Friday, July 10, 2015

In age of online booking, taxpayers footing bill for KCS travel agent

Looking to book a trip?

Thanks to the Internet, more people than ever are doing it themselves, online and for free.

However, Knox County taxpayers are still footing the bill for a travel agent.

County purchasing records show from fiscal years 2011 to 2015, the school system submitted almost 1,155 invoices for a combined $648,793 dedicated to travel expenses for various conferences, seminars and training sessions across the country.

Of that, $34,650 went to a company called World Travel Services, which charges the county $30 for each itinerary.

In addition, the county submitted 311 invoices for a combined $176,002 in travel, with WTS receiving $9,330 during the five year period, figures show.

Also, the Knoxville-Knox County Community Action Committee, a public agency funded by the city and county, submitted 90 invoices during the same time period for $50,177 in overall travel, with $2,700 going to WTS.

Local leaders say about 10 years ago the county did have a contract with WTS, but as do-it-yourself online booking became more widespread, officials opted not to renew the contract.

Use of the agency, however, continued, particularly by the school system.

"We encourage the departments to use online booking resources," Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett said Thursday. "They're often the cheapest, but not everyone's comfortable with that."

Because of that, he said, some county employees still opt to book travel through WTS.

"It's just a tool that's available to all of us," Burchett said. "I'd rather them use the most cost-effective method, is what I'd prefer."

In a statement to WBIR, Knox County Schools budget director Lizabeth McLeod said it's not unusual for large organizations to use a travel management service.

"While employees are not required to use this service, it helps provides a 'one-stop shop' for travel arrangements and helps identify cost-effective rates in a time-efficient manner," McLeod wrote. "It also allows for customer support and assistance when unanticipated or last-minute travel changes might occur, plus helps arrange for multiple travel needs that may arise (airfare, hotel, rental car, etc.)."

She said using a travel service may be an easier option for employees, allowing for "central billing and payment so that our employees do not have to personally carry the burden for upfront travel costs while waiting on reimbursement to occur."

The district has approximately 8,000 employees, some of whom require travel from time to time.
Considering that, McLeod said, "this is a valuable resource to have should the need arise."

County officials in mid-June issued a bid for "travel management services." The deadline to submit a proposal is 2 p.m. July 15.

Because it's still widely used by KCS, the county finance department said it reached the "threshold" in which the service needed to be bid out.

"The request for proposals is to help secure travel management services for both Knox County Government and the Knox County Schools," McLeod said. "As discussed publicly in the May 2015 Board of Education work session, the Knox County Schools and Knox County Government are partnering for the purpose of aligning our travel policies and procedures. We believe it is an excellent enhancement to our travel program and appreciate the partnership we have with Knox County Government."

No comments: