JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas – The Air Force has saved more than $6 million in travel payment transaction fees since 2019, thanks to a small process change made by the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center.
The new process – using a unit card instead of a centrally billed account to pay for the travel of Airmen moving from technical school training to their first assignment – eliminated a nearly $67 transaction fee per student. With 40,000 Airmen completing basic military training and transitioning into Air Education and Training Command technical schools every year, savings added up quickly. The total saved reached $6.1 million last month and continues climbing.
“I track the amount of money being saved on a monthly basis, and it continues to amaze me,” said Gina Hoover, traffic management and passenger movement advisor with AFIMSC’s Installation Support Directorate.
Most Airmen going through training for the first time don’t have their own government travel card, Hoover explained, so transportation specialists at installations manually process travel payments for students moving from technical school to their first duty assignment. In 2018, Hoover and her team determined using a unit card would allow installations to consolidate all students into one transaction fee of less than $1.
“When I first realized this, I thought, it can’t be that easy,” Hoover said. “I researched the question to determine why it hadn’t been done before. Nothing I found would prohibit the use of the unit card for student pipeline travel.”
The team worked with the Air Force Personnel Center team that owns the permanent change of station line of accounting to make sure units could implement the new procedure.
“At the end of the day, the only limitation to using the unit card is the student cannot be in the Defense Travel System,” Hoover said. “It must be a manual transaction.”
Transportation specialists at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, began testing the process in 2018. After testing, the initiative was implemented at six AETC installations with large student trainee populations.
In addition to the obvious cost benefit, the new process saves time for those processing the travel. The bases are able to reconcile monthly invoices much more efficiently, Hoover said, and it eliminated the need to physically upload orders and flight itineraries to the Defense Finance and Accounting Service.
“The unit card initiative was great from the start. While we all can see the money on the books when it comes to cost savings, we often don’t consider the time savings involved in processing these bills,” said Jason Weber, personal property and passenger travel chief for the traffic management office at Keesler.
The old process usually involved one person having to spend days matching all the proper paperwork together, double and triple checking it before sending to DFAS for payment, he explained.
“The unit card initiative reduced the handling time to a matter of a couple of hours at most. This allows us to place our focus on assisting our customers and completing our other related duties,” Weber said. “Most travel sections are manned with only one or two employees who process bills, so for me personally, having that extra time back was not only an additional savings, it was a huge morale boost.”
Hoover and her team are exploring options to expand the new process to more installations and are looking for additional opportunities to deliver streamlined processes to the field.
“It’s in our name: Support,” she said.