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Department of Navy Shows How To Keep A Travel Card Program In Ship Shape

How do you set up and run an effective and successful Travel Charge Card program? You could do a lot worse than to follow the lead of the U.S. Department of Navy and its Centrally Billed Accounts (CBA) program, which boasts an astonishing delinquency rate of close to zero.

The Navy's CBA program manages more than 300 accounts that charge over $150 million annually in travel expenses for personnel movements, including permanent changes of station (PCS) and temporary duty assignments (TDY). Yet the program still consistently maintains a delinquency rate of approximately 0.01%.

The secret to success? There are actually two, according to Tish Fuller, Component Program Manager for the Navy's Consolidated Card Program Management Division. "Automation and communication," she says.

The Department of Navy's CBA program boasts an astonishing delinquency rate of approximately 0.01%.

Automation speeds payments

"The Navy's CBA program is about 95% automated," says Fuller. "Our invoicing, our payments, everything. It's all automated." The program receives electronic invoices from its financial provider of the past five years, Citi. Making their payments in electronic format through the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) streamlines reconciliation and certification, and is a big advantage over paper payments.

"We're not sending out a paper package to the disbursing office, and they don't have to send a paper check to the bank," Fuller says. Since her organization sends all certified invoices to DFAS electronically, DFAS can then submit payments electronically to the bank. "We're able to receive the invoice, reconcile, certify and make payment in a much quicker fashion than if we were working with paper," says Fuller.

How much quicker? "Once we receive the invoice, our goal is to reconcile and certify within five days," says Fuller. "After the invoice is transmitted to DFAS, they can usually pay within two to three days."

Overall, the organization pays its Centrally Billed Account (CBA) invoices between 33% - 40% faster than the other components. The same process using paper invoicing would take up to twice as long, she adds.

That speed has multiple potential benefits: Visibility. Process efficiency. Avoidance of late-payment interest charges. And another potential benefit that is particularly appealing: rebates. The faster payment is made to Citi, the higher the productivity rebate for the Navy.

Navy pays its CBA invoices between 33%-40% faster than the other components.

Communication flags issues

The second success component for the Navy's CBA program is a best-practices level of communication. For example, in conjunction with DFAS, Fuller and her team developed a "Biweekly Suspension Report" that identifies any errors or violations in travel invoices that can hold up processing and payment.

"Maybe an airline ticket is purchased but the command doesn't obligate enough money," according to Fuller. "It causes that invoice to suspend, so the payment office can't pay. Before we'd developed this report, the commands would transmit their invoices to DFAS and think they were done, when in fact an invoice might be hung up because of a problem. Now, with this report, we can immediately notify a command of a problem, and they're obligated to fix it within two to three days."

Beyond reports, Fuller says she communicates with the program's several hundred Agency Program Coordinators (APCs) on a regular basis, keeping them up to date on the status of their accounts. "If they have a problem, I help them," says Fuller. "If they call me and say, 'My payment's stuck somewhere and I can't figure out how to get it going,' I'll work with the bank, with the payment office, whatever we have to do to get it fixed."

The emphasis is on "we." Fuller is quick to acknowledge her field personnel, who help manage the CBA accounts. "I couldn't do the job without great people. I've established really good rapport with them, we all work together. We're a team."

Automation and communication. That's how Tish Fuller and her Card Program Management Division have maintained a remarkable near-zero delinquency rate in the Department of Navy's CBA Travel Card program. It's a great best-practices lead to follow.

"I couldn't do the job without great people. We all work together. We're a team." – Tish Fuller