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Online expense monitoring tools save millions

Corporations are closely monitoring travel expenses with online applications. Why not government agencies too?

In a development that must be of interest to government managers, new technology is allowing corporations to spot even the tiniest discrepancies between actual and allowable expenses for employee travel and meals, the New York Times reports.

The online software, from providers like Concur Technologies, has benefits for employees too like electronically shift credit card charges to online expense reports, which saves time and hassle. The benefit to companies is that processing is far less expensive - down from $48 to $18 on average, and as low as $2 for Dell - but more importantly, it cuts down on fraud.

In 2004, American Express introduced Web-based "variance reports" that point out any differences between what travelers booked and what they actually charged. Corporate travel managers use the reports to flag violations of travel policy, like an upgrade to business class.

"Variance reporting helps us identify travelers who don't book with our preferred agency," said Lorraine Rostanzo, director of global travel and support services at W. R. Grace. "When that happens, we lose out on using the airline deals and preferred hotel rates we've negotiated."

There are certainly cases of gross abuse. "The employee who buys a big flat-screen TV, supposedly to hold conferences in his home. Or a manager who tries to lay off the costs of his daughter's wedding by inviting business clients to the marriage. We've seen all that — and more," said Rajeev Singh, Concur's president.

But greater savings may be found in monitoring the little things, executives say.

If there's a red flag on, say, an American Airlines booking when a cheaper JetBlue flight was available, the traveler may have to rebook or pay the difference. An American Express executive said, "You may just tell the employee not to do it again — or else it's grounds for termination of your job."