Peter Sperry

Members of Congress, personal staff and committees have used most of these tools for as long as they have been availble. Conference calls between DC, the home district and other remote locations were common place 40 years ago. Teleconferencing , including remote testimony by committee witnesses, has been in use for at least 15 years. Go-To-Meeting, Skype etc are all well known and used frequently by members and staff. Tele-townhalls, complete with interactive questions have almost replaced live events for some members. So this proposal really offers very little new functionality; but could encourage even greater use of existing capabilities.

Currently members of the House vote electronically on the Floor and by voice vote in committee. The system used is pretty satandard in most legislatures, including state and foriegn bodies. It has been abused, but very rarely. The only case I can recall is a Pennsylvania state rep who collected voting cards from absent members and cast votes for them when they were not in Harrisburg. Actually not a bad track record given the potential for ghost voting. A more secure system using biometric identifiers could be developed to allow members to vote from anywhere with a secure internet connection.

The impact would depend on how highly members value real human contact and with whom. Most already arrive in DC 30 to 90 minutes befor the first vote of the week (or urgently call staff to have them beg leadership to hold the vote open while they speed down I-95) and leave DC as soon as possible after the last vote of the week. Given the opportunity to vote from their districts, many members would never show up in DC at all.

Taken to the extreme, greater use of telecommunications could actually impact the staff much more than the members. Most legislative and policy staff are located in DC rather than the district. Their personal interactions with each other and with the dreaded lobbyists (like Seirra Club, Move On, Catholic Bishops, AFL-CIO, ACLU etc) are often more extensive than those of the members. Staff tend to highly value these conections; but not as much as face time with the boss. Many of them would welcome the opportunity to spend more time in the district. Many members could also decide they want their policy staff to be based in the district rather than in Washington. Committee might also be able to hire from a larger talent pool if staff could work remotely. And moving the policy staff out of Washington would probably have more impact on the culture of Congress than allowing members even more time at home.

Of course, all of this would only work with the House of Representatives. The Senate has only recently gotten beyond wearing togas on the floor and remains uncomfortable with new fangled 19th century innovations, let alone anything from the 21st.