In 2012, government spending for conference attendance and travel came under fire when it became public knowledge that the General Services Administration (GSA) had spent significant amounts on agency events, including one lavish 2010 Conference hosted by GSA’s Public Building Service Western Region at a cost to taxpayers of more than $800,000.  Among other things, the final tab included elaborate meals, luxury accommodations, spoof video productions, entertainers, parties, and government attendee gifts.

The detailed disclosure of the 2010 GSA event led to investigations into conference costs across the government.  As a result, the discovery of questionable conference spending in several organizations has spawned a movement that is having an impact on most agencies and Federal employees.

In light of these overt examples of unnecessary spending, especially during lean budget years across the Federal Government, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued guidance in May of 2012 that demanded, “each agency shall spend at least 30 percent less on travel expenses covered by this memorandum than in FY 2010.” In addition to the 30-percent reduction in travel spending, the guidance also required that:

  • Deputy Secretaries review any conference where agency spending may  exceed $100,000;
  • Agencies be prohibited from spending more than $500,000 on a conference unless the agency Secretary approves a waiver; and
  • Agencies post publicly each January on the prior year’s conference spending, including descriptions of agency conferences that cost more than $100,000

In early July of this year, new legislation was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives that–if passed–could push restrictions on government travel expenses even further.

H.R. 2643, also known as the, Stay in Place, Cut the Waste Act of 2013, was introduced by Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick, (R-Pa.). This legislation would require government agencies to cut travel expenses in half by 2017. To accomplish this, federal organizations are required to replace travel with video teleconferencing (VTC).

According to the Bill, “The Federal Government spends billions of dollars per year on travel to conferences, training programs, business meetings, court and administrative hearings, and other related activities.” By participating in more events via VTC, the government can cut a significant percentage of travel costs without hindering communication and collaboration.

Today’s advanced enterprise VTC solutions can facilitate face-to-face communication between individuals that are located across the globe, by delivering high-quality audio and video that surpasses common consumer-grade VTC alternatives.  Many VTC offering are capable of multi-point conferencing which enables multiple parties to hold simultaneous video conversations.

Adopting VTC across the government also has become significantly easier and more affordable as new technologies are introduced. As the proposed Stay In Place, Cut the Waste Act of 2013 states, “The video conferencing industry has shifted from a hardware-based model to a browser-based model, leading to reduced expenses and increased efficiency in a system that is able to meet the needs in daily commerce for full-featured conferencing using off-the-shelf equipment present in most every Government office, business, and home.”

Although the agency travel cost reductions cited in the proposed legislation are aggressive, there is no doubt that government organizations can and should take greater advantage of VTC opportunities, regardless of the bill’s outcome.  Not only will taking this alternative approach cut travel expenses, it also will strengthen internal collaboration and provide more robust and cost-effective professional development and training alternatives for many federal employees.  .

As agency staff considers their VTC adoption strategies, it is essential that they understand the opportunities and the challenges of effective implementation programs.   Questions are already being raised about the ability that many agencies will have to support this type of technology. In our next post, we’ll identify the impact of increased VTC usage on government networks, and discuss the steps agencies need to take to ensure that their data centers are ready for the anticipated bandwidth demands of future collaboration tools and techniques.