Below, you will find a letter to the editor, reproduced in full, which originally appeared in the Summer 2019 edition of the Journal of Government Financial Management, Vol. 68, No. 2. The article was written by mLINQS’ President, Greg McIntyre.
The article entitled “Moving Forward: One Agency’s Quest to Make Employee Relocations More Efficient and Predictable” in the spring Journal describes how the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) built a permanent change of station (PCS) cost estimator tool to derive a lump sum PCS payment for employees.
At first glance, this seems like a great idea to reduce red tape and bureaucracy. However, a managed relocation program powered by automation can bring even greater benefits to the transferee, agency and taxpayer. What if, instead of paying the lump sum up front, those employees could submit a voucher for their actual expenses using a “TurboTax®-like” tool that sequences necessary steps in a question and answer format and pre-populates information, based on the pre-trip estimate? All could be done on a smartphone, using the camera to upload receipts. Vouchers would be routed electronically and automatically audited by the system so payments, including tax withholding, take place almost immediately. Since the system tracks the obligation and the reimbursement, de-obligation of unused funds takes place immediately as well. Consider the benefits of this approach: fair/fast reimbursement to the traveler, extremely low administration cost, an auditable and accountable process, and great stewardship of taxpayer money.
In the FWS example, the lump sum went well: the house sold easily, and the transferee seemed happy with the reimbursement, which implies he received more money that needed. The downside of lump sum was not mentioned. Althought the article admits PCS is a very stressful event in an employee’s life, it does not mention that lump sum multiplies stress by thrusting the employee into the dual role of transferree and relocation coordinator. As a result, productivity of the transferee and family can suffer at both the old and new duty stations. Further, this employee, who is not a relocation expert, will likely overpay for services rather than benefit from the government’s volume buying power.
The article did not describe the cost of implementing this concept with a project team. Development of a “one-off” system (PCS cost estimator) was likely not inexpensive, as it was accomplished with contractor help. Now that it has occurred, there will be costs to maintain it as technology and rules change.
The article listed several benefits under the caption “Lump Sum Payoff.” But they can be achieved at a much lower overall cost with an automated PCS management solution. Imagine the vouchering process with an easy-to-use tool in the transferee’s hands—less stress for the transferee and a truly auditable and accountable process for the good of both agency and taxpayer. Now that’s a win for everyone.
— Greg McIntyre, CRP
President, mLINQS, LLC