In Depth GSA announced the winner of its Travel Data Challenge.

Published on June 24th, 2014 | by Travis Korte

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GSA Plans to Cut Federal Travel Costs with a Data-Driven Comparison Tool

The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) recently announced the winner of its Travel Data Challenge, a competition that called on software developers to build an app that used the agency’s travel data to deliver a cheaper, more internally transparent travel booking system. A panel of six senior GSA officials judged the submissions with the help of a technical advisor, and awarded a grand prize of $35,000.

The challenge is part of a larger GSA push to help all federal agencies cut travel costs. Federal agencies have had to find ways to cut travel costs since a 2012 Office of Management and Budget memo directing agencies to reduce travel spending by 30 percent from 2010 levels and maintain the new levels from 2013-2016. However, although federal travel spending has dropped considerably since 2012, there is still a long way to go, as travel still accounts for $6.9 billion in annual federal expenditures. Although the GSA challenge organizers provided sample data from their own agency, they asked challenge participants to demonstrate how their tools could be deployed in other agencies.

The challenge’s grand prize winner, New York City-based developer Gregg Parrish, designed a website that allows users to easily plan flights and accommodation, as well as track expenses. The central functionality of Parrish’s site is a comparison tool that works for flights or accommodation, governed by the principle that the largest airports do not always offer the cheapest flights and hotels off the beaten path can offer substantial savings. The tool finds airports within 30 miles of the traveler’s origin and destination, as well as hotels in the destination city and nearby areas, and recommends the most inexpensive combinations. It also draws on past travel data to provide a reference estimate for what a given trip should cost. Finally, it offers users simple charts of both their own past data and other users’ historic data for a given route, including seasonal price fluctuations that may affect travel costs.

Parrish hopes the GSA and other agencies will use his site to encourage travelers to make more cost-effective decisions about their bookings. Instead of handling actual transactions, which would require a more sophisticated and difficult to implement system, it could be used as a portal to other online travel services.

Other entrants included a decision support system called FedGoPublic that determines if a traveler can save money by using public transport and a notification service called tripBAM that lets early bookers get alerts if cheaper rates become available on their room or comparable rooms in the area. Although GSA noted in the challenge that it could award up to three prizes, it only awarded the grand prize.

The agency will begin rolling out Parrish’s program to agencies after an unspecified period of internal development. GSA does not currently have any other public challenges outstanding, but a full list of federal challenges can be found at Challenge.gov.

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About the Author

Travis Korte is a research analyst at the Center for Data Innovation specializing in data science applications and open data. He has a background in journalism, computer science and statistics. Prior to joining the Center for Data Innovation, he launched the Science vertical of The Huffington Post and served as its Associate Editor, covering a wide range of science and technology topics. He has worked on data science projects with HuffPost and other organizations. Before this, he graduated with highest honors from the University of California, Berkeley, having studied critical theory and completed coursework in computer science and economics. His research interests are in computational social science and using data to engage with complex social systems. You can follow him on Twitter @traviskorte.



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