GSA telepresence centers coming soon
Virtual meeting rooms will be available to other agencies by October
The General Services Administration plans to have 15 telepresence sites – or virtual meeting rooms in federal buildings – up and running in April or May of this year, according to a senior GSA official.
Mary Davie, assistant commissioner in GSA’s Office of Integrated Technology Services, said the agency is opening four telepresence centers in the metro Washington, D.C., area and one site in each of its 11 regional locations.
“The travel budget has been cut in GSA, and we are finding alternative ways to communicate and collaborate,” Davie said Feb. 25 at a seminar hosted by the Coalition for Government Procurement. “One of those [ways] will be telepresence.”
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Davie said the virtual meeting rooms are under construction and will be operational internally starting in April or May, adding that the rooms and services will be available for other agencies to use by October.
She said many agencies already have telepresence sites and suggested that there might be coordination among them. “Wouldn’t that be neat, to find out who has those rooms, where they are and how we could offer all of those across government as a service [and] as an alternative to getting on a plane?” she said.
Agencies will be able to use the centers at a fixed hourly rate, allowing them to conduct face-to-face meetings without having to travel, according to GSA.
“The centers will be specifically constructed and equipped to provide live, face-to-face immersive meeting experiences to all participants across the network,” GSA said in an October 2010 release. “Each room will contain high-definition video and advanced audio equipment, as well as state-of-the-art collaboration tools to enhance the immersive experience and facilitate participant productivity.”
Davie said GSA Administrator Martha Johnson has an ambitious goal of the government having a zero environmental footprint, and telepresence is expected to help the agency make progress on that goal, as well as provide a more cost-effective way of meeting with people.
Earlier this month, the Office of Personnel Management reported to Congress that the number of agency-reported teleworkers increased by 11,046 from 2008 to 2009. This means that more than 10 percent of eligible federal employees now telework.
The push to bolster teleworking at GSA and across the government comes on the heels of the Telework Enhancement Act, which was signed into law in December 2010 and requires federal agencies to improve their use of telework.
Alyah Khan is a staff writer covering IT policy.