Infrastructure a hurdle for videoconferencing legislation


Legislation introduced in the House of Representatives in July aims to reduce travel expenses for federal employees by up to half by 2017, but complying with such a robust cost-cutting measure could pose challenges to many federal agencies.

H.R. 2643, introduced by Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), would make videoconferencing an integral part of a plan developed by the director of the Office of Management and Budget to cut $7.5 billion off the $15 billion the government spends on travel each year.

Yet challenges in IT infrastructure, tight agency budgets and policy are potential barriers to entry for many agencies.

"To get that kind of reduction, you're going to have to have a significant infrastructure upgrade – you're increasing traffic across the network when your employees are videoconferencing," said Jason Parry, Collaboration Practice Director at Force 3, a federal IT solutions provider.

Agencies with highly developed IT infrastructures might not sweat the extra bandwidth required by employees engaging in more video conferences, but smaller agencies that haven't built out existing infrastructures yet might not be able to pony up the cash to modernize.

In addition, proprietary videoconferencing software can be an expensive acquisition for agencies that haven't dabbled in it before. But some new technologies could help alleviate the financial burden for agencies with tight budgets.

"Video conferencing is increasingly cloud-based or IP-enabled, so access can be available via an agency's established enterprise network," said Cindy Auten, general manager for Mobile Work Exchange.

"Agencies do not necessarily need to invest in new systems for video conferencing solutions, which can range from off-the-shelf services to dedicated meeting facilities that make it appear as if remote participants are actually in the room – and price points will vary," Auten added.

Fitzpatrick's bill incorporates aspects of several other executive and legislative policies, including the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010, Executive Order 13589 and OMB's 12-12-12 memorandum, which already called for agencies to reduce travel expenditures by 30 percent compared to 2010 levels.

Yet those policies have been interpreted and treated differently by various agencies, with NASA, for example, disallowing travel for employees when remote participation by phone or videoconference was possible. That move saved the agency $21 million in fiscal 2012, but overall savings realized from decreased travel and increased videoconferencing are likely to vary significantly from agency to agency.

Executive-branch videoconferencing policy would be set by OMB, but after the general guidelines are in place, agencies could tailor them to fit their mission.

"On the policy side of it, if [the bill] passes and it's in place, the question will be how agencies use videoconferencing, what they should use it for, and when you should do it as opposed to traveling and other means of communication," Parry said. "Enforcing that legislation if any of those policies are shaky, it really doesn't work."

Parry said cutting feds' travel costs in half by 2017 is a lofty goal -- one that might best be met by a "gradual approach" rather than a sudden shift. Any plan would have to be transparent so that savings are tracked, documented and potentially reallocated elsewhere, Parry added.

"I think that the best plan would look at a gradual reduction," Parry said. "It is not going to be like flipping a switch. For what they intend to reduce over the next few years, we would need a plan where a portion of the money being saved would be allocated back to a capital budget to be able to provide the infrastructure that is required to reach that 50 percent mark."

About the Author

Frank Konkel is a former staff writer for FCW.

FCW in Print

In the latest issue: Looking back on three decades of big stories in federal IT.


  • Anne Rung -- Commerce Department Photo

    Exit interview with Anne Rung

    The government's departing top acquisition official said she leaves behind a solid foundation on which to build more effective and efficient federal IT.

  • Charles Phalen

    Administration appoints first head of NBIB

    The National Background Investigations Bureau announced the appointment of its first director as the agency prepares to take over processing government background checks.

  • Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.)

    Senator: Rigid hiring process pushes millennials from federal work

    Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said agencies are missing out on younger workers because of the government's rigidity, particularly its protracted hiring process.

  • FCW @ 30 GPS

    FCW @ 30

    Since 1987, FCW has covered it all -- the major contracts, the disruptive technologies, the picayune scandals and the many, many people who make federal IT function. Here's a look back at six of the most significant stories.

  • Shutterstock image.

    A 'minibus' appropriations package could be in the cards

    A short-term funding bill is expected by Sept. 30 to keep the federal government operating through early December, but after that the options get more complicated.

  • Defense Secretary Ash Carter speaks at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco

    DOD launches new tech hub in Austin

    The DOD is opening a new Defense Innovation Unit Experimental office in Austin, Texas, while Congress debates legislation that could defund DIUx.

Reader comments

Thu, Aug 8, 2013 GeekSargon

This technology has been around for a long time...sad to see we're only ready to adopt it when we have massive budget issues. I came across this piece today, discusses some of the opportunities and challenges facing federal agencies making the switch: http://themodernnetwork.com/data-center/house-tells-agencies-to-turn-to-tech-instead-of-travel/

Tue, Aug 6, 2013

The Governemnt agencies have been building the infrastructure for videoconferencing for over a decade. I know, because I have been using it for over a decade. Add to the fact that if these agencies still do not have it completed, most likely they can can easily complete it with savings from reduced travel costs. So if people are still complaining, it sounds to me like they have another agenda - one that they will not state because they know that it is not a positive agenda. I think most of us can come up with a few guesses as to what those real reasons are to not cut travel that they do not want to provide.

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group