On time, every time

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- The Air Force Reserve Command has initiated a beta test of the Reserve Travel System at five U.S. locations to help reduce the time it takes for some traditional reservists to get their travel vouchers processed and paid.

The test is a response to repeated requests from reservist assigned to units on active duty bases who are voicing concerns of having to redo travel vouchers and waiting an inordinate amount of time for payment.

There were times last year where only 7 percent of travel vouchers submitted by reservists on active-duty bases were paid within 10 business days through RTS according to Jeffrey Pennington, director of the Headquarters AFRC staff here.

He said the AFRC Directorate of Financial Management and the Air Force Financial Service Center staff have teamed up to make significant improvements in that success rate, but he has higher hopes for getting more members paid in a timely manner.

The beta test is happening at:
-- 908th Airlift Wing, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama,
-- 403rd Wing, Keesler AFB, Mississippi
-- 512th Airlift Wing, Dover AFB, Delaware
-- 446th Airlift Wing, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington
-- 442nd Fighter Wing, Whiteman AFB, Missouri

Currently, unit reservists fill out their RTS vouchers and take them to the host unit finance office, where the voucher is reviewed and manually entered into another system and sent to the Air Force Financial Service Center at Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota.

From there, workers at Ellsworth audit the vouchers. If everything is OK, the vouchers are submitted to the Defense Finance Accounting System for payment. If there is a problem, the vouchers are sent back to the reservists for corrections.

“Traditional reservists might not see that they need to make that correction for at least a month due to the nature of their military commitment,” Pennington said. “That’s too long to be without that pay.”

Pennington said without travel reimbursement, many reservists can’t pay the balance on their government travel cards. If they have an unpaid balance on their travel cards for too long, he said, they can’t travel for the military until that’s settled.

The beta test models what has been effective at Reserve host units. Reservists take their vouchers to their unit’s finance office for review. The finance office is able to make on-the-spot corrections and enter the information into the system.

From there, the unit audits the voucher and submits to the host base finance office for payment through DFAS.

“The reserve unit can’t do the disbursement themselves because disbursing authorities are limited regionally,” Pennington said. “But this will give the unit more ownership over the pay of their members.”

Ownership is a key factor in customer satisfaction, according to Debbie Smith, budget analyst for the 908th AW.

“It’s comforting knowing someone who is working it out,” Smith said. “Plus, it can get frustrating for us being the middleman and not being able to help, so there’s a lot of excitement around the office for this test.”

Pennington said getting paid for travel has been a top complaint among reservists, and he is happy to finally have a plan to fix this issue.

The unit finance offices have a lot to learn to take on their new role.

“We have some good help out here right now teaching us, but there’s a big learning curve,” Smith said. “We’re all on board and ready for the challenge.”

Smith said that since unit finance people attend weekly staff meetings with their commander, they will be held to a higher standard when it comes to reservists getting paid on time.

“The test and the new system will be a seamless transition for the members,” she said. “Most won’t even know there’s been a change. They’ll just be excited when they get paid faster.”

Pennington said Reserve officials will review the test results and continue looking into ways to improve the process of paying travel vouchers and increase the focus on Defense Travel System issues in the near future.

“We’d like to see 100 percent settled within 10 business days,” he said. “Across the board, our members deserve to be paid on time, every time.”