Telework

Legislation would cut feds' travel expenses with videoconferencing

Videoconference

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.

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