Interior could save millions with better use of videoconferencing

The Interior Department could save millions of dollars in travel expenses every year by using video teleconferencing, but various issues prevent the department from reaping the benefits the technology offers.

Interior’s inspector general found that although the department has 315 video teleconferencing endpoints nationwide, the equipment is not being used to its full potential. The department also lacks policies on the use of the technology as a viable alternative to travel, and has no rule requiring compatibility of equipment, the IG reported.

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In addition, negative experiences with using older teleconferencing equipment, a lack of knowledge within the department on the availability of the tools and low motivation for using them have also been cited as reasons why the technology is not being fully used.

In 2009, Interior spent $42.4 million on travel. By adding or moving video teleconferencing equipment to office locations that are common departure and destination points for meetings or training, the department could save significantly on travel expenses, the report found.

But the department is hampered by its lack of guidelines. Creating and adopting a policy to encourage video conferencing as an alternative to travel would create the opportunity for this communication technology to achieve its greater potential. Use and support from the department’s leadership of VTC technology would also stress the cost savings and the environmental benefits, the report said.

Many department employees tried to use the technology in the past and were plagued by poor picture quality, video connection disruptions, and audio transmission delays. The technology is improved considerably since many of those older efforts, the IG reported. Another complaint was that VTC equipment is often set up in multipurpose rooms, where lighting and sound quality often are compromised.

The IG concluded that if Interior increased the use of VTC technology, it could save between $4.2 and $8.5 million for travel involving zero to two nights, and between $11.2 and $22.4 million for travel involving zero to four nights.

It its recommendations to Interior, the IG suggested the department craft a policy for VTC adoption, develop a framework to make VTC equipment compatible and interconnected departmentwide, and post information on the department’s Intranet to encourage sharing of VTC equipment.

About the Author

Camille Tuutti is a former FCW staff writer who covered federal oversight and the workforce.

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Reader comments

Mon, Jan 9, 2012 DOI Employee

It is very difficult within DOI to utilize modern technology-- most of which is banned for security reasons. I could save half of my travel budget if I were allowed to use Skype or a similar application, as well as being able to resolve problems with people MUCH more quickly. More of the responsibility for safeguarding information should be placed on the employee and employees should be held acountable immediately for security breaches. Too much automation and too many blanket rules hobble communication to the point where it is almost impossible to overcome geographic boundaries and keep pace with private industry.

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