we transitioned to Citibank. Citi was really prepared for the transfer, so it was a lot smoother than anybody expected. They really hit the deck running. They had a team dedicated for each of the Services. We had very, very few problems.
So you've had the Citi program in place for five years. How is it going?
Citi's program really works. Their electronic account system is very user-friendly, with reports for card management. There's no reason why an individual couldn't go in and manage their card as they would a personal card.
It lets the DoD, and the Army in particular, run specific reports to see if we have any situations that might warrant us intervening in some overspend, delinquency, things of that nature.
Are there program enhancements you've helped institute that you're particularly proud of?
The big thing is our continual training of cardholders and Agency Program Coordinators (APC). We keep them advised on what's going on with the program at a service level, at the Army level, and how we compare to the other services. The key is getting senior leadership involved and energized to make sure that people are using the card correctly, and taking action when they're not.
One thing that makes the program successful is that component department managers of all services — Army, Navy, Air Force, etc. — work together and listen to each other. If you don't like something that somebody proposes, you can discuss it without fear of retribution. It's a team effort. We don't just want the Army program to be successful; we want the entire travel card program to be successful. So we got together and put in the contract that this was a mission-critical program. That was especially important because many of our cardholders are out there fighting a war, and we had to make sure they are protected.
Frank, you mentioned training. Can you elaborate?
Training is a major component in ensuring the quality of our travel card program, because you can't hold a person responsible for not doing something unless they know what they're supposed to do. Some of that training is conducted by the Army — on-the-job-type unit training of cardholders, mainly on unique uses of the card. The primary training, though, is conducted by Citi. They have a very competent training team that goes out and talks to various posts. Their phone representatives and account representatives are very knowledgeable and helpful. They just do a good job.
What about delinquency? What processes do you have in place to minimize delinquency across the program?
We review delinquency every cycle with the command APCs. We also require them to review 10 percent of all transactions on the card for a given period, to identify suspect purchases and validate those purchases with the unit and the individual.
At my level, it's an overview, contacting the folks in Command. The Commands have developed programs for their delinquencies. They notify the cardholder when a card is in danger of being suspended for nonpayment. They find out if there's a reason the bill hasn't been paid because of some administrative reason, like no orders or transactions held up in an accounting or disbursing system. Overall, we've been very successful, which is especially important during wartime, when there's typically a higher delinquency rate on cards. Because of the emphasis our commanders place on it, we're right at the Army's goal of 1.5 percent delinquency for IBA card holders.
Frank, what advice would you give new DoD Travel Charge Card Program Managers who want their program to be as successful as the Army's?
First, make sure your cardholders are trained on the use of the card. They need to understand what the card represents, what it's to be used for, how to use it, and what programs are available with it.
Second, get the commanders and supervisors involved. Make sure they're committed to running the program the right way. It's the law that commanders must take action when there is delinquency or some misuse or abuse of the card. Make sure the commanders understand that people need to be held responsible for card misuse. Lip service won't cut it.
Third, publicize any egregious abuse of the card and the punitive action taken as a result. Publish it in Base newspapers, commanders' calls, and word-of-mouth among APCs.
If you don't resolve problems at the organizational level, they're not going to be resolved at the top. The top has to voice support for the program, and that support has to filter down to the lowest part of the unit. Everybody in the chain has to know that you're serious about proper use of the card.
Great advice. Thank you for your time, Frank.
The information provided is for general use only. Contact the GSA Contracting Officer with any questions related to proper use of the master contract.