Legislation would cut feds' travel expenses with videoconferencing


Videoconferencing can save significant travel dollars, and a new bill would expand its use. (Stock image)

New legislation introduced in the House of Representatives July 10 aims to significantly cut the $15 billion in travel expenses incurred annually by federal agencies through the increased use of videoconferencing.

H.R. 2643, introduced by Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick, (R-Pa.), would call on the director of the Office of Management and Budget to develop a plan to reduce the federal government's travel expenditures by as much as is feasible, with the stated goal of spending 50 percent less on agency travel in 2017 than it does now. The bill is titled the "Cut the Waste, Stay in Place Act of 2013."

The bill incorporates aspects of the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010, Executive Order 13589 and OMB's 12-12-12 memorandum, which already calls for agencies to reduce travel expenditures by 30 percent compared to 2010 levels. The government currently spends billions annually on travel to conferences, training programs, meetings and court, the bill states, but videoconferencing remains a "largely untapped means of saving taxpayer dollars."

Cindy Auten, general manager of Mobile Work Exchange, applauded Fitzpatrick's legislation. "It's a win on many levels," she said. "The bill addresses two critical areas for the government – leveraging technology to reduce costs and working smarter overall. Leveraging the right technology can save agencies time and money. Video conferencing and collaboration tools are ideal not only to encourage collaboration in a mobile environment, but also to support a reduction in travel expenses."

Auten cited a recent Mobile Work Exchange report that claims if videoconferencing was used by half of feds, productivity savings could top $8 million annually. The technology exists, it's just not being utilized, she said.

Some agencies have already adapted to challenging fiscal times brought on by sequestration and Obama's executive order to promote efficient spending.

NASA, for instance, saved $21 million in fiscal 2012 by implementing rules for domestic travel. The agency did not allow travel when remote participation by phone or videoconference was possible.

Videoconferencing through Defense Connect Online, a web conferencing and real-time internal collaboration platform used by Defense Department employees, experienced a jump from 600,000 to more than 840,000 registered users in the past year.

Some smaller agencies – often the ones that cannot afford not to be proactive – have successfully implemented even more innovative uses for videoconferencing that could serve as use cases for larger agencies looking to save some serious coin.

The Naval Safety & Environmental Training Center, and its 27-member staff, provide training to 10,000 government civilians and Navy personnel all over the world each year, but a growing number of those students are receiving mandatory training in a virtual environment, leading to significant savings.

The Center also produced another virtual gem in March, moving its mission-critical U.S. Navy Safety Professional Development conference from San Diego to online. Expert information from 80 training sources and speakers was beamed across the world to more than 2,000 participants from as far away as Guam, turning a potential $1.5 million in travel expenses to less than $100,000.

About the Author

Frank Konkel is a former staff writer for FCW.

Cyber. Covered.

Government Cyber Insider tracks the technologies, policies, threats and emerging solutions that shape the cybersecurity landscape.


Reader comments

Tue, Oct 8, 2013

On general principle I agree with with. Most if not all headquarters type meetings could be done by VTC. There are some things that connot however. Internal reviews for example. It would be difficult to conduct compliance audits over the phone right now. I can see how they could be done remotely for a lot of compliance issues but some things have to be physically inspected. Most customer contact can be done by phone or VTC but depending on your business some on hands touching might me needed. What would be nice would be to eliminate Congressional and Presidential boon doggles. If the president wants to go on vacation he should pay for it - including transportation of his personal entourage. I don't get to go on multi-million dollar vacations why should I have to pay for someone else to get to. Why does a congressman have to go to China or where ever. Why do I have to pay for them to fly back and forth to their home states. They could VTC to the Capital building for sessions. Finally why does the GSA or the IRS have to have conventions. Heck our office can't even do ligitimate visits to our subordinate organizations.

Fri, Sep 13, 2013

I agree on most of this comments we waste time and money going to wasteful meetings. The training that we do need for the people especially in IT they never let you get it. So they want us to be up to date and running but yet never send us to actual training, well except for the supervisors whom seem to think that just by telling you that they went to a training that everyone else gets it. Some of us are hands on type so just reading about it does not always get the job done. So do not expect the goverment to be ahead of the curve when our training is minimal compared to our public counter parts. The management meetings are nothing but a waste of time, talk about the same things over and over to no end. No, changes are done except CYA paper work that gets stored in ware house for years. Our court system is out of hand and getting worse. Congress men, Senators are becoming the joke of everyone, they think the public does not get it.

Fri, Aug 9, 2013

Federal employees' travel for business such as critical meetings and professional conferences could be paid for by the Federal employees themselves. All the need is inisider trading information that Congress gets everyday. Let's get even more funds. Audit all Congress members and their relatives and see what that amounts too. Fine them accordingly and use the money to supplement necessary federal travel.

Thu, Jul 18, 2013

Really? What do you think is propping up the airlines? Go ahead. Deplete restaurants, hotels, rental cars, and airlines of 10 to 20 percent of their business. we only need one of each of those anyway.

Tue, Jul 16, 2013

If cutting Federal travel in half is such a money saver, maybe the tax payers should cut Congressional travel way back. If Video Conferencing is good enough for Federal Employees, why shouldn't our elected representatives do the same? The fact of the matter is, in many locations in the Country, the infrasturcture hasn't been built to support video conferencing. In those same locations, many resources that are taken for granted by those living inside the beltway are just unavailable, and it may take decades before they do.

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